Kristin Lauter | Cryptography Research Manager/Principal Researcher
Education: B.A. Mathematics, 1990, M.S. Mathematics, 1991, Ph.D. Mathematics, 1996, University of Chicago
Career stage: Late—27 years post Bachelor’s
What She Does
Kristin manages a team of researchers, serves on the leadership team for the lab (~200 researchers), and does tons of external leadership in the mathematics community, especially for women. Her days are filled with team meetings, collaboration meetings on projects with researchers, and meetings with potential customers and business groups. Kristin leads interdisciplinary project teams that include mathematicians, computer scientists, developers, bioinformatics researchers, and business people. Her team won the 2015 and 2016 Secure Genome Analysis iDASH international competitions sponsored by NIH.
And giving back and supporting her community? She just finished a two-year term as President of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM).
Necessary Job Skills
Communication, creativity, and planning are currently key skills. Research competence, creativity, hard work, and clarity of thought have been key skills to build her career. A training in mathematics trains the mind in clarity of thought, an important asset in the business world. Mathematics is the foundation of all public-key cryptography solutions which secure our e-commerce infrastructure and many other aspects of privacy and security in our society, including national security, and healthcare privacy. Mathematics is used in many other parts of the IT high tech sector: signal processing, machine learning, algorithms for routing, scheduling, storage, ad pricing and placement, determining business models, etc.
Pros and Cons Of Her Job
The most rewarding aspect of Kristin’s job is collaborating with other researchers, developers, and scientists to solve big problems—she has the ability to change the world through opportunities to research exciting topics and find new solutions. The thing she likes least about her job is the inherent competition in both the research and business worlds.
Kristin is able to make her own schedule. She works hard but can work from home much of the time. She works a lot at night, but it allows her some flexibility during the day if needed.
Kristin had no idea she would end up in industry—U Chicago did not even have an engineering school! After earning her PhD in Mathematics at the University of Chicago, Kristin took the traditional step of accepting a position as Hildebrandt Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Michigan. She developed and taught a new math course there, on coding theory and cryptography, which attracted many students from engineering. Getting to know these students and their professors in engineering caused her to become interested in the practical applications of coding theory and cryptography. This is what led Kristin to apply for a job in cryptography at Microsoft Research (MSR), where she went after three years at Michigan. She loves the stimulating research environment at MSR and has been there ever since.
I was surprised at the broad level of interest in my mathematical work and applications from my co-workers. In my first few months at Microsoft, I was asked to speak to everyone from lawyers, to developers, to executives about my research. So, I immediately realized the value of good communication skills, which was a skill that was easy for me to transfer from my teaching career.
Career Expectations and Advice
“Communication, creativity, and planning are key skills.”
Do an internship in industry or government while in graduate school, or even better do it during undergraduate years. Graduate students in mathematics can easily acquire or brush up on their development skills so that they can write code in C, C++, java, or Python. The ability to write good code and ramp up on sound engineering practices makes a mathematics student extremely valuable in industry—a unique asset to a company!
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