Just as for about everything else, the Greeks had a word for describing those who, like Anastasia, foster a deep passion for knowledge and understanding. A philomath - a lover of learning. While she is new to the Informatics Olympiad, Anastasia is certainly not a Science Olympiad newbie: she has been taking part in the Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry Olympiads. To better be able to follow her passion for science, she chose to attend an English school, whose curriculum allowed her to focus on these subjects in much more depth.
A few years back, she discovered programming through a school course, and her Informatics journey kicked off. What got her "hooked" on coding long before she had a specific aim, such as the Olympiad, to work towards? Her broader interest in technology was part of the motivation to keep programming on her own in her free time, but also "[...] the freedom to (...) make a computer do what you want it to do very specifically".
Then, a year ago, she found out about the Swiss Olympiad in Informatics (SOI) and decided to take part. As a first time participant in SOI, she’s been seeing a lot of progress in her knowledge of algorithms and ability to implement them. Apart from satisfying her thirst for knowledge and learning, Anastasia considers problem-solving to be the most valuable skill she's developed from her Olympiad experience. "You see the question, and you need to understand how to solve it, and you get the skill of being able to look at it from different perspectives, this kind of way of thinking you surely can apply to all kind of situations in real life".
While preparing for and participating in the Olympiads, challenges will likely come along that test one's confidence and determination. For Anastasia, that was the case last year, when she missed the final round of the Swiss Mathematical Olympiad by only a couple of points. She handles that with composure and outstanding determination, proving why the term philomath suits her so well:"I tell myself it's okay and that next year I have another chance. And also, even though I didn't qualify, I still prepared and acquired the knowledge which I would learn in the next round".
I can't help but wonder if she sometimes loses confidence or feels discouraged when the outcome falls short of her expectations. To some, it may seem difficult to decide whether to keep going, but to Anastasia there's really only one way forward. "It might make me a bit sad in the beginning, but it wouldn't discourage me. I never wanted to stop competing, because there's nothing to lose, one gets to the next round, or not. So if one doesn't participate, then one has already lost." Her persistence and conviction has borne fruit: this year she qualified not only for the final round of the Mathematical Olympiad, but also for the subsequent selection round.
Is such determination already present in the talented young participants of SOI? Or is it the Olympiad which fosters this mindset in them? In Anastasia's case, it's a bit of both. She attributes her tenaciousness in part to her upbringing, especially to her mother, who inspired Anastasia to try things without fear of failure, but goes on to say:"Generally, I think that any kind of competition can promote that mindset. You sometimes lose, get frustrated if something doesn't work the way you want it to, so you have to learn how to deal with it".
With so many experiences and skills to gain from taking part in the Olympiads, are there any obstacles girls might be faced with in deciding to participate? Although she herself finds it motivating, Anastasia nonetheless thinks that the limited number of women in the field of informatics can be discouraging for some, and that external support and encouragement may be helpful. However, she did not need anyone encouraging her to participate - her intrinsic motivation and passion were enough.
Anastasia describes herself as someone who aims to improve as much as she possibly can, regardless of what others are accomplishing. She’s learnt to avoid the all-too-common trap of comparison. Her focus is on authenticity and choosing the path that is most suited to her unique abilities and interests without using others as reference: "One should only compare oneself to oneself, the past self and the future self".
As an encouragement to other girls, she says: "If you're interested in something you should do it regardless of any stereotypes or whatnot. One should just do what one likes, what one wants to do"
Qualifying for EGMO this year is Anastasia’s short-term goal. In the long term, she dreams big: "Something very ambitious would be to get a Nobel Prize or a Fields medal", she says. "My unreachable goal is to become omniscient, I want to just get as much knowledge as I can". How does one stay motivated while chasing such dreams? "One shouldn't be frustrated if one can't reach this very ambitious goal, it's about working towards it and seeing how close one can get to the goal", Anastasia advises. In her final year of high-school, she is certain that science is her path. "I'll probably go with maths or chemistry. Maths I'm very passionate about, it makes me happy to learn it. In chemistry, I really like that you have this abstract thing but can relate it to something directly tangible in the world." Whatever direction she may end up taking, one can be certain that Anastasia's passion and enthusiasm for learning will not only lead her to the achievements she desires, but also ensure that she thoroughly enjoys every step of the journey.