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'Pace yourselves,' Huh tells students

Students should know when to relax and slow down, Fields Medal winner says

July 13, 2022 - 18:53 By Kan Hyeong-woo
Korean American mathematician June Huh, winner of Fields Medal 2022, speaks to reporters in a press conference at the Korea Institute for Advanced Study in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Korean American mathematician June Huh -- winner of the 2022 Fields Medal, the highest award in mathematics -- encouraged young students to stay patient with themselves when trying to figure out what they like.

“If you are trying to like something but it’s hard to do so, I think you should support and wait for yourself. If you push yourself too hard, it’s difficult to purely like something. You should know when it’s time to relax, and I think that is how you can have good results,” Huh said in a press conference at the Korea Institute for Advanced Study in Seoul on Wednesday.

He noted that difficult problems are fun, mentioning that studying math and solving problems are similar to training for marathons and lifting weights on a daily basis.

“If you get overwhelmed by stress, math will not be enjoyable. Training 10 to 12 hours a day may not be the best way. You should know yourself and take things slow while trying not to get injured. In this way, you will be able to grow,” said Huh.

The 39-year old professor became the first person of Korean descent to win the prestigious Fields Medal at the International Congress of Mathematicians on July 5.

The Fields Medal, which is considered the Nobel Prize of math, is awarded to mathematicians under the age of 40 for significant contributions to the field of mathematics at the ICM held every four years by the International Mathematical Union.

Asked why some surveys indicate one in three Korean students give up on math, Huh pointed to the country’s social and cultural environment.

“I think the biggest problem is that students use their precious school years trying to get good evaluations instead of studying. The reason is our social and cultural background, which demands (students) win competitions and be perfect all the time,” he said.

The Fields Medal winner encouraged students not to be intimidated by reality. If students can find what their interests are, they should let their minds lead them extensively and deeply into their favorite subjects, he added.

Huh also asked policy makers to come up with supportive policies and stable environments so that students can pursue their areas of interest in the long term.