Francesca Bernardi is a math PhD candidate within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences and a member of the Joint Applied Mathematics and Marine Sciences Fluids Lab. She is the co-founder of Girls Talk Math and president of the UNC Association for Women in Mathematics.Through experiments and mathematical modeling, Bernadi examines the behavior of fluids flowing through tubes of various geometric shapes such as square, rectangular, elliptical and more.
When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
My answer changed a lot over the years, but the two main professions that stood out were teacher and lawyer. They both would have been a good fit for me — I like to talk a lot.
Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.
While I was working on my master’s in nuclear engineering in Italy, I became interested in mathematics research and met with Roberto Camassa, now one of my two advisors, who was doing research in Milan at the time. During our meeting, I asked if I could come work for him here at UNC — and he said yes! It was a very lucky encounter for me that definitely changed my life. It gave me the opportunity to come to the states and work as a visiting researcher in the math department at UNC — where I truly fell in love with research.
What’s an interesting thing that’s happened during your research?
I had seen an email advertising a community engagement grant and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to fund one of my ideas — a math day camp for high school girls in the Triangle. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own, so I contacted my friend and colleague Katrina Morgan (also a PhD candidate in mathematics at UNC). When I told her what I was envisioning, she said she, too, had seen the email and felt it would be a great opportunity to do some outreach. We were on the exact same page — and that’s how we founded Girls Talk Math. This past June, the camp celebrated its two-year anniversary with 35 attendees. We put a lot of work and time into it with the help of many undergraduate and graduate volunteers. It was a huge success!
What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?
Make sure you are doing something that you love. Work hard, but, specifically, work smart: Plan ahead, manage your time wisely, and be determined. Math is hard — and that is okay.