Schrödinger fellow Michael Wallner exploring Bordeaux. © Private

Mathematicians are in the unique position of working in a field where statements are either true or false. My personal decisions can be judged in a more nuanced way, of course, but it was the right decision for me to take the opportunity to apply for a Schrödinger fellowship. I am very grateful for this opportunity as it allows me to collaborate with an outstanding researcher in my field.

Benefit  from existing network

Before my stay here in Bordeaux, I did not realize that I would not only benefit greatly from my work with Mireille Bousquet-Mélou at the Université de Bordeaux, but also from working with a team of first-class scientists. It now seems obvious to me that a good researcher can serve as an ideal multiplier for knowledge and interdisciplinary exchanges. This gives me the opportunity to interact with many new scholars, to learn from others in weekly seminars, for instance, and to present my own progress. My last presentation was about counting and generating evolutionary histories of gene families, a research topic I discovered right here in France. The research issue that originally brought me here, which is almost solved as well, was dedicated to counting higher dimensional paths with special boundary conditions. In this context, the paths represent a possible, discrete record of observations, with permitted deviations predefined in each case.

Making new connections

Only a handful of people worldwide are involved with these mathematical details. After completing my PhD at the University of Technology in Vienna (TU Wien), I embarked on a trip to Taiwan to work with an expert there. After a stopover in Paris, my next destination was again defined by a specific person, this time leading mit to Bordeaux. In addition to the interactions at the Université de Bordeaux, I can also expand my network and participate in numerous seminars in France as well as give some guest lectures at other universities. Apart from the mathematical exchanges, this enables me to enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle and the famous French cuisine.

Bordeaux, city of wine

When I tell people outside my speciality that I am currently in Bordeaux, they usually ask me whether I am here because of the wine. When I then inform them about my real motives, many are surprised at the important research conducted here in the heart of this world-famous wine region. Yet, for my Austrian friends and family, the vicinity to the wine can encourage their decision to come and visit. It would be also a lie to say that the only thing I am learning more about here is mathematics. I learned, for instance, that most chateaux (not necessarily involving an actual castle, this is just the habitual name given to wine estates) yield essentially one type of wine, which is normally a cuvée, because local growers feel that the wine can only develop its full character through the right blend of grape varieties. I think it is precisely such a mix of know-how and exchanges that is so conducive to success in research. I am very grateful to the FWF for enabling me to develop and mature in this way, and I urge all young scientists to go and look beyond their familiar horizons.