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Meet the New Faculty: Clark Bowman, Mathematics & Statistics

Find out why Clark Bowman, new assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, chose to teach at Hamilton, and learn about his research and how his first year is going so far.

Why did you start teaching?

Honestly, I don’t think there was a particular moment when I made a conscious decision to start teaching. I’ve certainly always enjoyed learning; there have been uncountable topics in math and the sciences that have completely wowed me. One of the greatest joys is sharing your interest with others. I got a bit of that flavor in college, when I [was a] TA, and I really fell in love with the environment when I started teaching my own sections in graduate school. Beyond that, I’ve always gotten a lot of satisfaction out of seeing people I care about succeed at things they care about, and to have a direct supporting role in those endeavors is very fulfilling.

about clark bowman

B.S., University of Rochester

M.S., Ph.D., Brown University

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What attracted you to Hamilton?

I love the idea of having a well-utilized common space where everyone is working together, discussing, and relaxing. I had an exceptionally positive view of the faculty based on our early interactions, which has proven wholly accurate. The department was looking for someone to work with my absolute favorite topics (probability, statistics, data science). The College has a reputation, which I can now say is deserved, for having highly interested, engaged, conscientious students. The campus is beautiful, and ... I prefer a cold, snowy climate (the furthest south I’ve ever lived is Providence, R.I.). And a few personal reasons as well: My younger sister and her fiancé are alumni (Class of ’15) and love the place to bits.

How has your time been here so far?

There have been challenges, to be sure. I’m still putting a lot of time into reworking existing courses to better align with the new statistics minor and future developments toward data science, but my colleagues have been fantastically supportive, and it is fulfilling to feel like I am making a real difference right from the first stride. I had a wonderful group of students in the fall who gave much more back to me than I was expecting.

Tell us about your research.

My one-line summary attempt: I use techniques from probability theory and mathematical statistics to try to understand lots of different biological systems. I’ve historically done a lot of computer simulations, since there are probability-based ways of modeling how things like cells and DNA behave in certain situations that are hard to observe in real life. More recently, I’ve been moving toward using some of these techniques to perform large-scale analysis of data from biological experiments.

This is the first place I have been where it feels like everyone — students, faculty, staff, administrators — is on some sort of big team trying to make something great happen.

For example, my main project over the last year or so has been looking at measurements of things like heart rate, motion, and sleep taken from smart watches to better understand the body’s circadian rhythm, the internal clock that keeps your body synchronized with the time of day. Anyone who has participated in a sleep study knows that it is quite an ordeal to try to measure your body’s internal clock, so it’s a situation where statistical techniques to analyze things we can easily observe are incredibly valuable.

What do you like most about your students?

I’ll answer this one anecdotally. As is almost always the case, there were a few students last semester who were having a pretty rough time with the first few assignments and quizzes. Within the next couple of weeks, I started to see them coming by CJ fairly often to work together, talk to me, discuss concepts with each other. It kept ramping up, and by the end of the semester, they were putting in just an incredible amount of time and effort. I was floored by such a strong positive response to adversity. And I feel that all of them finished the course strongly. That really gave me a sense of what Hamilton students are like.

Can you talk about your faculty colleagues?

I’m grateful everyone has been so welcoming. Starting any new position is stressful. You’re in new surroundings, with unfamiliar faces, and your peers are experts who have been there much longer than you. But all of my colleagues here, inside and outside of my department, have valued what I have to say from day one, and that makes me as comfortable as I can reasonably be given the circumstances.

It is great to know that, whenever I need advice, there are so many people willing to share their thoughts and expertise. They’re wonderful role models. There have already been so many times when someone would mention something they did in class and I would think “that sounds awesome!” And it is always inspiring to pass a colleague on the way to/from class who is in vibrant discussion with students at the chalkboard.

Do you have any anecdotes from Hamilton that stick out to you?

A few memorable moments from my first semester: 1) A student coming by my office during the first week to ask if there could be more homework. 2) Day two of Math 351: What are the possible outcomes of flipping a coin? A student asking “What if the coin is in space?” 3) A student being more or less in tears handing in the first quiz because she might have done one part of one problem slightly wrong. 4) A large group of students in CJ lambasting the peppermint candies I had in my office. (I had the last laugh by putting a question about mints on every test.)

What are your favorite places on campus?

Biased answer, but I really do love the math common area in CJ. It’s everything I wish I had when I was in college. The Root Glen is beautiful, and I try to get over there to walk every few weeks. I find the seating area in front of Opus 2 in the Science lobby quite relaxing with the sunlight and greenery. Finally, I visited the third floor of the Chapel for the first time a few months ago, and that was a really cool space. I’m a sucker for vaulted ceilings.

What’s one of your favorite things about Hamilton?

I would say the culture. I’m admittedly only familiar with a handful of universities, but this is the first place I have been where it feels like everyone — students, faculty, staff, administrators — is on some sort of big team trying to make something great happen. I definitely feel a lot of solidarity. It’s a great environment to be a part of.

Where have you previously studied and worked?

I was an undergraduate student not far from here, at the University of Rochester, where I graduated with degrees in math and physics. I chose to disappoint my colleagues in both disciplines by going into applied math, which was too applied for the mathematicians and too pure for the physicists.

I did my master’s and Ph.D. in the Division of Applied Mathematics at Brown University, where I met extraordinary scholars and good friends. Finally, I spent one year teaching at the University of Michigan in a postdoctoral position. The differential equations course I taught there is my only pure math course of record (as opposed to applied math/statistics), so watch out if you see me doing a pure course here at Hamilton.

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