Highly Cited Researchers Spotlight Series: Tae Kyun Kim

Investing meaning in studying

Tae Kyun Kim

Professor Tae Kyun Kim is one of the first in Korea to have majored in p-adic Analytic Number Theory. After receiving his doctorate in algebra at Japan’s Kyushu University in 1989, he decided to study this field after gaining inspiration from his advising professor’s major. Rather than setting a new degree as his goal, he placed meaning in the study itself and studied a new paper every day to add depth to his knowledge on the topic. Continuously mulling over the meaning and procedures of each paper, and investing much time and effort, opened a door to new discoveries. Coincidently, while he was searching for a paper related to q-series (q-theory) at the library, he found “On Carlitz q-Bernoulli Numbers” by Neal Koblitz, which was published in the Journal of Number Theory in 1982. He began to conduct in-depth research and was able to define new p-adic q-integrals, which he eventually used to solve Koblitz’s problem. The p-adic q-integral on Z (or the q-Volkenborn integral) that is widely used in current mathematics is an integral that was made through Professor Kim’s research. This discovery is used not only within mathematics, but is also being rediscovered recently by researchers in various fields, and has become the foundation for many interesting research papers.

Discovery after discovery

Professor Kim’s research does not end with the discovery of a single result, but leads to a series of continuous discoveries. With the integral he discovered as the foundation, he focused on research that connects umbral algebra to p-adic analysis from 2012 and proved that umbral algebra, which had almost been forgotten by many mathematicians, could explain many aspects of combinatorics and special functions in addition to p-adic analysis. This helped him take his research to a new level once again. Research has no end to it as one discovery leads to the beginning of another, and this is something researchers must always consider.

Research is about struggling and overcoming

Professor Kim also has problems he cannot seem to solve. He contemplated one such problem for days, but could not find the answer and so returned to his home country for a break. The answer, he says with a chuckle, came to him in a dream while he was sleeping. He succeeded in proving that answer and ultimately published a paper on the subject. He states that research is about investing in yourself and putting forth constant effort, so the answers to challenging research projects may reveal themselves naturally if you keep trying. The most important attitude that researchers must have is a “take on the challenge and then overcome it” mentality.

Seek self-satisfaction rather than acknowledgment

Professor Kim tells his junior researchers that research for the sake of receiving a degree or good grades is no different from labor. This means that if you enjoy and acknowledge your own work rather than expect acknowledgment from others, the results will follow your lead. Even now, when he gets frustrated or stressed, he solves math problems, a task which is also part of his job. If you perceive and acknowledge math as a positive part of your life, the problems will no longer be a job that gives you stress but rather a hobby that brings joy. He emphasizes that he would like to see his junior researchers enjoy themselves on the way instead of simply striving towards their ultimate goals.

Calling for additional investment in the process rather than the competition for results

Many research institutions and schools still put a focus on creating a competitive environment for researchers. However, Professor Kim believes that if institutions would make a bold investment in their researchers with faith, and encourage the researchers’ processes rather than their results, the results will naturally follow. A more fruitful outcome could be anticipated if research institutions and researchers work together and set their eyes on long-term goals instead of trivial, short-term results.