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Alan Coley, university research professor

A day in the life

Alan Coley, university research professor


I think we can pride ourselves on the fact that we have a number of very good teachers in our department. We have a reputation for caring about the students. For undergraduates, that’s a big thing.

On the fundamentals of work, education and the universe

As a cosmologist, University Research Professor Alan Coley uses math to explore the origins of the universe.

Dr. Coley collaborates with both mathematicians and physicists. His most recent research with colleague Bernard Carr discussed black holes, older than the universe itself, that survived a series of big bangs and big crunches.

He cracks fundamental mathematics problems like this one using a mix of applied mathematics and mathematical physics: a mix of classical and modern techniques involving pure mathematics, differential geometry and differential equations.

“In pure mathematics you are essentially interested in mathematics for its own sake, whereas in applied mathematics you are doing the exact same mathematics, and you do it with the same rigour, but you have an applied goal in mind,” he says.

A serious attitude towards teaching

Not many people in the department do what he does. But, says Dr. Coley, everyone here shares one interest: a serious attitude towards teaching. He believes it’s a huge strength of the program.

“A lot of people have received awards for teaching. I think we can pride ourselves on the fact that we have a number of very good teachers in the department.”

Teaching is not traditionally a strength of mathematics departments, he says. “You often hear quite critical stories about math teachers,” he says. At Dal, it’s different.  “We have a reputation for caring about the students.”

After 25 years at Dalhousie, he’s seen a long history of outreach in the department. Math faculty often consult with the provincial government on school curriculum and perform promotional events in high schools.

But if you don’t want to study general relativity or be a high school math teacher, there’s no shortage of applications for math in other careers. He says employers know it’s a solid degree.

“You’ll find a lot of companies recruit from mathematics because it’s a reputable degree,” he says. “People know that the degree is a difficult degree and that people have had to work quite hard to get it.”