Brandeis ranks 37th on most important math competition for undergrads across US and Canada

March 1, 2024

A team of Brandeis undergraduate mathematics students posted impressive results in the 84th William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, coming in 37th out of 471 participating institutions from across the United States and Canada. Some 3,857 college students participated in the prestigious undergraduate competition, held annually on the first Saturday of December.

“Thirty-seventh is a truly outstanding result for a university the size of Brandeis. It shows the excellence of Brandeis math,” says professor Olivier Bernardi, chair of the department of mathematics.

Students prepared throughout fall 2023 by joining forces twice a week over pizza in the math department, working on challenging yet fun problems posed by PhD student Tudor Popescu and professor Kiyoshi Igusa, himself a former Putnam participant. On test day—comprised of two 3-hour sessions and a lunch break—competitors worked individually in the same classroom, solving 12 demanding problems with only paper and pen, then scanning and uploading their work. As one student quipped, recalls professor Igusa, “How well we do depends on the quality of the pizza.”

The university’s top three scorers all landed in the top quartile of students competing. Max Shepard ’26 placed in the top 5 percent with 40 points, Ben Kamen ’24 came in a close second, in the top 6 percent with 39 points, and Isaac Berger ’24 landed among the top 22 percent of participants with 20 points.

The Brandeis team included Phuong Pham ’24, Nikolai Kivva ’27, Mason Price ’25, Catinca Alexandru ’27, Roland Calia-Bogan ’24, Bhakti Parwani ’24, and Ziwei Wang ’26, contributing to a total team score of 150 points.

Brandeis has long competed in the Putnam competition, making it a department tradition that intrigues new students who may be up to the challenge. Participants tend to not see the prep as “work” but rather a chance to grapple with fun questions together. Former participants sometimes remain in touch for many years for this reason, says Igusa.

“The Putnam is very important for the culture of the math community because it draws together curious minds. Other people chat. Math people play games and talk while doing them.”