Mathematics Professor Calls Moscow Home
Christopher Brav, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Mathematics, joined the Higher School of Economics in 2014 after holding several teaching and research positions abroad. The HSE news service recently had the opportunity to speak with him about his research interests, teaching philosophy and how he has settled into life in Moscow.
— What motivated you to move to Moscow?
— For me, coming to HSE was a great opportunity to be a part of the very active Moscow mathematical community, for my wife to return to Russia after many years, and for my daughter to properly learn Russian.
— What have you found exciting and difficult about working and living in an international environment?
— I have lived and worked in five different countries. There is usually a honeymoon during which everything is new and exciting, after which one begins to experience various practical and cultural difficulties. I have found it very important to maintain a positive attitude. In another country, I once made the mistake of letting some bad experiences spoil my time there, and I made up my mind to not let that happen again. From conversations with other people, I see that there is a particular difficulty in coming to Russia having to do with stories absorbed from Western media, many of which are exaggerated and some of which are simply fake. Speaking for myself, it took me a few months to feel comfortable in Moscow, but I have had consistently good experiences and like it more and more.
— What guides your approach to teaching? Do you have a motto?
— People are not taught. They learn. The best a teacher can do is to try to remove obstacles to the natural process of learning.
— You’re currently learning Russian, which of course is a great plus when living in Russia. How have you been learning it?
— I have slowly been learning Russian from my wife for a number of years, but she speaks English too well! I've made much better progress since coming to Moscow, but I need to put some more focused energy into it.
— What are some of the research projects you’re currently pursuing?
— I have a number of ongoing projects. For non-mathematicians, I work on algebraic geometry, which is the study of spaces described by polynomial equations (like the unit circle from school geometry).
For mathematicians, my recent work is roughly divided into two parts. On the one hand, I have been working for some years in derived algebraic geometry and moduli spaces of sheaves on Calabi-Yau varieties (both commutative and non-commutative). My most recent work in this direction is with Tobias Dyckerhoff from the University of Bonn. Recently, I have been working with a new post-doc here, Andrew Staal, on some concrete questions about the Hilbert scheme of points in affine 3-space. On the other hand, I have been working for some years on developing some ideas of Selberg on explicit reduction theory of arithmetic groups.
— What would be your advice to international teachers and students who might be thinking of joining HSE?
— If you can, come for a visit. I was very impressed when I came for an interview. Before coming, try to learn something objective and fact-based about Russia. Once here, make every effort to speak Russian and make Russian friends.
— What are some of your favourite places in Moscow? Parks, restaurants, museums?
— Gorky Park, of course. Also, Troparevo Park. The area around Chistye Prudy, near the main building of HSE, is a good place to eat. I also like the restaurants on Mikluha Maklaya, across from the People's Friendship University.
I recently went to the European and American gallery of the Pushkin Museum, which has a good collection of Impressionist paintings and some very interesting miniatures of Kandinsky. The Zil Cultural Centre is quite interesting. In particular, they have a nice children's library as well as a collection of English language books in the adult library.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service