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Meet Rachel Skipper

Rachel Skipper joined the Department of Mathematics as an Assistant Professor this year.

Rachel SkipperTell us a little about your background.
I'm from a very tiny town in Western Maryland, near the West Virginia border in the Appalachian Mountains.  Utah is an incredibly beautiful place to live, but I think my town might have the best fall views.  I still feel a lot of deep connections there, very much because of my extremely supportive family and community.  It was a great place to grow up.

Where did you earn your degrees?  What was your path to the University of Utah?
I stayed pretty close to my hometown for my undergraduate degree.  I went to Frostburg State University where I had some of the best professors.  When I graduated, there were only four math majors (two dual computer science majors, one math education major, and me), but those professors made us work hard.  When I finished my degree I wasn't yet sure what area of math I wanted to study, but I knew I wanted to keep studying so I applied to graduate school.  As a first-generation college student I was part of the McNair program during my time at Frostburg, which helped me to understand what was necessary to apply to graduate programs.  I'm very much indebted to this program, as I might have been completely lost otherwise.  I was admitted to Binghamton University with a Clifford D. Clark fellowship, a competitive fellowship also designed to support first generation college students and students from other groups underrepresented in graduate education.  At Binghamton I earned my master's and PhD.  My advisor was Marcin Mazur whose primary area is algebraic number theory.  You might note that I do not work in algebraic number theory.  Indeed, I was really fortunate to get to work with Marcin, who was happy to let his students explore whatever topics they were interested in, so I wrote my thesis on self-similar groups.
After graduate school, I spent a year as a postdoc at the ENS Lyon and then three years as a postdoc at the Ohio State University.  The year before moving to Utah, I spent the year in a visiting researcher/visiting professor type position at the ENS in Paris.  This past summer, I flew back to the east coast before making the 30 hour drive to finally arrive in Salt Lake City.
Tell us about your research interests in a paragraph or two.
I work on geometric and combinatorial group theory.  I'm particularly interested in groups which arise as symmetries of the Cantor set, as this gives a good source for groups with difficult or hard to find properties that often also have nice descriptions.  There are a lot of topics in geometric group theory that are still really mysterious, in the sense that we have examples but don't yet know the general theory, for which the examples primarily come from actions on Cantor sets.  Two examples of this phenomenon include the study of intermediate growth, in which case we have self-similar groups, and infinite simple groups, where we have Thompson-like groups and other topological full groups.  My favorite part about research, though, is collaborating and I've had some really excellent collaborators over the years.  Some of my favorite projects come from working with people in areas besides geometric group theory that let me learn a lot about some new area of math.  I count among my collaborators people working in model theory, semi-groups, dynamics, and probability.
What do you enjoy most about being at the University of Utah?

The geometry and topology research group here is known to be one of the strongest and most collaborative around, so it's a real joy to get to join this group.

What are three things you like to do in your spare time? 
I'm happiest when I'm outside.  I love to garden.  As soon as I moved into my current house in August, I planted a small fall crop of radishes, sugar snap peas, and beets.  I like to hike, so I'm really glad to be back living in the mountains, although these mountains are really different than the rolling Appalachians I grew up with.  Also, in the last year or so I've been trying to learn to play the banjo.  I know you asked for three things, but since I'm in Utah I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention that I recently started to do a bit of indoor rock climbing, particularly belaying/top rope.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
I'm really excited to be here and part of this department, and I'm looking forward to getting to know the rest of the department!  If you want to say hi over a cup of coffee/tea, you'll find me in my office most days.
Last Updated: 11/9/23