Yuri Vitalievich Pavlyuchenko

As the university developed step by step, so its inhabitants - students and teachers - grew with it. Once a graduate student, and now a professor at the Mathematical Institute named in honor of S.M. Nikolsky Yuri Vitalievich Pavlyuchenko spoke about how the University of Peoples' Friendship (RUDN) changed his life forever.

For me, the main thing is output on the part of the students
Yuri Vitalievich Pavlyuchenko
Professor at the Mathematical Institute
How did you get to RUDN?

Once I was in the Alexander Square in front of the Kremlin. And suddenly, a crowd of demonstrators came up from Herzen Street with slogans and screams. In 1960, demonstrations took place twice a year – on May 1 and November 7. And just on a normal weekday a column of exotic people shouting something appeared. I asked what was going on and someone explained to me that there was a new university in Moscow, the University of Friendship of Peoples, and those were its students. On February 5, 1960, under a high resolution an educational institution for students from developing countries was created in Moscow. It was a gift for those who could not get education there in their countries. But at that time no one knew that this was a gift not only for them, but for another completely unknown person who celebrated his 25th birthday the day before, and that was me. At that moment, I also did not know this, but it turned out so.

I worked at a construction institute, as an assistant at the department of higher mathematics, and once my supervisor, professor Valery Vitalyevich Ryzhkov, decided to move from there to the University of Peoples' Friendship. I followed the same route with Ryzhkov, being one of the first graduate students in November 1961.

At that time, something unimaginable was happening within these walls, in that first set of foreign students and teachers. There was no first year yet, but there was a sub-faculty: someone was taken for one year, someone for two, and someone for three. There were people who came completely unprepared. As a graduate student, I had to teach both a three-year and two-year courses, that was, to talk with people who did not know mathematics at all. But they all wanted to learn - that was the most important thing!

Why is university so special for you?

Over the decades, a very good atmosphere has developed in RUDN. I was in the first wave, and after all, a lot of people came with me in 1961 to  graduate school and to work. But there are no merits of mine that I lasted so many years here, except that there is such an environment. I managed to work with three rectors. During the first rector, I defended my dissertation, at the second - I became an assistant professor, at the third - I became a professor. I certainly made efforts to move up the career ladder, but the situation itself was such that it contributed to such an easy, natural movement.

Why did you choose math?

I was good at mathematics and was interested from the first grades of the school. Starting with arithmetic, and then algebra, geometry, trigonometry - all this was interesting to me, it was easy, I enjoyed these classes. I participated in the Olympiads at Moscow State University at the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics. I entered the university, not knowing at all higher mathematics. Many of those who came with me were more advanced, and I only knew the school curriculum. Then I studied higher mathematics. I had to study (is laughing). Mathematics teaches rigor of judgment, logic, sets up and mobilizes in a certain direction - everything here is very strict and logical. It’s like a house: first the first floor is built, then the second, then the third. If you build the other way around, then the house will collapse..

First classes, first students - what are they like?

You know, it was a very special setting. Firstly, students were 90% foreigners. There were also our compatriots.

Cheating, as a phenomenon, simply did not exist. Two people are sitting nearby, having one option - it doesn’t occur to them that you can look into  somebody’s paper. Two have one option, but a different solution.

One of our students, our compatriot, entered the engineering department, but became interested in mathematics. It seemed to him that there was not enough mathematics, and he switched to Mechanics and Mathematics from the Faculty of Engineering - he wanted to learn mathematics. He later became a doctor of physical and mathematical sciences, rector of the RUDN University, and even the Minister of Education. Do you know who I am talking about? I think when former students are at the head of the university, this preserves the atmosphere created by the founding fathers. But, if we finish all this on a humorous note, then I will say that we still missed one student. If we had accepted, at one time, to our university, one lanky African guy, the son of a Kenyan shaman, if he had become a student at RUDN University in Moscow, rather than Columbia University in the USA, then relations between Russia and America would be different (laughs).

You had several scenarios. You might go into science, into pure science, but you still decided to teach. Why?

To paraphrase the famous Nekrasov expression - "You may not be a scientist, but you must be a teacher." You must faithfully convey what you have been taught. Not in the sense that this information is new - that is not the point. There are simply some basic things that go through universities. What is university education in general, you know? This is what remains after a person forgets everything that he was taught at the university.

I was tutoring right after graduation. Therefore, communication with people whom I teach something was familiar to me. And when I entered graduate school, I immediately had a social burden at the department. I became the head of the higher mathematics teaching circle for the department staff who came from schools. They knew school mathematics well, but not the highest. I had several people who were twice or maybe three times older than me, but who came, studied, I showed them how to solve problems, how to explain something to students. So, in this sense, when I started working with students here, I was already prepared. The fact that I had to study myself, I also understood, because when you graduate from a university, even if in a sense this constant study bothers you, you literally think on the second or third day: “How does it turn out? “A whole day passed, but I did not study, did nothing, did not recognize anything.” It pulls back to study. So going to graduate school is natural.

In teaching, what is the most important for you?

The most important thing, of course, is the return of students. Here, for example, there is some method of solving a problem. I give the student a task, and he solves it in the way that he was taught in the 8th or 9th grade. I tell him: “Look! It’s easier to do this way.” And to achieve that they not just crammed, but understood and realized that this knowledge gives them the opportunity to rise to a new level - this is interesting. Feedback is when they are already starting to return what I give them, what I taught them.

Speaking more broadly, when a seemingly stranger approaches you in the street and says: “You know, I once was your student ...” This is very nice - 10 years have passed and someone comes up and recognizes you in the street.

You teach students. What did they teach you?

Students are taught to continue to think, not to stop, to be in good shape. The desire to think is preserved precisely thanks to the students, because if they were not there, then for what reason I would bother with these tasks, look for new methods, show my interest.

Last year or the year before last, an article came out in America that I wrote with our graduate. We wrote a joint article entitled “Second-Order Curves on the Football Field”. The amazing thing is the soccer field. Here comes the striker, he must break through on goal. If he goes along this line, from which place is it most convenient for him to break through so that the gates are widest? This is such a task, you see? And this task gave rise to a lot of scientific work.

Sometimes you start to do something, and that something is constantly growing, and you open something else.

You are a candidate for master of sports in chess, a multiple winner of all kinds of badminton competitions. Did you use math in sports?

Although chess is akin to mathematics, as some believe, in fact, these are, of course, completely different things.

With my teacher, Valery Vitalievich Rozhkov, we regularly played chess right at the department. We started the party, then there was a bell - we went to work, then we returned and continued. This game keeps the mind in a high, peppy state, I will say.

When I studied chess and badminton, I established good relations with students. Not only did I myself remain young for a long time, but I was almost the same as they - we were all on equal footing. They sought to win against me, argued, and proved. I met a great many students - it is amazing that they all (!) studied well. The university champions were almost all excellent students.

Sport did not give me anything for my work, to be honest. This is a completely different side of life – it gives communication. But when there are different sides of life, you become more interesting both to yourself and to people.

There is such a stereotype in some people that the people of science are very conservative and uncreative. Do you think science is creativity?

I think yes, after all. The fact that mathematicians are conservative can be imagined as follows: as elsewhere, in science there is a main pillar trend - the road where everyone is trying to overtake each other, discover something further, further, further, go in this direction. But there are still other directions in mathematics, which is also, in general, interesting. I like people who have different interests. For me, scientific work is to be interested in and to have a broad scientific outlook.

Speaking of creativity - you are a poet and a writer. You are the author of several collections of poems and prose.

I have a tendency to this from childhood - from 7-8 years old. I read Pushkin’s "the storm covers the sky with darkness, twirling snow whirls ..." and thought how simple it is! I sat down and rhymed something. Something was then sent to “Pionerskaya Pravda”, I don’t know whether they printed it or not, but there were very meaningful answers. So since then I have been engaged in this business, it carried me away. Periodically, I did not write anything at all. And then suddenly something appeared. Soon it is the 60-anniversary of RUDN University! For this occasion, I wrote a short poem.

What else would you like to say or wish to the university, students, colleagues?

“Time is an unusually long thing,” said the poet, who lived only 37 years. From a height of 85, let me disagree. Alas, time is an unusually short thing ... I wish students to live to my age, but not so fast! ..

I wish that in the year of its century anniversary the University was headed by one of our current students - this consciousness would involuntarily introduce us today to that future holiday. We are not given the opportunity to identify him today as a student at a lecture or in the corridor, in the dining room or on the court. So far, he does not stand out for anything special, except that “faces are not a common expression”, looking closely at which, one involuntarily recalls that “student” literally means a person who is engaged in hard work.

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