Our Alumni – Vanni Noferini

In this blog post, we asked one of our alumni, Vanni Noferini, a few questions about his time with the Numerical Linear Algebra Group.

Please can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your experience before attending University of Manchester?

I was born in Florence, Tuscany. I did my undergraduate studies there, obtaining an M.Sc. in Theoretical Physics. Later, I got my Ph.D in Mathematics in Pisa. During my PhD I was jointly supervised by Dario Bini and Luca Gemignani. While in Italy I also played volleyball at a somewhat competitive level, and I have had a number of part-time/student jobs. For example I have been writing science popularisation articles for a Swiss newspaper.

Why did you choose to do your postdoc in Manchester?

While I was writing my PhD thesis I had applied to an open call for a postdoc position to work on functions of a matrix, with Nick Higham. Nick is a world-famous superstar in the area, so that sounded like a great opportunity. Moreover, I liked Nick and Françoise, and the rest of the group, since the day of my interview; they probably have also not disliked me too much because I was offered the job. Accepting it was a great decision: I learnt a lot and my time there has certainly shaped my career to a significant extent. I started in September 2012 (technically as a predoc: I flew to Pisa to defend my viva in October 2012) and stayed until August 2015.

During my Manchester years, I have worked not only with Nick but also with many other people who then were in the group: for example Yuji Nakatsukasa, Javi Perez, Meisam Sharify, Françoise Tisseur. Plus there were other fantastic mathematicians around to talk with, such as Stefan Guettel or Martin Lotz  — not to mention the frequent international visitors. Those were the days and Manchester was just the place to be… Now I manage my own research group at Aalto, and I am doing my best to create a similarly fruitful environment: my inspiration for this goal is definitely the NLA group in Manchester during my postdoc!

How did you find Manchester?

A little humid, but fun.  In my first couple of weeks I actually stayed in the Peak District (the husband of a friend of my then girlfriend had rented me a room in Congleton, Cheshire) which was beautiful but would not have been a very convenient long-term address to work in the Alan Turing Building. Thus, I soon moved to Didsbury and I lived there for most of my 3 years in Manchester. I was living in Austin Drive, not far from the Burnage railway station, and apparently very close to where Charles Van Loan had stayed during his own Manchester postdoc (at least, so he once told me). Later, more NLA group members figured out that Didsbury was a rather nice place, so eventually we had grown a small community there. In fact, fellow Didsbury resident Martin Lotz and I used to refer to Manchester as “Greater Didsbury”. On the occasional sunny weekends I liked to go around by car, so I got to know quite well the broader area of Greater Dids… I mean, Manchester, and North-West England.

Can you tell us about your career since leaving University of Manchester?

I have continued a career in academia. I was a Lecturer (Research) at the University of Essex in Colchester for about 4 years. I obtained tenure in Essex, and also indefinite leave to remain in the UK post-Brexit, having got a “settled status” as a long-enough UK resident and EU citizen. However, even though I have enjoyed my 7 years in England, I was offered an attractive position from Aalto University (Finland), that would give me more research time and better funding opportunities. So I moved here in May 2019.

What is your current role?

Currently I am an Associate Professor in Mathematics at Aalto University, which is located in Espoo (Finland). Here I am the leader of a research group on matrix theory and its applications. At the time of this interview, my group includes one visiting professor (Paul Van Dooren), two postdocs (Giovanni Barbarino and Manme Quintana), two PhD students (Lauri Nyman and Ryan Wood) and one MSc student by research (Antti Haavikko). We are having fun!

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