Rachel A.

First Place Winner

I didn't envision pursuing mathematics as a career—that is until I read Ian Ayres' Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart, one of the dozens of fiction and non-fiction books I love to read outside of class each year.

Some might view me as a math wizard—after all, I completed AP Calculus BC as a 14-year-old sophomore, earned the highest possible scores on my AP exams (which also included statistics, physics, and chemistry) and the ACT college entrance exam, and received academic achievement awards for my high school mathematics classes. But I didn't really appreciate mathematical application until I read Super Crunchers, which demonstrates how data analysis can be used to provide insight into human behavior and influenced me to combine my interests in math and communications and study statistics in college.

Like Ayres, I'm fascinated by parallelism and patterns in math, the topography of numbers I see even with my eyes closed. Super Crunchers inspired me to explore math's more surreal applications in cryptography, economics, informatics—even flying and origami—this past summer at various academic summer programs. Now I'm interested in the intersection of math and science with social science, because together they may explain the mysteries behind day-to-day life. I read about behavioral economics, since I'm curious about why people do the things they do. But I'm not satisfied with psychoanalytic theories of the id and superego; I want numbers, studies, symbols, and proofs.

More than a mathematician, Ayres is a communicator; I am, too. As editor-in-chief of both the school newsmagazine and yearbook, I spend more conscious hours in my school's publication room than in any other place. A life without either math or communications would leave me unfulfilled; the examples about successful data analysts who work outside of traditional occupations in Super Crunchers inspired me to combine my two passions.

In my future career, I want to be like Ayres. Ayres is a lawyer and an economist who teaches law at Yale University. Though I don't plan to study law, I will be like Ayres and incorporate mathematics into whatever interdisciplinary field I choose. Ayres is a role model to me because he studies that which interests him and communicates what he has learned in ways that are easily understood; that makes Ayres a journalist, like me.

By introducing me to the power of data-driven decisions, Super Crunchers helped shape my analytical leadership style. The book taught me how to approach problems scientifically, without bias (an approach that is also critical for a journalist). In learning that equations are often more accurate than experts in making predictions, I reevaluated my own decision-making; I am never overconfident and I search for confounding variables. Super Crunchers showed me the power of interdisciplinary thinking and the importance of evaluating problems from multiple perspectives.