Supporting women mathematical scientists

As an international visitor research institute in the mathematical sciences, we have a pivotal role in developing the research careers of women mathematical scientists, thereby helping to redress the historical gender imbalance. Below are three examples of recent initatives regarding the issue:

  • Established in 2019, the Kirk Distinguished Visiting Fellowship recognises figures from under-represented groups within higher mathematical research. Consequently, all recipents so as of 2021 have been senior women mathematicians. It is the Institute’s hope that this prestigious fellowship will help create and promote influential new role models within the field, and address the historical gender imbalance that persists within the science.
  • We have specific schemes in place to assist with family support, details of which can be found on our “Childcare” page. Please contact the Business and Operations Manager for further information and advice.
  • Funding may be available from the London Mathematical Society to assist with childcare costs for UK based mathematicians. Further details are available on the LMS webpage Childcare Supplementary Grants.

Measuring our impact

Previous Equality and Diversity Action Plans (formely the Gender Balance Action Plan) can be found below.

The video below contains an exerpt from the talk “More Tales of Our Forefathers” given by Professor Barry Simon in December 2017. It provides a short biography of pioneering 19th century mathematician Emmy Noether, and we hope proves of interest on the subject of gender equality in the mathematical sciences.

"Six Questions with..." is a series of interviews which showcase the achievements of inspirational women from all kinds of backgrounds and at all stages of their mathematical sciences careers. All of the below interviews were conducted between 2010-2014.

Six Questions with: Professor Mary Beth Ruskai

Six Questions with: Professor Mary Beth Ruskai

Mary Beth Ruskai was a Visiting Fellow on the Quantum Information Science programme in 2004, and the Mathematical Challenges in Quantum Information programme in 2013.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I can’t remember ever not being interested in mathematics. In college, I majored in chemistry, in part because I wasn’t fully aware of the career opportunities in mathematics beyond high school teaching.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I took a lot of mathematics courses in grad school but earned a PhD in physical chemistry with an MS in mathematics. I had a series of postdocs in mathematical physics before finally obtaining an Assistant Professor position in mathematics at the University of Oregon. I spent most of my career at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, with numerous visiting positions at more research-oriented institutions. I took early retirement from U Mass Lowell in 2002 and was a part-time Research Professor at Tufts University from 2003-2013 supported only by grant funds (and visiting positions elsewhere). I will turn 70 in February 2014 and am beginning to ease into more retirement.

My current work is in quantum information theory (QIT). My research has always focussed on mathematical problems in quantum theory. I did my thesis on a mathematical question of interest to quantum chemists. As a postdoc I solved an important question in mathematical physics about entropy, but physicists weren’t interested then, so I moved into Schrödinger operators, studying mathematical questions about atomic and molecular Hamiltonians. In about 1997 people in QIT started asking about my old work on quantum entropy and I moved into that area. Then in about 2005, people in QIT obtained the first new results in over 30 years about the quantum chemistry problem I’d done my thesis on. I feel that I’ve come full circle.

What achievements are you most proud of?

  • Co-authoring the proof of the Strong Subadditivity of quantum entropy
  • Proving that an atom with fixed nuclear charge can bind only finitely many electrons
  • Working with young people in QIT to use quantum error correcting codes to solve a 40 year old open question related to my thesis
  • Organising the 1990 CBMS conference on wavelets at which Ingrid Daubechies was the principle speaker; organising the 2010 programme at the Mittag-Leffler Institute in Stockholm; and organising some very successful interdisciplinary workshops in QIT
  • Becoming a winter leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club
  • Continuing to do easier hiking and skiing after 3 joint replacements
  • Challenging the US TSA’s policy of invasive pat-downs of people with metal implants

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

I find the wording of this question problematic, as it seems to assume a traditional lifestyle with family and children. This is not the only option.

I moved from Oregon to Boston, because I found single life difficult in a small college town. Although I very much enjoyed hiking and skiing in the mountains nearby, it was hard to find people to go with.

In Boston, I found it easier to connect with other people to hike and ski (although the mountains were smaller and farther away). I also joined a women’s squash team where I was able to connect with other women professionals.

I often think that my family is spread across the world with the many friends I’ve made during the course of my work.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Everyone has to find their own path. Use every opportunity to make connections at research conferences and workshops!! Don’t undervalue teaching – it can be very rewarding and improve your own understanding.

Has your visit to the Isaac Newton Institute been fruitful?

My first visit in 2004 was extremely fruitful.

The second in 2013 was marred by some health problems. However, the opportunity to connect with some collaborators was still very helpful.

Links

Six Questions with: Professor Barbara Terhal

Six Questions with: Professor Barbara Terhal

Barbara Terhal is a Professor of Theoretical Physics at RWTH Aachen University, and was a Visiting Fellow on the Mathematical Challenges in Quantum Information programme in 2013.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

During my school days I enjoyed doing mathematics and physics, it came naturally to me and I found a lot of satisfaction in solving puzzles. I always found physics a very deep subject about which one can never stop learning. What keeps my interest fresh is the pursuit of research that piques my curiosity and also requires me to learn and apply some new techniques or ideas.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I started my PhD at the University of Amsterdam in 1995 in the area of theoretical quantum computation. During my PhD I spent a lot of time at IBM research in the US. After I finished my PhD in 1999, I was a postdoc at IBM, then at Caltech for a year and then became a permanent research staff member at IBM. In 2010 I felt that the time was right to move to academia and I became a professor of theoretical physics at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

My current research is focused on quantum error correction and its realisation in solid-state qubits. Whether and how one can realise a robust quantum memory or even quantum computer is, I believe, not just a question of engineering but one of the fundamental questions in physics today. Another more mathematical direction of my research is quantum complexity theory, which tries to formally capture the power (or lack thereof) of a quantum computer. This area of research is fascinating as it is relatively new and it involves developing quantum (matrix-valued/non-commuting) extensions of classical computer science techniques.

What achievements are you most proud of?

There are many achievements of which I am very proud, in particular right after I finish doing the work. When I realised that my work constructing indecomposable positive maps was indirectly related to Hilbert’s 17th problem I felt very proud. I also think that my no-go results on self-correcting quantum memories in two-dimensions and my understanding of these obstructions have revealed important differences between classical and quantum information. I do not like to dwell on my accomplishments as I am more interested in thinking about the puzzles that I have not solved yet! I am also happy to let others be the judge of what is ultimately interesting or not.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

I think that it is very hard to find this balance having three children myself. It is important to prioritise, to have a helpful partner, to be persistent, etc. But unfortunately there are many days that I tell myself that life would be so much easier if I did not have this drive to do science.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Believe in yourself and in your own way of seeking, understanding and attacking problems, be stubborn and obnoxious. Find collaborations that work for you and avoid people/endeavours that you don’t find stimulating. It is unfortunate that women form a minority in the mathematical sciences: I wish for women to achieve their intellectual goals without feeling that they have to bend over backwards to adapt to the men’s world around them.

Has your visit to the Isaac Newton Institute been fruitful?

Yes, my visit was quite successful in getting feedback on the project that I was working on.

Six Questions with: Debbie Leung

Six Questions with: Debbie Leung

Debbie Leung is Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo and was a Visiting Fellow on the Mathematical Challenges in Quantum Information programme in 2013.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

My interest started so early that I really cannot remember (probably kindergarten). My research is in quantum information. Hilbert space (even a finite dimensional one) is large and there are plenty of surprises in my exploration.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I got my BS in Physics and Mathematics from Caltech. I was obsessed about cosmology (thus the Physics degree) while keeping Mathematics as a hobby. I went to Stanford for my PhD in Physics, with the intention to study the inflationary model. Within a few months, I came across interesting papers on quantum error correcting codes, and switched to quantum information. I spent time at IBM (TJ Watson RC) and Caltech as a postdoc before joining the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization and the Institute for Quantum Computing in the University of Waterloo.

Currently, I’m studying the capacities of quantum channels to transmit quantum, private classical, or classical data.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I am always afraid of this question in (job) interviews. I have enjoyed the discoveries of many of my results, and the implications of them. Pride is somewhat besides the point.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

Following Beth Ruskai, I also want to replace “homelife” by “life”.

Despite a deep and genuine interest in research, work (as a package) can be demanding and stressful at times. Workload is generally high with heavy fluctuation. More time and effort spent on work translates to more output, so, it is hard to be off work without a sense of guilt.

I am thankful that my family (both immediate and afar) is accommodating and understanding. For me, an effective and quick way to recharge (when it is safe to) is to let a serious and engaging hobby take over my focus for a short time.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Research in mathematics is not a straightforward career path, but if you find it interesting and rewarding, don’t let anyone discourage you. Probably because researchers spend lots of time assessing results and people, comments can be dismissive, or seemed to be so to the received. This impacts disportionately women or people with more sensitive cultural background or personality. It is important to find a good balance between being receptive to feedback and being confident and assured of your own judgement.

Has your visit to the Isaac Newton Institute been fruitful?

I was surrounded by good people, intrigued by interesting questions, and was free from my usual duties. The visit was more fruitful than I would have hoped for.

Six Questions with: Ghofran Othoum

Six Questions with: Ghofran Othoum

Ghofran Othoum is a PhD student at KAUST and was a Visiting Fellow on the Mathematical, Statistical and Computational Aspects of the New Science of Metagenomics programme in 2014.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I have always been interested in Mathematics for as long as I can remember. Initially, my interest was somehow generic for all of the conceptual parts of mathematics. However, when I realized how all of these concepts can be ‘magically’ applied to model and understand what usually is hard or even impossible to do in reality, this interest turned to fascination.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I’m currently doing my PhD where I’m using mathematics and computer science to model complicated biological systems. My background includes computer and biological sciences.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Finishing my Masters degree studies successfully and publishing my undergraduate research about modelling breast cancer survivability rates. I hope that I can accomplish more in the coming years of my research.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

I try to be satisfied with all things that I do in order not to focus on one aspect while neglecting the other, keeping in mind that an unbalanced lifestyle often fails in achieving its main goal.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Persistence never fails anyone and that “Where there is a will there is a way” is not a cliché, from first-hand experience.

Has your visit to the Isaac Newton Institute been fruitful?

Yes. It is one of the most interdisciplinary places I have been to. It was interesting how a common goal easily unites different mindsets from different backgrounds, and how science is more united than we think.

Six Questions with: Professor Caitlin E. Buck

Six Questions with: Professor Caitlin E. Buck

Caitlin Buck is a Professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sheffield and was a Visiting Fellow on the Mathematical and Statistical Approaches to Climate Modelling and Prediction programme in 2010.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I have always struggled to memorise things so, when I was asked to learn multiplication tables at the age of about seven, I needed a work around. I realised very quickly that multiplication was just a fast way to do addition and was very excited. I went to school the next day happy that I had discovered this marvellous new link. When the teacher got to the part of the maths lesson in which we were tested on our multiplication tables, I was asked for “4 times 7”, I stood up, thought for a moment and then said “28”. The teacher responded “correct, but why did it take you so long” and I said “because I was adding up four lots of seven”. The teacher’s response has stuck with me forever — she said “don’t be so stupid, there’s no relationship between addition and multiplication; go and stand in the corner, facing the wall”. After that, I was often sent to stand in the corner facing the wall during maths lessons. In the end, I didn’t mind it so much — it gave me lots of time to think!

I stay interested in maths by being interested in an wide range of real world problems. There are so many parts of life that could benefit from the application of cutting edge methods from mathematics and so few people who can help to “get them out there”.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

From the age of about nine, when I took part in my first archaeological excavation of a Bronze Age site near my home in Peterborough (http://www.flagfen.com/), I knew I wanted to be an archaeologist. So, my first degree is in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Bradford. The course was everything I hoped it would be and a lot more besides. I especially enjoyed the time I spent working at the British Museum Research Laboratory and the period I spent working as a geophysical surveyor. Both of these jobs produced very large amounts of noisy complex data that no one seemed to know what to do with. After asking around, I discovered that there was a group at the University of Nottingham, led by Cliff Litton, working on the application of Bayesian statistics to archaeology and I leapt at the chance to join the team as an RA. I was amazed and enthralled by what I discovered. A whole branch of mathematics in which subjective prior information could be incorporated with data to derive formal inference based on both. I was hooked; I registered part-time for a PhD and have worked ever since on the application of Bayesian statistics to messy problems in archaeology and palaeoenvironmental science.

What achievements are you most proud of?

My Mum always told me that “pride comes before a fall” so I would not say that I’m proud of anything I’ve done. Nonetheless, there are some projects that I’ve been involved in that other people seem to appreciate and have made quite an impact. The first was the project that I worked on while I studied for my PhD; in which we demonstrated the potential for using MCMC-based inference to aid in interpreting groups of related radiocarbon dates (a situation in which prior knowledge is as important as the scientific data); that work is summarised in Chapter Nine of Buck et al (1996). We worked on these ideas for more than a decade and the methods we developed are now in routine use by archaeologists around the world (implemented in several freely available computer packages including BCal which I am responsible for and others such as OxCal . More recently, I have worked with staff at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge helping to develop a Bayesian approach to dating ice core deposits (Klauenberg et al, submitted) [4] and, alongside that, have helped to develop Bayesian methods for making inference about the radiocarbon (C14) calibration curve. The calibration curve is needed to map raw C14 ages to the calendar scale because the amount of C14 in the atmosphere has not been constant over time; the most recent references for that work are Reimer et al (2009) [5], Heaton et al (2009) [3] and Blackwell and Buck (2008) [1]. I am still working on the IntCal project and am also involved in developing methods for spatio-temporal modelling of the arrival of cereal agriculture in Europe (both projects are funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council). Alongside that, I co-ordinate a large group of scientists from different disciplines all of whom are interested in Studying Uncertainty in Palaeoclimate Reconstruction (SUPRAnet); a most rewarding project (funded by the Leverhulme Trust) within which we are seeking to help articulate palaeoclimate reconstruction as an enormous Bayesian inference problem (http://www.caitlin-buck.staff.shef.ac.uk/SUPRAnet/).

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

I guess the answer is “I cheat”! I have a dedicated and patient partner who doesn’t have a job and who looks after me. Geoff (also known as Bo the Meson) is a philosophy graduate with a background in flight simulation and electronics; he is also a lyricist and vocalist. We both put a lot of energy and long hours into what we choose to do and each really appreciate the support the other is able to offer. I couldn’t do what I do without his support!

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

During a research career, ideas are best developed one small step at a time. Just keep taking little steps in the direction that seems most sensible to you (having taken advice from those whose opinions you trust) and you will get where you want to go. Some steps will be sideways and some might even take you backwards, but that’s research! Each step is an opportunity to learn and eventually you will get where you want to go.

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

This has been the most productive research period I’ve had for many years. It’s been great just to get away from the routine of life in my own department but, much more important, has been the opportunity to spend a prolonged period working alongside some of the most brilliant people working in my research area. The organisers worked really hard to bring together people that they knew would “spark” ideas from one another and that’s precisely what we’ve done. During my time here, I have worked closely with my colleagues on the ice core dating project which has led to submission of a paper to the journal Quaternary Science Reviews (Klauenberg et al, submitted) [4]. Several members of the SUPRAnet project have been here too and we have been able to make quite a lot of progress on a paper that outlines our Bayesian vision for palaeoclimate reconstruction. We have also drafted a funding proposal that will (if funded) allow us to develop some of the models that are needed if the vision is ever to be implemented. In summary, my visit has been inspirational and has given me a great deal of optimism for the next few years of my research.

References

  • [1] Blackwell P.G. and Buck C.E. (2008). Estimating radiocarbon calibration curves. Bayesian Analysis, 3, 225–248.
  • [2] Buck C.E., Cavanagh W.G. and Litton C.D. (1996) The Bayesian Approach to Archaeological Data Interpretation, Wiley, Chichester.
  • [3] Heaton T.J., Blackwell P.G. and Buck C.E. (2009). A Bayesian approach to the estimation of radiocarbon calibration curves: the IntCal09 methodology. Radiocarbon, 51(4), 1151-1164.
  • [4] Klauenberg K., Blackwell P.G., Buck, C.E., Mulvaney R., Röthlisberger R. and Wolff E.W. (submitted) Bayesian glaciological modelling to quantify uncertainties in ice core chronologies, Quaternary Science Reviews.
  • [5] Reimer P.J., Baillie M.G.L., Bard E., Bayliss A., Beck J.W., Blackwell P.G., Bronk Ramsey C., Buck C.E., Burr G.S., Edwards R.L., Friedrich M., Grootes11 P.M., Guilderson T.P., Hajdas I., Heaton T.J., Hogg A.G., Hughen K.A., Kaiser K.F., Kromer B., McCormac F.G., Manning S.W., Reimer R.W., Richards D.A., Southon J.R., Talamo S., Turney C.S.M., van der Plicht J. and Weyhenmeyer C.E. (2009). IntCal09 and Marine09 Radiocarbon Age Calibration Curves, 0-50,000 Years cal BP. Radiocarbon, 51(4), 1111-1150.
Six Questions with: Dr Latifa Debbi

Six Questions with: Dr Latifa Debbi

Dr Debbi is researcher in the Laboratory of Applied Mathematics at the Université Ferhat Abbas Setif and was a Visiting Fellow on the Stochastic Partial Differential Equations programme in 2010.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I have been interested in mathematics since I was a child. Before going to primary school, I used to ask myself questions such as: why ‘one’ is written as ‘1’ and not as ‘2’? Why is the colour blue called ‘blue’, not ‘red’ or ‘green’? In primary school, I studied arithmetic and geometry and I enjoyed writing problems for myself and solving them, since I found the exercises given in school were very easy for me. The first time I heard the word ‘mathematics’, it was used by people who tried to frighten me as they said it was a very difficult science which is studied in -middle school. I spent a long time thinking about ‘mathematics’ and became very curious about it and developed a yearning to study it. Later, the challenge became a pleasure thanks to my school teachers. I keep my interest fresh because in every step of my mathematical life I discover beautiful things. It is wonderful to meet talented mathematicians and I use mathematics to solve many religious, philosophical and daily problems.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

Whilst I was an undergraduate student there was political trouble in Algeria. The situation was very difficult and many professors left and all exchanges with foreign universities were stopped. I was accepted to do a PhD in Orsay (Paris X) with a grant after the second year, but the political situation did not allow me to go. The project was to have been supervised by R. Temam and it was on numerical approximation of the Navier-Stokes equations. Instead of a PhD I completed a Master’s in Algeria and I got a position of lecturer (Maître assistant) in the University, but I still wanted to do my PhD. I was looking for the topic and for the subject of my PhD research by myself. I had the opportunity to visit Paris VI twice for one month each. I attended talks in Paris VI, Paris X and in the Henri Poincaré Institute.During my second visit, I met Professor M. Yor from Paris VI, to whom I am very grateful for his help, since, it was thanks to him, that I found my way in mathematical research. Later, after the partial stability in my country, I got a grant to do my PhD in the University of Henri Poincaré in Nancy. I finished the scientific part of my PhD thesis in two and a half years and returned to Algeria. I got a position of Assistant Professor (Maître de conferences). In August, I will move to Montan Universitat for a short post-doc position.

My current topic of research is stochastic partial differential equations driven by fractional operators and perturbed by cylindrical, fractional or Levy noises. These kinds of equations emerge in many applications in physics and in mechanics where the anomalous diffusion can be countered. I am interested in the existence, uniqueness, regularity, ergodic properties and numerical approximations of the solutions.

What achievements are you most proud of?

My joint paper with Z. Brzezniak, [1], was a pleasure for me and I have learnt a lot from my coauthor. We have been interested in the existence and uniqueness of the solution of the Burgers equation driven by fractional operator and perturbed by cylindrical noise. We have been motivated by the three interactions between the small dissipation effect given by the fractional Laplacian the steepening effect given by the nonlinear term and the random perturbation given by the random noise. I enjoyed the time I have spent in looking for some estimations in delicate Sobolev spaces. In my first paper [2], my supervisor, L. Abbaoui and myself, were answering a question which remained open for 10 years. It was about the correlative representation of stochastic processes and stochastic fields considered as curves and as surfaces in Hilbert spaces. We have considered fields for which at least one of the operators is non self-adjoint with nondegenerate real spectrum. The paper has been published again 10 years later. I am also proud of my papers [3] and [4]. The questions treated in both papers motivated people to study many related questions. In [3], I gave a probabilistic representation to the solution of high-order fractional heat type equation. In [4], I have been interested in the existence, uniqueness and regularity of the solution of stochastic partial differential equations driven by fractional operator. It is joint work with M. Dozzi.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

Growing up as a woman in Algeria has involved many difficulties for me because women are underestimated by society and by the law. Intellectual women can be the victims of threats and aggressive acts. It is very difficult for women to gain support for their ideas or academic research. As a mathematician, believing in proofs and justice, I have spent a great deal of time and energy fighting for gender equality and to create some balance, but it is really hard!

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Mathematics is a science and an art. It is related to your intelligence and your feelings of the beauty and elegance of mathematics. Mathematics is for everyone – not just for men.

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

Yes it was. In fact, The Newton Institute gave me the opportunity to meet some of my coauthors and hence to make progress in my projects, to begin new research and to attend talks of high-level that are related to my area of research. The Institute provides a scientifically active and friendly atmosphere for the visiting researchers. I would like to thank the staff for their kind hospitality.

References

  • [1] Brzezniak, Zdzislaw; Debbi, Latifa. On stochastic Burgers equation driven by a fractional Laplacian and space-time white noise. Stochastic differential equations: theory and applications, 135–167, Interdiscip. Math. Sci., 2, World Sci. Publ., Hackensack, NJ, 2007.
  • [2] Abbaoui, Lyazid; Debbi, Latifa. An application of the non-self adjoint operators theory in the study of stochastic processes. J. Appl. Math. Stoch. Anal. 2004, no. 2, 149–157.
  • [3] Debbi, Latifa. Explicit solutions of some fractional partial differential equations via stable subordinators. J. Appl. Math. Stoch. Anal. 2006, Art. ID 93502, 18 pp.
  • [4] Debbi, Latifa; Dozzi, Marco. On the solutions of nonlinear stochastic fractional partial differential equations in one spatial dimension. Stochastic Process. Appl. 115 (2005), no. 11, 1764–1781.
Six Questions with: Dr Claire Gilson

Six Questions with: Dr Claire Gilson

Dr Gilson is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics, University of Glasgow and was a Visiting Fellow on the Discrete Integrable Systems programme in 2009.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I have been interested in mathematics as long back as I can remember. As a child I loved mathematical puzzles and finding things out about numbers. It’s easy to keep a fresh interest as there are always new things to learn and discover.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

My first degree was in mathematics from Cambridge. I then moved to London and did my PhD in mathematical physics. I have to admit to not understanding mathematical physics very well. At the time many people were working on String theories, trying to obtain a mathematical theory which related to real particles. After my PhD I felt I wanted to do some more mathematics but in a more tangible area and got a job as a research assistant in Newcastle University working with Professor Neil Freeman on integrable systems and solitons. Solitons are particle like solutions to certain differential equations. After a couple of years I moved to a lectureship at Glasgow University and have been there ever since. I still work in the area of integrable systems. My main area has been in “direct methods” for generating exact solutions to these nonlinear equations. The work is mostly done with pen and paper and is a bit of a cross over between pure and applied mathematics, as I am interested in the structure of the equations, which have connections in algebra. I use the computer sometimes to help me with calculations and plot pictures of solutions. All my solutions are exact solutions without approximation, so I don’t generally need the use of numerical routines.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I have two favourite bits of work. At the end of the 1980’s 2-dimensional exponentially decaying lump solutions (called dromions) were discovered [1]. These, for me, were very interesting and with a colleague, we set about looking at the asymptotic behaviour of these dromions. I recall staying up half the night for many nights doing and redoing these calculations until they were reduced to something moderately compact. We calculated the behaviour of these dromions before and after interactions with each other. The results were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society [2]. The other piece of work that I particularly like was much more recent and again with the same co-author. This is on solutions to the noncommutative KP equation [3]. This was one of those pieces of work that started out quite awkward because of the noncommutative nature of the problem, but the more we worked on it the more we realized that the whole structure fitted together quite beautifully.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

With difficulty! I now have 2 young children (6 and 7) so I tend not to work at the weekend. Quite often in term time when teaching I find myself going back to work at 10pm at night to prepare something for the morning because I haven’t been able to get it done before 5pm when I need to leave to pick the children up.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

I think I would say just try to enjoy it. It’s a great opportunity to meet interesting people and make a contribution to advancing science. It is difficult to manage your time especially when doing research as it takes up endless amounts of time to do, so if you enjoy it, stick with it, if you really don’t enjoy it, find something else to do.

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

Yes, it has. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with some of the best people in the world in a relaxed and stimulating environment. I am still working on most the things that I started during my visit and the ideas generated will keep me busy for sometime to come.

References

  • [1] Boiti, M.; Leon, J. Jp.; Martina, L.; Pempinelli, F. Scattering of localized solitons in the plane. Phys. Lett. A 132 (1988), no. 8-9, 432–439.
  • [2] Gilson, C. R.; Nimmo, J. J. C. A direct method for dromion solutions of the Davey-Stewartson equations and their asymptotic properties. Proc. Roy. Soc. London Ser. A 435 (1991), no. 1894, 339–357.
  • [3] Gilson, C. R.; Nimmo, J. J. C. On a direct approach to quasideterminant solutions of a noncommutative KP equation. J. Phys. A 40 (2007), no. 14, 3839–3850.
Six Questions with: Meena Kotecha

Six Questions with: Meena Kotecha

Meena Kotecha is a class teacher in the Department of Mathematics and also Department of Statistics at the London School of Economics

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I obtained an MA in Sociology after achieving a BA Honours in Philosophy and Psychology. Mathematics had always remained a mystery for me since my school life, perhaps because most of my questions unfortunately remained unanswered by my mathematics teachers, understandably due to time and syllabus constraints. I had always wished for an opportunity to solve this mystery at some stage in my life but was not sure how exactly I would go about it.

I feel privileged to have got a second chance when I decided to read mathematics with the Open University (OU) as a mature student. To my utter delight, I thoroughly enjoyed the foundation course-M101 during my first year. The highlight was the residential summer school at the University of Reading where I had my very first taste of some of the interesting applications of mathematics through the extra lectures I attended there. I could not believe that the subject I once thought was out of reach, turned out to be so beautiful and fascinating. As I continued to read mathematics, I became more and more drawn to it and began to unravel various applications of mathematics during my degree course.

Once I started my teaching career in mathematics, not a moment has gone by when I have not felt excited by it. I am interested in various applications of mathematics in medicine, operational research, astrophysics, finance, economics, biology, engineering and several other fields. I participate in events and conferences on various mathematical themes that are not limited to my teaching area. This keeps my interest fresh which, I believe, also gets transmitted to my students and acts as a strong motivator for them to engage with the subject.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

My research interests are rather inter-disciplinary but my main interests can be broadly classified as Mathematics/Statistics Education-improving teaching and learning of the subjects at undergraduate level, enhancing students’ learning experience and improving their engagement with the subject. I think that this can be done by working on students’ perceptions and preconceived notions of the subjects which can obstruct their learning and adversely affect their academic efficacy and engagement. Furthermore, I would argue that students are more likely to enjoy reading mathematics if they are encouraged to share their questions, before it is too late, by putting them at ease and ensuring that their questions do get appropriately addressed!

Whilst I am deeply fascinated by mathematics in medicine, astrophysics and biology, I am staying focused on education at present.

I lectured at the University of Hertfordshire (UH) where I taught mathematics and statistics to first year undergraduate students aspiring to read business related subjects. I enjoyed my work at UH where I made my lectures to large groups highly interactive by using a variety of formative assessments which kept my students actively engaged and interested. The only downside was that it made the lecture theatres rather noisy!

I am currently involved with class teaching at the LSE where I teach mathematics and statistics to first year undergraduate students aiming to read economics, management sciences, accountancy, finance or actuarial science. LSE has been the best place from the viewpoint of my professional development because of the intellectual freedom, support and encouragement they give their staff. I continue to work on enhancing students’ learning experience of the subjects by using teaching and learning approaches aimed at maximising student participation, creating interest and motivating them to not only perceive mathematics positively but also believe in their own potential to succeed. I gave a presentation on the theme this September at the annual national learning and teaching conference Maths, Stats & OR Network (Higher Education Academy) hosted at the University of Birmingham.[1] [2]

What achievements are you most proud of?

I was thrilled when I was awarded a First Class Honours in Mathematical Sciences by the OU which seemed like a miracle, especially because the subject had seemed so intimidating during my school life.

Just this year, to my absolute delight, I was invited to an international event in London on Saturday 25 September 2010 by the India International Friendship Society (IIFS) to be presented with The Glory of India Award and Certificate of Excellence by Baroness Sandip Verma.[3] It was attended by some 300 people including several members of parliament and dignitaries from the UK and abroad. The IIFS presents awards annually to honour Indians across the globe for their contributions to fields such as science, engineering, technology, medicine, and education; and for the strengthening of India’s international relations. Candidates are selected on the basis of outstanding academic achievements, and for showing extraordinary excellence in engaging with their respective professions and making significant contributions in their own fields.

However, I find it much more personally rewarding when students who start off saying how much they “hate” mathematics/statistics then change their mind after only a few classes and start giving me unprompted feedback, both written and verbal, on how they have learnt to enjoy the subjects. For me, truly magical moments come when students who have not performed well in their earlier coursework assignments due to extremely low academic efficacy and negative perceptions of the subjects, e-mail me after the exam results to share their brilliant grades and thank me for my guidance and encouragement.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

I think it is important to communicate with family about one’s commitments and busy periods in one’s work schedule with no expectations of help. It is however equally important to make time for family whenever possible so that they do not feel that more importance is assigned to work. It is always an added bonus to get help and support from family, but it is best not to expect this and remember that it is a “bonus”! I follow this and it works for me perfectly.

Effective time management, forward planning and being organised always helps.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

A career in the mathematical sciences will certainly mean that there will never be a dull moment in your professional life. You will need much perseverance, dedication, hard work and understanding from family and friends. It is important to be focused and not lose patience as there will be tricky times but it is all worth the effort. You will soon learn to thrive on challenges.

The other suggestion I should like to make is to invest time in participating in conferences, workshops and lectures organised by the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), the London Mathematical Society (LMS) and European Women in Mathematics (EWM). I frequently do this whenever my commitments allow me the luxury and it has substantially enhanced my professional network further contributing to my professional/academic development.[4]

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

It was through the IMA that I came in contact with the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences. I have enjoyed the INI events enormously, and also found them beneficial from the viewpoint of my academic and professional development. Furthermore, they create such wonderful networking opportunities for Mathematicians across the globe and provide an ideal setting for collaborative work.

I am passionate about promoting Mathematics by enhancing students’ learning experience and improving their engagement with the subject. The INI has played an important role in helping me to effectively pursue my passion, engage well with my profession and contribute to my field.

References

  • [1] http://www2.lse.ac.uk/maths/News/Meena_Kotecha_MSOR.aspx
  • [2] http://mathstore.ac.uk/headocs/EConferenceBooklet.pdf (Pages 69-70)
  • [3] http://www2.lse.ac.uk/statistics/news/news.aspx
  • [4] “Promoting Mathematics in Mumbai” Mathematics Today, April 2010 issue, The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications publication
Six Questions with: Professor Alessandra Giovagnoli

Six Questions with: Professor Alessandra Giovagnoli

Alessandra Giovagnoli is Professor of the Alma Mater of the University of Bologna and was a Visiting Fellow on the Design and Analysis of Experiments programme in 2011.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I was very good at maths when I was at school, so it was a natural subject to choose for my university degree. In those days girls would take maths only if they intended to go into school teaching, which was regarded as “a job compatible with raising a family”. We are talking 50 years ago! Whilst at university, I began to realise that an academic career was not to be ruled out, but I still was not sure that I really wanted to do it, as mathematical research seemed very abstract to me. So I went to Imperial College, London, to do an MSc in statistics, and mathematical statistics is what I have been interested in since. I like to look for elegant, general solutions to problems that originate from real life. My research interests are fuelled by contacts and interactions with other statisticians in my field. Co-authored papers are the general rule in my field and I’m proud that mine are 50% with women and 50% with men.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

Since I graduated, I have held academic positions in my country (Italy) and paid frequent visits to academic institutions in the UK. I have recently retired, but hold the honorary title of Professor of the Alma Mater of the University of Bologna, which means that I carry on doing research and supervising research projects. I work in Design of Experiments, a discipline originated in the UK by Sir Ronald Fisher. In particular I’m interested in so-called optimal designs and the topical issue of adaptive designs, namely those experiments that sequentially use previously gathered information for choosing at each step the randomized allocation of treatments to the next units and whether to stop.

I also work in the loosely related field of stochastic orderings, namely comparison of random quantities from various points of view: location, dispersion, concentration, association.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Some of the joint papers with my “historic” co-author are innovative, in that they bring together the two fields of experiments and stochastic orders [1], [2], [3]. I’m also proud that I set up a group of “Women in Science” in my university in 1981. And I’m proud of the help that I have given to hundreds of students when writing their theses or dissertations and teaching them the rudiments of mathematical research.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

This should be really question N.1, as well as the related question: how to overcome stereotypes such that women are asked this question but not men! My partner and I have always shared the household duties (but he is a better cook!) and the upbringing of our child. With a childcare system like the French one, I would perhaps have opted for a bigger family. The most difficult time was when my child was twelve years old and I was promoted to a university chair 400 miles away. At first I refused, then I accepted which involved an 8 or 9 hour train journey each way every week, often overnight, for four years, and the emotional strain of being away from my loved ones.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Male scientists sometimes tend to behave like a prima donna. My advice is not to fall into the trap of thinking that success comes from thinking like a man. I especially believe that women must establish their right to finding their own way to mathematics and science in general, which are among the great pleasures of (Wo)Mankind.

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

Yes, this has been excellent, in particular since this summer all the best names in statistics working in the field of experiments have been passing through the Institute at some point. This, and the surrounding beauty of Cambridge, and the time to myself, have given me a renewed wish to continue contributing to the subject with my research.

References

  • [1] A. Giovagnoli, H.P. Wynn (1985). “G-majorization with applications to matrix orderings” Linear Algebra Appl., 67, 111-135.
  • [2] A. Giovagnoli, F. Pukelsheim, H.P. Wynn (1987), “Group invariant orderings and experimental designs” J. Statist. Planning Inference, 17(2), 159-171.
  • [3] A. Giovagnoli, H.P. Wynn (1995). “Multivariate dispersion orderings” Statist. Prob. Letters 22, 325-332.
Six Questions with: Dr Cécile Penland

Six Questions with: Dr Cécile Penland

Cécile Penland is a Physical Scientist at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Colorado and was a Visiting Fellow on the Mathematical and Statistical Approaches to Climate Modelling and Prediction programme in 2010.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I became interested in physics as an undergraduate and, of course, mathematics is the language of science. I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to mathematics for its own sake; it was not until I was a physics graduate student that my interest really took off. The beauty of stochastic processes and its multiple calculi completely seduced me, and it still does.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I got my 1984 doctorate in physics studying sound propagation through stochastic media. After that I made the switch to climate studies, working as a post-doc at the Max-Planck-Insitut für Meteorologie and at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. As half of the chaotic two-body problem (i.e., the dual career couple), my husband and I spent some time in the Los Angeles area, where I spent one year as a part-time instructor (California State University at Long Beach) and after which I had another, very fruitful post-doctoral position with Prof. Michael Ghil at UCLA. In 1989, I moved to Boulder, Colorado, where I have been working first as research faculty at the University of Colorado and then as a civil servant with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Also in 1989, my husband, Professor Alejandro García, became a physics professor at San José State University in San José, CA.

My work at NOAA involves forecasting and diagnosis of El Niño dynamics, as well as the development of stochastic methods for diagnosing and forecasting multiscale climate processes.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my half in maintaining a good marriage while living 1000 miles away from my husband, and I am grateful for my husband’s half of that effort.

I am also very proud of work involving Linear Inverse Modeling (LIM), which is a statistical-dynamical data analysis approach that grew out of efforts begun with researchers at MPI Meteorologie. Two projects, one very short and an ongoing project that has lasted two decades, have resulted from this method. In 1991, Alejandro García and I used LIM to diagnose the macroscopic dynamics in output from a molecular dynamics simulation. The result was the fluctuating Navier-Stokes equations, including a statistical description of the random fluctuations due to individual molecular collisions.

The other, major project involving LIM has been the forecasting and diagnosing of El Niño dynamics. Somewhat surprisingly to some, much of El Niño sea surface temperature dynamics can be described as a simple multivariate linear process driven by stochastic forcing. The efforts either to upset or extend this paradigm have greatly contributed to the understanding of El Niño and to its role in global climate change. Dr Prashant Sardeshmukh has been an invaluable friend and colleague all these years.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

Balance? Well, one needs to remember that there are fluctuations around a successful balance. Sometimes one concentrates on work and puts in very long hours for a few weeks, and sometimes one takes several weeks of vacation. When my husband and I spend time together, which is once or twice a month,we drop everything and pay attention to each other. It’s also important to have social contacts outside of science, math, and even academia. I belong to a community chorus and to a dance group, both being organizations that perform at retirement centers and for various charitable causes. And I play with my cat (Mr. Pussycat Fuzzybutt Bennett) a lot.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Always remember that truth comes out eventually, so when the going gets rough (and it will), be assertive but patient. Don’t take yourself or anybody else too seriously. Credentials can be evidence of achievement, but they’re not a proof. There is still a lot of prejudice around, and when younger members of your gender/minority group/sexual orientation/whatever don’t understand or appreciate the sacrifices you’ve made to facilitate their careers, it’s the highest compliment they can pay to the advances you have helped make. Work hard; play hard; love hard.

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

It has indeed! My visit has spawned the foundation of two collaborations that I expect to be very fruitful in the future, and I have been given the opportunity to expand my views on how certain problems can be treated. Further, my visit to INI allowed me to visit other institutions and universities in Exeter, Reading and Oxford at the invitation of other participants of the INI workshops. Finally, the personal contacts I have found at INI have been both useful and pleasurable. My visit to INI was delightful.

Six Questions with: Professor Claire Voisin

Six Questions with: Professor Claire Voisin

Claire Voisin is Director of Research at the Institut de Mathématiques de Jussieu and was a Visiting Fellow on the Moduli Spaces programme in 2011.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I liked doing maths as a teenager, but I became more interested during my last year before starting a PhD thesis, when I started reading research papers in algebraic geometry. Before this I found it hard to take the discipline seriously when you were asked to solve problems whose solution was already known! That seemed more like a game to me, and only at a later stage did I realise that there was an enormous world of new ideas, concepts and problems to be formulated. Even now, the most important thing for me is asking questions, and of course solving open conjectures. In fact, as I get older I see more and more questions left open by my work and the work of others.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I work in complex algebraic geometry, which means algebraic geometry over the complex numbers. For some questions, it is irrelevant whether you are over the complex numbers or over any field of characteristic 0. This is the case for commutative algebra. But the domain I like above all is the study of topology and motives of complex algebraic varieties. In this case it is crucial to be over the complex numbers, because we can consider our variety as a complex manifold (if it is smooth) and then use differential topology to introduce the so-called Hodge structures on its Betti cohomology. They provide rather subtle and rich information on your variety.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Two of my best results are in completely different areas. The first one concerns syzygies of canonical curves. This is not as central in my research as the study of Hodge structures, but I proved the Green conjecture for generic curves (of given not too small gonality), and there were new ideas in the proof, in particular an elementary but crucial reformulation of the problem, which I think I can be proud of [1]. The second one is my construction of compact Kähler manifolds not homotopically equivalent to complex projective manifolds. The purely algebraic role played by polarized Hodge structures in the proof was unexpected [2].

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

I have five children, who are almost grown-up now. I can’t remember the details of how I managed a work and life balance, but the main ingredients were the help of my husband and the excellent childcare system in France. We still have three teenagers at home, and I find I do not have enough time to devote to them, which can be frustrating for them and for me.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

I believe each one has to follow her own way and find her own path.

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

Yes, this has been excellent in many respects. A lot of reflective time; a very peaceful place, no metro at rush hours etc. This is an excellent place to work and meet people.

References

  • [1] Green’s conjecture for curves of even genus lying on a K3 surface, J.Eur. Math. Soc. 4, (2002) pp.363-404.
  • [2] On the homotopy types of compact Kähler and complex projective manifolds, Inventiones Math. Volume 157, Number 2, (2004), pp.329-343.
Six Questions with: Professor Rosemary Bailey

Six Questions with: Professor Rosemary Bailey

Rosemary Bailey is a Professor of Statistics at Queen Mary, University of London and was an organiser of the Design and Analysis of Experiments programme in 2011 and an organiser of the Design of Experiments short programme during 2008.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

When I was learning to count, before I went to school, it suddenly occurred to me that the whole numbers go on FOR EVER! I thought that this was amazing. At school, I enjoyed lots of subjects, and I applied to university for maths and for some other subjects. I remember my interview at Nottingham: one of the people said to me “Do your degree in mathematics first. Then you can pick up the other subjects later.” So I did my undergraduate degree in mathematics, and by then was completely hooked (which may have been the intention of that interviewer).

I find it hard to understand the final part of this question. There are always so many new fascinating things in mathematics. Maybe it is pertinent that so many of my friends are mathematicians. As a doctoral student, I was lucky to be part of a large, active supportive group. I talk maths to my friends. If I am stuck myself, my brain can be fired again by their enthusiasm in explaining their own work to me.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

When I applied to do a DPhil in pure mathematics, my potential supervisor warned me that there were not enough university posts for all people doing doctorates in pure mathematics, so I should undertake it only if I was interested in the research for its own sake. I was, so I did. But he was right, and there were a tough few years before I got a permanent job.

The decisive step was taking up a post-doctoral position in Edinburgh to use group theory in problems in the (statistical) design of experiments. I followed this with ten years at Rothamsted Experimental Station, working as a statistician in real agricultural research, then came back to academia in mathematics departments in the University of London.

My current research is a mixture. Some of it is general theory of the design of experiments. Some of it is driven by particular collaborations with biologists or other experimenters. Some of it is completely pure mathematics, either combinatorics or algebra.

What achievements are you most proud of?

This is a tough question, because it involves looking back rather than forwards. But here are some:
(a) Being allowed the privilege of running two programmes at the Newton Instiute.
(b) Publishing (jointly with 3 co-authors) a paper on generalized wreath products of permuation groups that is apparently the purest of pure mathematics but which solved a question posed by statisticians twenty years earlier. (c) As a result of being on the Royal Statistical Society’s working party on First-in-Human experiments, using my knowledge and experience from agricultural experiments to devise designs for first-in-human experiments which respect all the current safety restrictions and yet reduce variance by a factor of three without increasing the number of participants.
(d) Discovering, during these 5 months at INI in 2011, that two papers of mine published in the 1980s, on rather different topics, which I had thought that no one had ever read, are now being cited as foundation papers in those two areas.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

I find it hard to answer this. Being a mathematician is central to who I am. My mathematical brain does not turn off when I walk in through my front door. I go for long walks at the weekend. You might consider this to be “homelife”. I certainly do it for pleasure, but I *also* know that the key idea for a proof may pop into my brain at the end of such a walk.

But there are other aspects of worklife, such as administration, dealing with management, and answering questions from undergraduates. I keep these at bay by having a strict rule that I have no access to email at home or on holiday.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

I don’t understand this question. I was lucky enough that no one called me a “woman mathematician” or said that “girls don’t do maths” until I was too far set on the path to be turned back. If you make a special box for “women in mathematics” you are inviting the idea that they are not proper mathematicians. That is enough to put anybody off.

Let me rephrase the question: *What advice would you offer to people who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

I would say: if you are not utterly driven to find out new mathematics, go away and do something else. If you are, be stubborn, keep at it, don’t be too picky about the location of your first job, be sure to go to conferences in your chosen part of mathematics, don’t be put off when your papers are rejected.

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

Oh yes! I learnt lots of new things in the workshops, made major improvements to two pieces of joint work that were supposedly just being “finished off” here, and started lots of new pieces of joint work with a variety of different participants.

Six Questions with: Dr Stefanie Biedermann

Six Questions with: Dr Stefanie Biedermann

Stefanie Biedermann is a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Southampton and was an organiser of the Design and Analysis of Experiments programme in 2011.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I have been interested in mathematics since before I started school. I have always been fascinated by numbers and logical puzzles. If you solve one problem in mathematics it is like opening a door, behind which you find another unsolved problem (or more than one) already waiting for you.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I did a degree in mathematics at Bochum, Germany. Towards the end of my studies, I became interested in mathematical statistics, because this area provides the opportunity to apply mathematical knowledge to real world problems. I decided to stay in Bochum to do a PhD. During this first serious exposure to research, I realised I wanted to stay in academia as a career. I worked as a Postdoctoral researcher for three years, before obtaining a lectureship at the University of Southampton, UK.

My current research is on optimal design of experiments, i.e. the best way to collect data in order to gain the most reliable statistical conclusions from the experiment.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I’m proud of some of my papers, in which optimal design of experiments is combined with a seemingly unrelated area, such as inverse problems. I am always happy when my research can make a new contribution to the field. I’m also proud that I could establish an academic career in a foreign country, and that I was asked to contribute a chapter to a book on design of experiments, jointly with one of my collaborators. And I am quite excited that my first two PhD students will be finishing soon.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

Not very well, to be honest. There is just too much to do, teaching, supervision of students, grant applications, administrative tasks etc. I often have to work long hours to get at least some research done. When I walk home from work I usually can’t get my current research problem out of my head! I have had many ideas this way, which resulted in me grabbing pen and paper as soon as I got home, and doing maths while cooking dinner. I try to achieve some balance by reading a lot of (non-maths) books, and by meeting friends.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Don’t be afraid of obstacles, but find your own way around them. A career in mathematics is not easy; it will take a lot time and effort, but you will find it’s worth it.

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff of the Newton Institute for making my period here most enjoyable. I was able to discuss my research with the leaders in the field, to get a couple of new ideas, and have found some potential new collaborators for the future. I definitely recommend a research period here, preferably during a period of sabbatical leave.

Six Questions with: Dr Sarah Hart

Six Questions with: Dr Sarah Hart

Sarah Hart is Reader in Mathematics at Birkbeck College, University of London and participated in the Symmetric Functions and Macdonald Polynomials programme in 2001.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

As a little girl I loved patterns of numbers and shapes. I remember working out that 6 times 50 is 300, and feeling really excited when I realised that was related to the fact that 6 times 5 is 30. I used to make intricate tessellating patterns with some little tiles I’d been given. Of course you don’t realise you are doing mathematics at that point.

What keeps me interested is that joyful moment of discovery, when you realise how the pieces of the puzzle fit together, or think of a really neat way of expressing things.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I got my first degree from Oxford in 1996, then went to Manchester to do my MSc and subsequently PhD, which was in group theory, specifically Coxeter Groups. I was lucky enough to get a two year EPSRC research fellowship, for which I stayed in Manchester, following it with a one year temporary lectureship before moving to my first permanent post, a lectureship at Birkbeck College, which is part of the University of London.

I started in September 2004 and am still there. It is unusual in that is specialises in part-time evening courses for students who wish to get university degrees while working, or with family commitments. This means all my teaching occurs on two evenings a week. I have a two or three irons in the fire, research-wise. I am still working on Coxeter groups, and have a longstanding and very fruitful research collaboration with my former PhD supervisor Peter Rowley. But I have also published work on sumfree sets in groups, commuting involution graphs and other group-theoretic problems.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I am proud of my research record – I feel that I’ve done some good work over the years, and have been able to publish in well-regarded journals. I much prefer working in collaboration with others because it’s energising to bounce ideas off each other, but it was still a thrill when I had my first sole-author paper published.

I am proud of the work I’ve done at Birkbeck – when I arrived here there was no single honours BSc Mathematics programme, and just two pure mathematicians on the staff. It took a few years of work, but we now have a BSc Mathematics, whose first intake graduates this year, we have five pure mathematics lecturers, and a new MSc Mathematics is starting in 2012, with me as the Programme Director. I was promoted to Reader in 2010, which was most gratifying.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

It can be tough – I have two young daughters and there are stressful days when you’ve been up all night with a teething baby and still have to be coherent in lectures. I have an almost cast-iron rule that I don’t work on the weekends. (Although occasionally a research problem is so fun that I play around with it after the girls are in bed, but I don’t count that as work!) I keep a rough eye on the hours I work, but when I’m working I focus exclusively on that, and when I’m at home I focus exclusively on my family.

My husband is very supportive, and mucks in with childcare and housework (he does most of the cooking, for example). We both work full time so we have to be quite organised. The biggest challenge is conferences; I haven’t found a good answer for that yet. I’ve only spend a couple of nights away from home since my eldest (now 5) was born; my younger girl is still only a year old, but there is a 10 day conference in 2013 that I am determined to go to, which gives me a year to come up with a childcare solution!

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Act confident even if you don’t feel it. Try to work with lots of different people – typically an application to a readership or professorship needs to be supported with five references. Think carefully about how much administrative responsibility you agree to take on. You do need to be slightly strategic, obviously do your fair share, but remember to leave enough time for research.

Finally I’d emphasise that it’s absolutely possible to be an academic and have children. Since 2007 I’ve had two children, with six and nine month maternity leaves respectively, and still managed to publish twelve papers, get two promotions and spearhead new programmes at Birkbeck. I’m not remarkable, I’m not about to win the Fields medal, but neither are most of the men out there! I still feel I have a valuable contribution to make and so do you!

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

Absolutely. It was a few years ago, when I was just starting postdoctoral work. I attended a conference and then stayed for a few weeks afterwards to do some research. It was an energising environment, and I had some very useful discussions with other mathematicians.

I think it was the first time I had given a talk outside my own university, and that experience really boosted my confidence. The concentrated time I spent on my research also led to two new papers, if I remember rightly, so it was most productive. It was a wonderful opportunity.

Six Questions with: Professor Clare Parnell

Six Questions with: Professor Clare Parnell

Clare Parnell is a Professor in Applied Mathematics at the University of St Andrews, and was a Visiting Fellow on the Topological Dynamics in the Physical and Biological Sciences programme in 2012.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

As a very young child I found doing sums much simpler than reading. Mathematics was always more interesting than other subjects and, for me, always much easier. I liked the way things had a definite answer and that this answer could be reached logically.

As an applied mathematician the greatest pleasure I get from my research is from tackling and finally solving a difficult problem, often after running down several blind alleys. In particular, when you finally discover an answer and think about what it means physically, then the penny drops and everything makes sense. Its a wonderful feeling realising that your answer is right, because, in hindsight, that that is the only way it can work!

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

In 1988 I started a joint BSc in Chemistry & Mathematics at Cardiff University. I choose Cardiff because it had good climbing opportunities, but also had a flexible degree programme. The latter was useful since I realised at the end of my first year I was a much better mathematician than chemist. The former allowed me to spend almost every weekend either climbing on sea cliffs or walking in the Welsh high mountains.

I graduated in 1991 and headed to St Andrews in Scotland where I did a PhD in theoretical solar physics and climbed all the munroes (mountains over 3000ft in Scotland) in 3 years.

The next 12 years were spent as a postdoc either in St Andrews or at Stanford University. During this time I was lucky enough to be awarded three personal Fellowships which covered 10 of the 12 years I was a postdoc.

In 2003, I gained a lectureship at St Andrews. Since then I have been promoted twice and I am now a Professor in applied mathematics.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Gaining my PhD is one achievement I feel really proud of. I started and finished the munroes at about the same time as my PhD, so in my eyes these two successes always go hand in hand. Indeed, I always say I could never have done one without the other. My PhD brought me to Scotland and the munroes afforded me with the space and opportunity to escape from my office enabling me to think through the sticking points of the previous weeks research problems.

Since then I have supervised half a dozen or more PhD students and each time they succeed I feel proud to have helped/guided others to achieve their goals.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

With great difficulty and to be honest I am not sure I really do.

I have two young children (born in 2003 & 2005). I would have had no chance in realising any of my goals since the children were born if it was not for all the help and support I get from my husband. Like me he works full-time, but thankfully he loves cooking, so he is in charge of the kitchen! I work many evenings during the week after the kids have gone to bed and often work on the weekends. My aim is to cut back on my weekend work and my children have started helping by taking me off on long cycle rides or walks one day each weekend.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Have confidence, believe in yourself and in your abilities. You can have it all, i.e. have a successful career, have a happy family and be fit and healthy, but it is hard work and you need to work on all aspects to keep your dream alive.

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

Yes. The opportunity to escape from my many administrative and teaching duties, if only temporarily, has been wonderful. It has been very motivational, especially the interactions with a variety of researchers whom all have a different perspective on topology to me. Having the time and space to think about new projects has been very pleasing.

Six Questions with: Dr Alia Sajjad

Six Questions with: Dr Alia Sajjad

Alia Sajjad is a Researcher in the Education Department of the Government of Punjab, Pakistan and was a Visiting Fellow on the Design and Analysis of Experiments programme in 2011.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

Mathematics has been my favourite subject since my early school days. I still remember a period of two or three years at school when I was not performing well in studies generally, but getting 100% in Mathematics and Urdu. For the second part of your question ‘what keeps my interest fresh’, I would say that I never felt my interest fading out – I always have some mathematics book on my bedside! But during the last few years my interest has particularly been increased. My short stay at Queen Mary University of London and working under Rosemary Bailey’s guidance both had significant impact on my interest in Mathematics.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I received my masters degree in Applied Mathematics and began teaching Mathematics at a school. After one and a half years I was selected as a Lecturer in Mathematics by Punjab Public Service Commission. I served for 13 years at the Government Post Graduate College for Women in Sialkot and for two years at Khyaban-e-Sirsyed College for Women in Rawalpindi. The main field of my research is Design of Experiments and I work in Optimal Designs. It is about choosing the best possible design in given circumstances. I am also interested in algebraic and combinatorial aspects of designs.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I am still quite new to post-doctoral research so I cannot claim any big achievements yet but there are a few things I feel proud of. I received several scholarships and awards throughout my academic career including the President Talent Scholarship during my undergraduate studies. I am also proud of the fact that I have helped several students to develop an interest in Mathematics and enabled them to overcome their problems.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

It is really a tough job particularly in Pakistan where the childcare system is not well developed. This is further complicated by the fact that all the household matters are generally looked after by women alone. To achieve a work-life balance had been a real challenge for me but I cut down my social life, took help in some household matters and tried to stay with my family as much as possible after my working hours. I was lucky to get the support of my mother in law when my kids were very young and she looked after them in my absence with the help of a maid. My husband offered a great moral support as well on all the occasions and he always encouraged me to achieve targets in my career. My parents have contributed greatly as well and in short, the whole thing was made possible by family support.

Although my sons are grown up now but they are still under 18 and this has made my visit to the Institute challenging as it was necessary for them to accompany me during my visit. There were problems with their visit due to their visa type and it really became impossible for me to arrange for them to attend school whilst in the UK. The Institute was wonderful in arranging tuition for them in a variety of subjects by very competent teachers in our home. I really feel happy and contented to see that the home tuition has allowed them to develop a special interest in Chemistry and expressing themselves in English. Many thanks to Isaac Newton Institute and to their teachers as well.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

I would encourage them! Particularly to the women of the developing countries I would say that you must keep on working and let your passion and ambition be your guide. Have a firm belief in yourself and in the fact that where there is a will there is a way. You will no doubt be able to make considerable contributions in the field of Mathematics.’

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

Yes, it has been great. It has been wonderful. I cannot express the excitement of my first week in words. Most of the great names in the field of design of experiments were around. Different programmes, workshops and discussions have played a significant role in developing an insight and improving my skills in various aspects of designs. To me it was nothing less than a paradise. I thought of a book and I could find it, I wanted to talk to the author and he was around to discuss. Well equipped libraries, peaceful environment, excellent series of programs and talks and a very cooperative administrative staff has made it a great place for researchers.

Six Questions with: Dr Beth Wingate

Six Questions with: Dr Beth Wingate

Beth Wingate is a scientist currently working for the Los Alamos National Laboratory Computer, Computational and Statistical Sciences Division and the Center for Nonlinear Studies. Beth was a visiting fellow on the Multiscale Numerics for the Atmosphere and Ocean programme in 2012.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I first became interested in mathematics when I realized how it could help me more deeply understand the world around me and could help me make sense of complex problems. Sometime in the late stages of my undergraduate education I became even more interested when I realized it could help me understand physics in more depth.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I began my research career in numerical methods and turbulence for aerospace applications like F15 and F18 engine inlets but realized I was more interested in the natural sciences. I then went to the University of Michigan where I studied for my PhD in ocean and atmosphere dynamics and fluid mechanics, theory and numerical methods. After postdocs I took a full time Scientist position at Los Alamos National Laboratory where I still work and where part of my work is to understand ocean processes and to develop mathematical and numerical models. I have been very fortunate to have had intellectual freedom in my work, it has contributed to my creativity.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I don’t know the answer to that question — so many of the papers I’ve written seem to ask as many questions as they answer.

But the accomplishment I’m most interested in is the separation of time scales paper I wrote last year for the Journal of Fluid Mechanics with Pedro Embid, Miranda Holmes-Cerfon and Mark Taylor [1] since it derives new equations for slow dynamics in regions of the deep Arctic where the stratification is weak. It is an instance where mathematical understanding lead to physical understanding. When I first saw the new equations it was real pleasure. Since then my understanding of other, related problems, falls more easily into place.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

In addition to applied mathematics and physics I am also a poet. I manage to balance science work with my poetic interest by writing in the morning. And I’m happy to have a partner who takes an equal interest and responsibility in the quality of our home life.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Guard your work time — be careful of spending time where no one benefits (such as meetings for the sake of meetings).

Choose problems to work on that can be of use — don’t necessarily choose problems just because you are able to do them. Consciously think about which problems you’re interested in working on and whose solution is meaningful to you.

Do yourself the favor of believing/knowing that your time is worthwhile. When you sit down to do something be respectful that you’re spending this time (of your life) on this subject. Treat others the same way. Take joy with you on the way.

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

Yes. I’ve been able to try new ideas on new and old colleagues. I’ve established what I hope will be new collaborations. It has been very fruitful to spend a long stretch of time in once place with like-minded researchers.

References

  • [1] B.A. Wingate, P. Embid, M. Holmes-Cerfon, M.A. Taylor (2011). “Low Rossby limiting dynamics for stably stratified flow with finite Froude number” Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 676, 546-571.
Six Questions with: Ruchi Chaturvedi

Six Questions with: Ruchi Chaturvedi

Ruchi Chaturvedi is a Faculty Member at the Faculty of Engineering and Technology, Agra College, and was a Workshop Participant on the Mathematics for the Fluid Earth programme in 2013.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I was influenced and inspired by my father in primary school. He told me that Mathematics is important for all pure sciences. I keep my interest fresh by reading regularly on new developments. I subscribe to mathematics journals through my University Library and online to update myself.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I am a faculty member in Faculty of Engineering and Technology, Agra College, Agra. I cover Engineering Mathematics (Numerical Methods, Quantitative Techniques, and Operational Research). I also believe in empowerment of disadvantaged students and teach them part time as well as motivate them to continue studying. I have attended several workshops, conferences, Faculty development and other training programmes.

My current research covers Fluid Mechanics through Porous Media (Real visco-elastic and visco-plastic fluids). I have eight publications in reputed journals (e.g. IJCT), and six textbooks (two of which are publication ready). My research paper has recently been made a part of Lecture Notes in Imperial College.

What achievements are you most proud of?

  • Best Statistician award, 2013 IPERA (Indian Pschychometric & Educational Research)
  • Life member and Regular Attendee, Indian Science Congress
  • Editor of ISGBRD Research Journal & Insight Journal

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

I have a supportive husband and son, who actively encourage me to further my research career.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Mathematical sciences require discipline and focus, as well as experienced guidance throughout. Have a goal in your mind and make a plan to achieve that goal.

Has your visit to the Isaac Newton Institute been fruitful?

It was a very rewarding visit and provided exposure to other areas of current research. I managed to interact with attendees working in “Extreme Events in Earth Science” and “Non Equilibrium Mechanics” which helped me develop over these few days.

Six Questions with: Cecilia Lancien

Six Questions with: Cecilia Lancien

Cecilia Lancien is a Research Student at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, and was a Programme Participant on the Mathematical Challenges in Quantum Information programme in 2013.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I’ve always been interested in mathematics! Even as a kid, I remember appreciating the “beauty” of a rigorous logical reasoning. Then, there is no doubt that successive outstanding maths teachers gradually made me feel that I should indeed pursue that direction. It was eventually during my Masters degree research project that I experienced for the first time what doing research really meant… and discovered I was perfectly adapted to it! Today, working with people I regard highly, not only professionally but also personally, is probably, even more than my passion for the subject itself, what really keeps my interest so fresh.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

After high school, I followed intensive courses in science for 2 years in order to prepare the selective exams for the French engineering schools. That’s how I entered the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. At the end of the 4-year degree course there, I started a PhD in quantum information (this was September 2013 so I’m still a “baby researcher”!) In brief, my current research consists in using tools coming mainly from functional analysis, convex geometry and probability to solve problems arising in quantum physics and quantum information.

What achievements are you most proud of?

The competition to get into the Ecole Polytechnique is quite tough, so of course I’m proud of having achieved that (especially coming from a small provincial high school and not from a prestigious one in Paris…). Nevertheless, entering a renowned school is not an end in itself, and the real stuff only begins afterwards!

So maybe the thing I’m most proud of in my very short mathematical life is my Masters degree research project: it turned out to be unexpectedly successful, so that I had for the very first time the impression of achieving “something” (even though it was for sure some tiny little thing!) in the scientific community.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

When your work is something you can do at almost any time and any place, it may become necessary to impose some kind of “behaviour rules” on yourself. However passionate you are for what you’re thinking about and working on, there are “incompressible” moments that should remain dedicated to your family and your friends. And it’s also a matter of not becoming completely mad!

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Carry on, it’s worth the effort! The field I’m working in is at the border of maths, theoretical physics and computer science, so as you might have guessed, a subject where women are clearly under-represented… However, I never experienced any male chauvinist behaviour in that community. On the contrary, the impression I usually had is that most men were quite glad to have at least one woman in the group, hence being extremely kind to her whenever that happened!

Has your visit to the Isaac Newton Institute been fruitful?

I was lucky enough to start my PhD participating in a thematic programme that my advisor was organising at the Isaac Newton Institute. So this was of course unbelievable: during the 1st semester of my PhD I managed to meet basically all the people working in the same field as me! I left Cambridge with just too many initiated projects and possible problems to think about…!

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