Getting To Know The Mind Of A Genius

Young Bosnian mathematician Adisa Bolić (17) from Bosanski Petrovac is a European Mathematical Cup gold medal winner. This is only one among many awards that she has won. In this interview, she talks about education, how she developed her mathematical skills, and what she plans on doing in the future. She also tackles many important, contemporary topics from the perspective of an uncommonly gifted young mathematical genius. Let's change perspectives on science and mathematics!

Intelligence is not revealed only by the results of competitions or scientific knowledge in general, that is for sure. And this young lady shows us just that. She is about much more than just mathematics. She is gives us her honest thoughts about life and science, and talks compellingly about implementing her ideas in our everyday lives. We could change the world for the better, she believes, if teachers changed their approach to introducing students to mathematics and brought about a shift in their attitudes towards it.

How long have you been in love with math? It is quite exceptional for a young person to be as interested in math as you are. Do you ever help your peers with their homework?

Ever since I was a child I loved playing logical games, puzzles, building with Lego bricks. I believe that this love in some way helped develop my interest in mathematics. Later, in primary school, I started competing in it, but it was not until high school that I started really working hard to be good at mathematics. Yes I do. It was never a big problem for me to help my friends with math problems.

Is anyone in your family as talented in math as you are?

Not that much, but my brother is into computer science, and knows his way around computers.

How do your results compare with others? Do you have any tips to help others understand math? 

There are many successful and talented mathematicians around my age in our country. So, I always have someone to compete with, and it never gets boring. That fact is largely thanks to our amazing professors, to whom I personally can say I owe my success. They are Admir Beširević and Harun Hindija, and they really deserve to be well known. I think the key to understanding math is to love math, because without that love, it is really hard to succeed in it.

Would you change the way math is studied in high schools?

Adisa Bolić / Photo: From the Archive of Adisa Bolić

Yes, I would. Mainly what bothers me is that some teachers convey the notion that math as really hard and not readily understandable. Students somehow fear math, and don’t even try to understand it. I would like to change the way math is taught so that students don’t hate it.


What is the coolest thing about math from your perspective?

For me the coolest thing is that each problem can be solved in so many different ways. All students have individual ways of thinking, which lead to their own, sometimes even unique solutions. I like the diversity in math, and that one can always “play” with a problem in order to solve it.

Do you like working on any other subjects in school?

Beside math, I like informatics a lot. I am also trying to prepare for competitions in programming, starting this year. It is rather similar to math. What I like about it is that I can create my own program, with my own touch to it. Also, I like sports, and attend basketball training.

Are there any other parts of education you would change? Or just implement some different aspects of teaching?

I would just like to make teaching more interesting and appealing to students. For example, for some subjects, the things we learn in theory would be much more fun to do practically as well. In that way students would also memorize things better, and would not have to spend as much time in mechanical learning. Today, most students learn subjects just for the exams, and after a month or two forget what they have learned. For me that is not the point of teaching.

Do you have any more goals in school, after winning the award? What are your plans about college?

For me, the most valuable benefit I get in school is that I don’t have to participate in certain lessons. Instead, I can practice math, which really helps me, as I don’t have much free time after school. To be honest, I am not sure about college yet, all I know is that I am going to study mathematics.

Tell us about some of the awards you’ve got. How many are there? Do you have a favorite one?

Respecting international competitions, up to now I have won a gold medal at the European competition, a bronze medal at the Balkan Mathematical Olympiad, and an honorable mention at the International Math Olympiad. Beside those, I have had success in national contests. It may seem a bit odd, but my favorite success was the first place at this year’s Winter Math Camp held in Sarajevo.

How long did you prepare for the European competition?

The only preparation I did for the European competition itself was that a few days before it started. I looked through the problems from previous years. That is, when I practice math, I usually practice it for all the upcoming competitions, not a particular one. I usually practice math a few hours every day, especially when I am on school vacations, then practicing can last up to six hours a day.

Were you ever afraid, at all? Did you even think about being best of the best?

At that time I was. The night before I could barely get any sleep. But since then I have improved in that manner. I don’t feel as anxious as I used to before competitions, which helps a lot. My goal is always to be the best at a competition, no matter how unrealistic it may seem. But, I have to admit that I didn’t expect it to go as well as it did.

Are you planning to work with math your whole life? Have you ever daydreamed about discovering some of your own laws?

Yes, I am. I really do love math, not only for the competitions, and I see it as my life occupation.

Indeed I have, and that is exactly what I like about mathematics, there is always something new to discover and prove. If I were to work with mathematics my whole life, I would like it to be like that, working on a specific subject, maybe geometry or combinatorics.

Do you think today’s mathematicians are trying their best, or just leaning on established knowledge?

I think that every generation of mathematicians does its best, but with time it gets harder to find out new things, as so much has already been discovered and proved and the hard to prove theories remain.

Now, for a last word, what excites you the most about math?

As I already said, from earliest childhood I liked things that were related to math. In primary school I started discovering the beauty of it, and understood that I really liked it. Still, I didn’t practice that much, as it wasn’t such a priority for me. But, in high school everything changed. I really focus on math a lot now, and do it in basically all my free time. I really excites me, and never gets boring. Solving many different problems in different ways, learning new things, competing with my peers is what makes me love math.

Title Photo: Shutterstock

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