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Frisbee in Mathematical Equation: Brilliant Mind of the Professor Miloš Stojaković

Reading Miloš Stojaković’s biography, one can get different impressions. A computer scientist and a mathematician, a PhD holder and a professional frisbee player who at the same time plays percussion and travels to places you can’t even imagine – it’s safe to say that Miloš Stojaković has an eclectic range of interests.

And while a university professor is expected to be authoritative and strict, Miloš is funny and humble, and just like any intellectual, he believes one can always learn something new and he always expects more from himself. Instead of talking with a grumpy sage who acquired all the knowledge of the world, we talked with Miloš as if he was an old acquaintance. We talked with him about the currently popular topics, all the while expecting that the man of impressive biography will do or say something unusual. However, as it turns out, Miloš’s career, success and numerous hobbies are just part of this brilliant mind’s everyday life.
. Above all, I appreciate diversity, and I don’t like monotony – I want to do something new every day!
When someone studies at two universities simultaneously, the first thing that comes to mind is indecisiveness and uncertainty of the youth that has to decide on their future profession, but when they graduate from both universities with exceptionally high grades, one can’t help but think the motive was somewhat different? – Mathematics and Informatics are related, of course, and if you dig deeper into each of them, it gives you a certain depth of understanding them both. When I applied for the university in 1995, Informatics was just becoming popular but was still a bit aside, so I decided to go for Mathematics. Having finished the first year, I realised I was good at it and that I had time to study both sciences and I decided to study Informatics as well. These two were somewhat overlapping during the first year, so I automatically ended up in the second year of Informatics. After that, I was passing double the exams per year and graduated from both departments on time. As it was before the Bologna system of education, although the courses were more extensive and more difficult than they are nowadays, there weren’t so many partial tests, points for attendance and other requirements I would hardly be able to carry out given the fact that I was studying in two departments. This way, each subject required passing written and oral exams. With good organisation, I passed them one by one and I even had quite some time to rest and reset. You were a doctoral student at ETH Zurich and now you’re a university professor in your hometown. Why Novi Sad and not any other city you could’ve gone to? – As it was my plan all along to stay at a university, I had two options after getting a PhD degree, I was either to become an assistant professor at the Faculty of Sciences in Novi Sad, with an opportunity for career advancement, or I could’ve chosen a series of temporary positions (the so-called ‘postdoc’, usually lasting a year or two) at the prestigious universities across the world, moving from town to town, hoping that some of them would offer me the position of a professor, preferably some located in western Europe or the USA. I chose the first option, Novi Sad, and I still believe it was a good decision. I just want to mention that it’s practically impossible to get hired at some of the prestigious world universities because they usually don’t have any positions available, and when they do, numerous people are ‘waiting in line,’ mainly world’s greatest scientists. Therefore, you can’t really hope for that kind of a job, you usually end up being a professor at a medium-ranking university, usually in smaller towns, where the living and working ambience, in my opinion, isn’t much better than the one in Novi Sad. You’ve been competing actively since primary school, you’ve received numerous awards so far, among which is the Dr Zoran Đinđić Award for the greatest young scientist you won 12 years ago. Is there any award that is special to you and to what extent can things like these help career-wise? – My dearest award would probably be the one I won in primary school, which is also the first serious award I received – first place in mathematics in Yugoslavia in the federal competition for the seventh graders, held near Split in 1990. At that time, there weren’t any serious competitions for children younger than seventh graders, so it was my first chance to get to the city level. Even though I qualified for the federal competition quite easily, I didn’t expect to win first place, since there were really smart kids from the whole country. When they told me I was the only one to have 100 points, I was both happy and surprised. You’ve also had some pretty interesting hobbies, such as mountain biking, badminton, you played squash professionally, and you’re the founder of the first Novi Sad ultimate Frisbee club – ‘Air Đewrek.’ Was this unusual name your idea? Is sport for you simply a hobby, or is it more than that? – Sport is definitely something that’s very important to me, I always try to exercise at least three times a week. Depending on the circumstances – weather conditions, available playmates, my health and potential injuries, I choose between the popular sports (3×3 basketball, football, volleyball, running) and the less popular ones. I discovered the ultimate Frisbee first time in 2002 when I lived in Zurich, and I instantly fell in love with it. The fact that you only need a frisbee (weighing 175 grams, much more than a regular one) and grassy terrain, playing ultimate Frisbee with my friends and later forming a team wasn’t such a difficult thing to do in Novi Sad. The name ‘Air Đewrek’ was a wordplay really, inspired by the popular brand ‘Air Jordan’ – the red circle and logotype stylistically remind one of a bagel, and it’s round, just like a frisbee which flies through the air, and that’s it, that’s how we came up with the name. In addition to this, you are an amateur photographer and you run a Facebook page dedicated to old photographs of Novi Sad, but you also play percussion and have concerts with Sambansa. When you take into account all your interests, how would you describe yourself in one word/sentence? A scientist, mathematician, computer scientist, professor…? – None of the above, maybe the most accurate description would be that I have an eclectic range of interests. I’m interested in different things from different life spheres, but I don’t have a primary interest, I don’t have the one thing that’s most important. Above all, I appreciate diversity, and I don’t like monotony – I want to do something new every day! Having in mind you’re a university professor, are there any differences when it comes to the motivation of young people, comparing to when you were a student, especially since the field of Informatics is in expansion and a lot of people opt for it due to secure jobs in the future? – Firstly, I think that stories such as ‘those were the times… it’s totally different nowadays’ are mainly result of the memory distortion and are often exaggerated. Of course, our society has come a long way in the last 30 years, from Yugoslav socialism to today’s quasi-capitalism, and the people have remained somewhat stuck in the past with their attitudes, so it should come as no surprise that many are still in search of an optimal strategy. You can still feel the good old, and totally outdated, approach to studies: ‘everything will be fine as long as you get a degree, we’ll get you a job.’ The employers value a competent and knowledgeable person, no matter the university degree, they won’t hire someone just because they finished college. That’s why it is important for students to actually learn something during their studies, and they’re coming to realise that. When it comes to Informatics itself, the job offer in Serbia, and especially in Novi Sad, is more than good, and it’s been that way for decades now, with ups and downs. So, it should come as no surprise that many opt for this profession. When you have free time, where in Novi Sad do you like to hang out with friends and relax?I like spending time with people, especially if there’s some tasty food involved as well. I prefer a homey ambience, and, of course, it’s important that the host cooks well. I also appreciate going to restaurants, but only with a good reason – if the menu offer is worth going. I’ve been attending pub quizzes in the last few years, I like the contrasting combination of a relaxing bar ambience and a tense test of knowledge. Today, there are many such quizzes, and my friends and I love the ones organized by Nikola Kostić, better known as Lee Men, who, in our opinion, demonstrates his undeniable talent in this somewhat non-standard form of public appearance.
I’m interested in a lot of things from different fields, the list is almost infinite! No matter the knowledge you already have, there’s always room for more and there’s always something you haven’t seen yet.
What events and happenings in Novi Sad (entertainment, cultural, sport…) you never miss?I gladly go to any kind of music performances, from classical music, for which we can thank the Music Youth of Novi Sad, to gigs that are being organised in numerous places that, for a long time now, add to the rich ’garage’ scene of our city: CK13, Dom b-612, Bulevar Books, KC LAB, KCNS and other places. Kineska Quarter was the centre of such events until they started renovating it. I honestly hope the renovated objects will preserve their initial purpose in the future. You’ve visited more than 50 countries. Which of them would you always go back to and why?There is no country I wouldn’t want to visit, no matter if I’ve already been there or not. Travelling is great, I like the change of ambience and I like to observe a different environment on different levels – new urban space, nature and landscapes, local food, architecture, the way people live and so on. As for my favourite countries, the first on the list is certainly Switzerland, especially Zurich, where I lived for four years, until 2005. I gladly go back there, at least once a year. The beautiful alpine landscapes speak for themselves, and I don’t think of Zurich as a foreign city, but as my second home rather. As for what impressed me the most, it would definitely be Svalbard, Iguazu Falls, India as a whole, the Greater Caucasus, the jungles of Laos, Isfahan in Iran and Iceland. Is there anything you haven’t tried/done so far do but would like to, some other branch of science, something artistic, anything?
  • Of course, I’m interested in a lot of things from different fields, the list is almost infinite! No matter the knowledge you already have, there’s always room for more and there’s always something you haven’t seen yet. In today’s world, everything is at your fingertips – interesting and well-conceptualized lectures and educational videos on YouTube, podcasts, interactive content, online courses and stuff like that. I use every opportunity to learn something new.
Author: Leona Pap Photo: Vladimir Veličković You were a doctoral student at ETH Zurich and now you’re a university professor in your hometown. Why Novi Sad and not any other city you could’ve gone to? – As it was my plan all along to stay at a university, I had two options after getting a PhD degree, I was either to become an assistant professor at the Faculty of Sciences in Novi Sad, with an opportunity for career advancement, or I could’ve chosen a series of temporary positions (the so-called ‘postdoc’, usually lasting a year or two) at the prestigious universities across the world, moving from town to town, hoping that some of them would offer me the position of a professor, preferably some located in western Europe or the USA. I chose the first option, Novi Sad, and I still believe it was a good decision. I just want to mention that it’s practically impossible to get hired at some of the prestigious world universities because they usually don’t have any positions available, and when they do, numerous people are ‘waiting in line,’ mainly world’s greatest scientists. Therefore, you can’t really hope for that kind of a job, you usually end up being a professor at a medium-ranking university, usually in smaller towns, where the living and working ambience, in my opinion, isn’t much better than the one in Novi Sad. You’ve been competing actively since primary school, you’ve received numerous awards so far, among which is the Dr Zoran Đinđić Award for the greatest young scientist you won 12 years ago. Is there any award that is special to you and to what extent can things like these help career-wise? – My dearest award would probably be the one I won in primary school, which is also the first serious award I received – first place in mathematics in Yugoslavia in the federal competition for the seventh graders, held near Split in 1990. At that time, there weren’t any serious competitions for children younger than seventh graders, so it was my first chance to get to the city level. Even though I qualified for the federal competition quite easily, I didn’t expect to win first place, since there were really smart kids from the whole country. When they told me I was the only one to have 100 points, I was both happy and surprised. You’ve also had some pretty interesting hobbies, such as mountain biking, badminton, you played squash professionally, and you’re the founder of the first Novi Sad ultimate Frisbee club – ‘Air Đewrek.’ Was this unusual name your idea? Is sport for you simply a hobby, or is it more than that? – Sport is definitely something that’s very important to me, I always try to exercise at least three times a week. Depending on the circumstances – weather conditions, available playmates, my health and potential injuries, I choose between the popular sports (3×3 basketball, football, volleyball, running) and the less popular ones. I discovered the ultimate Frisbee first time in 2002 when I lived in Zurich, and I instantly fell in love with it. The fact that you only need a frisbee (weighing 175 grams, much more than a regular one) and grassy terrain, playing ultimate Frisbee with my friends and later forming a team wasn’t such a difficult thing to do in Novi Sad. The name ‘Air Đewrek’ was a wordplay really, inspired by the popular brand ‘Air Jordan’ – the red circle and logotype stylistically remind one of a bagel, and it’s round, just like a frisbee which flies through the air, and that’s it, that’s how we came up with the name. In addition to this, you are an amateur photographer and you run a Facebook page dedicated to old photographs of Novi Sad, but you also play percussion and have concerts with Sambansa. When you take into account all your interests, how would you describe yourself in one word/sentence? A scientist, mathematician, computer scientist, professor…? – None of the above, maybe the most accurate description would be that I have an eclectic range of interests. I’m interested in different things from different life spheres, but I don’t have a primary interest, I don’t have the one thing that’s most important. Above all, I appreciate diversity, and I don’t like monotony – I want to do something new every day! Having in mind you’re a university professor, are there any differences when it comes to the motivation of young people, comparing to when you were a student, especially since the field of Informatics is in expansion and a lot of people opt for it due to secure jobs in the future? – Firstly, I think that stories such as ‘those were the times… it’s totally different nowadays’ are mainly result of the memory distortion and are often exaggerated. Of course, our society has come a long way in the last 30 years, from Yugoslav socialism to today’s quasi-capitalism, and the people have remained somewhat stuck in the past with their attitudes, so it should come as no surprise that many are still in search of an optimal strategy. You can still feel the good old, and totally outdated, approach to studies: ‘everything will be fine as long as you get a degree, we’ll get you a job.’ The employers value a competent and knowledgeable person, no matter the university degree, they won’t hire someone just because they finished college. That’s why it is important for students to actually learn something during their studies, and they’re coming to realise that. When it comes to Informatics itself, the job offer in Serbia, and especially in Novi Sad, is more than good, and it’s been that way for decades now, with ups and downs. So, it should come as no surprise that many opt for this profession. When you have free time, where in Novi Sad do you like to hang out with friends and relax?I like spending time with people, especially if there’s some tasty food involved as well. I prefer a homey ambience, and, of course, it’s important that the host cooks well. I also appreciate going to restaurants, but only with a good reason – if the menu offer is worth going. I’ve been attending pub quizzes in the last few years, I like the contrasting combination of a relaxing bar ambience and a tense test of knowledge. Today, there are many such quizzes, and my friends and I love the ones organized by Nikola Kostić, better known as Lee Men, who, in our opinion, demonstrates his undeniable talent in this somewhat non-standard form of public appearance.
I’m interested in a lot of things from different fields, the list is almost infinite! No matter the knowledge you already have, there’s always room for more and there’s always something you haven’t seen yet.
What events and happenings in Novi Sad (entertainment, cultural, sport…) you never miss?I gladly go to any kind of music performances, from classical music, for which we can thank the Music Youth of Novi Sad, to gigs that are being organised in numerous places that, for a long time now, add to the rich ’garage’ scene of our city: CK13, Dom b-612, Bulevar Books, KC LAB, KCNS and other places. Kineska Quarter was the centre of such events until they started renovating it. I honestly hope the renovated objects will preserve their initial purpose in the future. You’ve visited more than 50 countries. Which of them would you always go back to and why?There is no country I wouldn’t want to visit, no matter if I’ve already been there or not. Travelling is great, I like the change of ambience and I like to observe a different environment on different levels – new urban space, nature and landscapes, local food, architecture, the way people live and so on. As for my favourite countries, the first on the list is certainly Switzerland, especially Zurich, where I lived for four years, until 2005. I gladly go back there, at least once a year. The beautiful alpine landscapes speak for themselves, and I don’t think of Zurich as a foreign city, but as my second home rather. As for what impressed me the most, it would definitely be Svalbard, Iguazu Falls, India as a whole, the Greater Caucasus, the jungles of Laos, Isfahan in Iran and Iceland. Is there anything you haven’t tried/done so far do but would like to, some other branch of science, something artistic, anything?
  • Of course, I’m interested in a lot of things from different fields, the list is almost infinite! No matter the knowledge you already have, there’s always room for more and there’s always something you haven’t seen yet. In today’s world, everything is at your fingertips – interesting and well-conceptualized lectures and educational videos on YouTube, podcasts, interactive content, online courses and stuff like that. I use every opportunity to learn something new.
Author: Leona Pap Photo: Vladimir Veličković