Kimsy Tor: Challenges can help us to build our character

Kimsy Tor is a mathematician and an assistant professor of the ICT program at the AUPP. She is also a math teacher at AUPP-Foxcroft High School. She was the only student who graduated high school with an ‘A’ grade in 2010. After high school graduation, Kimsy spent many years abroad, earning degrees in mathematics in the United States and France. She holds a Bachelor of Mathematics and Computer Science from the United States, a Master in Applied Mathematics, and a PhD in Computational Statistics from France. Over the years, she has developed expertise in Statistics, Probability, Data Science, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligent.

(Click here to listen to the interview)

[Below is the translation of the interview that is slightly edited for clarity.]

Q: Hello Kimsy! How are you?

Kimsy: I am doing well.

Sotheary: I am so proud of you. You were the only student who graduated high school with an ‘A’ in 2010. In addition, you have earned your academic degrees abroad after high school. How did you prepare yourself?

Kimsy: I have taken math and English preparation for one year before going to the US. I have read about New York City, such as food and weather. I also read about the school and school environment.

Sotheary: What experience in the US makes you smile when you think about it?

Kimsy: It is snow. I have not seen snow before going to the US. I was so excited when I saw the snow for the first time. There are four seasons there. The weather changes more often than in Cambodia. Our daily living is adapting to the weather. Each season has its uniqueness.

Sotheary: Was that difficult for you to study abroad alone?

Kimsy: Yes, it was challenging. I have not experienced living with foreigners before going to the US. I used to live with my parents and siblings. I felt lonely when I was there. I didn’t have a Khmer friend there. I was the only Khmer at school. So I needed to learn about school culture and environment. After my first year, I learned how to adapt to a new environment.

Sotheary: Why do you choose to pursue PhD right after your bachelor’s degree because some people may want to work after graduation?

Kimsy: Some of my friends chose to work after graduation. It is a path for some young people who choose to do so. For me, I enjoyed teaching. I wanted to be a professor, so I chose to pursue PhD right after graduation. Sometimes I thought about my choices; I should have worked for a while before pursuing a PhD. It would allow me to know more about society, not just academic life. I had an opportunity to learn about society after finishing my PhD.

I don’t recommend young people to pursue a PhD right after graduation. You can work to understand what you like and want to do for a while. You can still pursue a master or PhD when you are ready. My path is for some people who want to be a professor. That’s why I chose this career path. No path is better than another. It depends on what fits you better.  

Studying for a master’s degree or PhD is lonely. Most of my friends worked. I earned a master’s degree and PhD without them. Sometimes, I doubted myself. I asked myself, ‘why did you study; why didn’t you work?’ But mathematics is not an easy subject. If we work for a while, we may forget some technical aspects.

I want to tell young people that you can do what you want. You can choose to work or continue your graduate degree. I want them to make a decision without being fear or influenced by external factors. Don’t feel pressured because your friends are employed or your parents want you to find a job. Instead, make your decision based on evidence, data, and reliable information.  

Before pursuing a PhD, I have asked people who did master’s degrees and PhD. I encourage young people to seek information from people who work and study. You should ask yourself what you want. Each path is good. It depends on what you want in life. I want you to decide with reliable information.

Sotheary: Some teenagers or young people experience peer pressure. How did you manage it when you were young?

Kimsy: I don’t listen to others much. I make my own decision. So, peer pressure is not a challenge for me. Young people in their teen years or early twenties face this issue. I was fortunate to get an A on my high school exam. I was featured in the news. It was also a difficult time for me. I was 18 then; I didn’t know much about society. Being known to other people overnight was challenging. I needed to learn how to talk to journalists. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I questioned myself, why did my private life become public? It became a problem for me.

Sotheary: What was the problem?

Kimsy: I felt lonely. I studied hard because I enjoyed it, not to be famous. Being known to others impacted my mental health because I was pressured. My study result was not my private life anymore; it became public. For instance, I continued to study bachelor’s degree after high school. What would have happened if I didn’t do good in my undergraduate study when people knew me as an outstanding student. It was a pushing factor for me to performance well during my undergraduate. But, my academic results could be up and down. People didn’t know me as a typical student who could get some good or bad grades; people just labeled me as an outstanding student. It became a pressure for me to do good in school. Being well-known is not always good; it also brings adverse effects on mental health. I wanted to keep my study result private; I didn’t want other people to know about them. When people knew about it, it becames a problem.

Sotheary: When do you realize that you were pressured?

Kimsy: I started to notice it when I studied for a master’s degree. My academic pathway was not always smooth. I faced many challenges. I also experienced mental health issues. I studied abroad alone. I didn’t have a family with me there. When I encountered problems, I went through them alone. I can say, the challenge that we face can help us build our character. When we can overcome it, it makes us stronger.

Sotheary: Where do you get a supporting system?

Kimsy: In France, I went to a Khmer student association there. We talked about study and life when we met. I met students who went there before me. In my class, I had other international students there. We created a group study. We studied together during the weekend to support each other. I was fortunate to have those people.

Sotheary: Do you have any messages for young people in a situation similar to your 2010 situation?

Kimsy: You can reject the interview if you feel uncomfortable. I accepted the interview when someone asked me at that time (2010). I didn’t refuse the interview. I haven’t sought an opportunity to tell journalists,’ I didn’t want to be interviewed because I didn’t want to be known; I did what I enjoyed, not because I wanted to be famous.’

I just want people to know me as a person. I want to encourage young people to say ‘NO’ to journalists or people who make them feel pressured. Some journalists just want to produce content by asking us questions. Journalists should be aware that some of their questions may impact the mental health of others. I wish to request that journalists not pressure others. We are just typical human beings, not exceptional people. Don’t produce content that makes others perceive that we are superior. If I could go back, I would say ‘NO’ to journalists.

Sotheary: Do you have any message for young women who want to study STEM subjects?

Kimsy: I would like to encourage them to study STEM subjects. STEM is a key for them to unlock many opportunities. Cambodia lacks human resources in STEM. They can get a scholarship to study STEM abroad. They also have many opportunities to work overseas if they choose STEM subjects. They can gain the knowledge to support their lives. If they feel like STEM is not for girls, I encourage them to study it because it is not only for boys. From my experience, more men than women study STEM subjects. If you see it as a problem, you need to study it so that we can have more women in STEM. By doing so, you can be a part of the solution to promote gender equality in STEM.

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