Do Duc Thai is noted mainly as a teacher of mathematics but has also written many articles that have been published. He talks to Vinh Ha
and Thu Hien
about his life and career.
Inner Sanctum: "I am made in Viet Nam", that is the way you usually joke to others about yourself. Perhaps this is an ironic way to say that a great talent like you deserves to have good things?
Not at all. On the contrary, I'm proud to say that "I am made in Viet Nam". Saying that is my way of paying tribute to the Vietnamese teachers who helped me to become a scientist. When I was 14, I began to study math at Ha Noi University of Education. Although I received international math awards, my circumstances did not allow me to study overseas. Therefore, I made up my mind to stay at school and continue studying.
Inner Sanctum: Basically, you finished your university course in two years, and then you did an internship in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (Soviet Union). Is that true?
In 1989, I had a chance to go to the Soviet Union to practice under the instruction of Professor M. Zaidenberg. However, there was political upheaval in the Soviet Union as the end of my internship drew near, and I did not have enough money to pursue a PhD thesis, so I returned home to do my thesis here. That is why I joke to my co-workers that I am made in Viet Nam.
Inner Sanctum: It is said that despite your virtuosic mind, you still need to be in a good environment overseas to fulfill your true potential. What do you think?
I think the study environment plays an important role. Young scientists dream of being able to meet great professors, live in a dynamic scientific environment, and attend huge conferences. However, you do not have to study abroad to become a great man. If you have passion, courage and determination to fight for what you want, you will definitely become an internationally-ranked scientist.
However, I must say that to achieve something like winning the Fields Award, Professor Ngo Bao Chau has to travel beyond Viet Nam's borders. It's too difficult to make it as a scientist in Viet Nam. For one thing, the question of how to make ends meet can really distract you from your scientific work.
Inner Sanctum: For a scientist like you, choosing to live in another country to work on scientific activities is completely understandable. Is that right?
In my opinion, if you want to live in a foreign country, besides being able to work and speak the language, you have to integrate yourself in that nation's culture. However, my parents have taught me to love the culture of Viet Nam. Because I was raised on Viet Nam's culture, my heart could not bear to leave.
Inner Sanctum: Many say that people will gain more success in a better and more prestigious working environment. What is your opinion about that?
Of course it is. I have been to Muong Nhe, which is a rural district in Sin Ho District of Lai Chau Province. They live in real hardship. Every day they struggle to have enough food. I have also visited a high school on the outskirts of Ha Noi where there are teachers whose property cost under VND300,000. It was different from other places I have been to. However, I still want to serve my country. I want to go back. I want to do everything I can to help people, especially youngsters. There are many young talents in Viet Nam. If they are well-nurtured, they will contribute to the nation. I really want to help them.
Inner Sanctum: Recently, you were nominated for the position of rector of the Ha Noi National University of Education. However, you did not win. How do you feel about this?
No matter what, I am still a scientist. If I were entrusted with that responsibility, I would dedicate myself to the work. But if not, I would gladly continue with my daily routine. When a man wishes to give all of his passion and energy to his work, he can do it no matter what position he is in.
Inner Sanctum: It is said that when a good scientist becomes a manager, he accepts that he will spend less time on scientific study. When you accepted the nomination, did you have any trouble reconciling your love for research with your desire for the position?
Certainly. If I voted for someone, I could not bear to watch him sit there doing research while there were many other things that needed to be taken care of. Therefore, I understand that if I choose another direction, I will have to sacrifice my passion.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think of the responsibilities of a rector of a nation's top-ranking university?
It is an issue that must be solved by each generation. The previous generation must provide support for the next generation. I, like other teachers, always want to have a competent, responsible rector who also has the sense of justice to lead the students along the right path. — VNS