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Olga Taussky Todd Celebration of Careers in Mathematics for Women

Abstracts of Plenary Talks at the Olga Taussky Todd Celebration

The Olga Taussky Todd Celebration of Careers in Mathematics for Women: Part II

AWM Photo Gallery: Olga Taussky Todd Celebration

The Olga Taussky Todd Celebration of Careers in Mathematics for Women: Part I

From AWM Newsletter, Vol. 29, No. 6, November-December 1999.

By Bettye Anne Case, Florida State University. Part II will appear in the January-February issue of this Newsletter. Papers based on the plenary talks will be featured in a volume about AWM; the plan of the book will be described in that Newsletter.

The Celebration featured the legacy of Olga Taussky Todd (1906-1995), who was an inspiration to a number of the mathematicians present. Among her many other achievements, Taussky Todd presented the Noether Lecture of the Association for Women in Mathematics in 1981.

This AWM-organized conference drew over one hundred women and men mathematicians to the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at Berkeley for three days of information, inspiration, camaraderie. There was agreement that the primary goals of the celebration were well met: to assist, encourage and inspire the participating beginning mathematicians, to provide a forum for networking between mathematicians at different career stages and to promote the achievements of women in mathematics. Forty of the participants were women graduate students or recent Ph.D.'s. Most of them presented their mathematical research in three poster sessions. Their enthusiasm and thoughtful questions were a motivation for the senior mathematicians; as an organized feature of the program, junior and senior women were paired in mentoring activities.

The program featured ten plenary talks by women in the mathematical sciences. [Click here for abstracts.] The first talk by Helene Shapiro (Swarthmore College), a student of Olga Taussky Todd, discussed Taussky Todd's mathematics. Christa Binder (Technische Universit„t Wien) also discussed Olga's work and life. Other speakers gave information about her life, work and career path: Richard Varga spoke after dinner about "Remem-brances of Olga Taussky Todd and her impact on me and on her many students." A few remarks were then made by John Todd, widower of Taussky Todd. "Olga's Irishman" attended all the sessions and spoke encouragingly to many of the individuals; he graciously presented mementos from among Taussky Todd's belongings to those involved in the early planning of the conference.

A symposium session of short talks describing the various types of employment of Taussky Todd and her interactions with other mathematicians during those periods was organized by Mary Ann McLoughlin.

Five of the speakers at the conference currently have corporate employment, though most had held academic positions at some time after earning their Ph.D.'s: Lisa R. Goldberg, BARRA, Inc.; Fern Y. Hunt, National Institute of Standards and Technology (successor to the National Bureau of Standards where both Olga and John were employed after World War II); Lani Wu, Microsoft; and Diane Lambert and Margaret Wright of Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies.

The three speakers listing academic affiliations described portions of their careers which were very different from the general perception of an academic career. They were: Cathleen Synge Morawetz, Courant Institute, NYU; Evelyn Boyd Granville, California State University at Los Angeles; and Linda R. Petzold, University of California at Santa Barbara.

Reports on two panel discussions are given below: Helen Moore (Stanford University) describes "Issues and inside information for women in mathematics," organized by Sylvia M. Wiegand, University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Krystyna Kuperberg, Auburn University, organized "Finding a traditional or nontraditional job and growing in it." She and several of her panelists report on the session and the lively discussion which followed.

The Conference Organizers are grateful to all the individuals who participated in the Celebration for their assistance and for their pervasive good spirits. The organizers for the conference included: Bettye Anne Case, Florida State University (Chair); Sue Geller, Texas A&M University; Carolyn Gordon, Dartmouth College; Dianne O'Leary, University of Maryland, College Park; Gail Ratcliff, University of Missouri, St. Louis; Jean Taylor, Rutgers University; and Sylvia M. Wiegand, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

The early assurance of base support from the National Security Agency facilitated conference planning; NSA staff provided helpful advice at many stages, and two women mathematicians at the agency participated in the Celebration. Supplementary funding from the Department of Energy, the Office of Naval Research, and the hosting Mathematical Sciences Research Institute made possible support to bring a variety of panelists and to allow a good number of senior mathematicians to participate in the conference and, with the speakers and panelists, to act as mentors for beginning mathema-ticians.

The organizers thank those who joined them on planning committees for the conference: Mary Ellen Bock, Sharon Frechette, Jenny Harrison, Linda Keen, Krystyna Kuperberg, Edith Luchins, Mary Ann Mc-Loughlin, Carolyn R. Mahoney, Linda P. Rothschild, and Janice B. Walker.

The initial planning was assisted by: Isabel Beichl, Lynne Billard, Lenore Blum, Mary Ellen Bock, Sun-Yung Alice Chang, Jane Cullum, Mary W. Gray, Jenny Harrison, Gloria Hewitt, Linda Keen, Krystyna M. Kuperberg, Edith Luchins, Carolyn R. Mahoney, Linda P. Rothschild, Alice T. Schafer, Bhama Srinivasan, Chuu-Lian Terng, Janice B. Walker, and Carol Wood.

Issues and Insider Insights

Helen Moore, Lecturer at Stanford University and postdoc participant at the Olga Taussky Todd Celebration

The panel "Issues and Insider Insights for Women in Mathematics" was organized by Sylvia Weigand (University of Nebraska at Lincoln). The issues addressed by the panelists included the following topics: 1) finding research collaborators; 2) fitting into and learning about department politics at a new job; 3) presenting oneself and promoting one's career; 4) grant writing and opportunities; 5) visiting other universities, including interviews; 6) family issues; 7) teaching issues; and 8) mentoring: finding it and giving it.

The panel was an excellent mix of women at various stages in their careers and at various types of institutions, including a research laboratory. Plenty of thoughtful and eye-opening advice and information was offered, including contributions from the audience. Below is a list of the panelists, with a few tidbits of the concrete advice they offered. A more detailed account of the panel, including the discussion that followed the panelists' initial remarks, will appear in the proceedings of the OTT conference.

Jean Taylor (Rutgers University) suggested reading someone else's papers and talking to them about their work as a good way to start a collaboration. She herself started a collaboration by finding a mistake in a paper and pointing it out to the author.

Susan Morey (Southwest Texas State University) advocated eating lunch with others in the department as a way of informally finding out about department politics and policies. She also found it to be a useful way of letting people know how hard you're working.

Tamara Kolda (Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, CA) spoke about networking and promoting one's career. She recommended asking people questions about themselves and their work when you first meet them, and telling them information about yourself (e.g., your advisor's name, your area of research) as well.

Maria Klawe (University of British Columbia) included advice on getting promoted. She suggested meeting with the department chair once a year and asking what else should be on your CV. For example, would it make a difference to the department if you were the editor of a journal, if you gave an invited talk at a conference, or if you organized a conference? If so, then you should ask organizations how to go about doing such things. Often, an inquiry leads to an opportunity!

Claudia Polini (Hope College) was told that she could get a reduced teaching load at her small college (and thus have some time to do research) if she got grants. So she applied for four, and received two! She advocated this strategy (applying for lots of things) as a way of increasing your odds of ending up with something.

Ellen Kirkman (Wake Forest University) stated that institutions are different, so there is little advice that applies everywhere. Hence it is important to regard the source of the advice and to talk with a variety of people when seeking advice. If you're at a small school, and you get advice that seems more appropriate for a large institution, ask somebody else.

"Finding a Traditional or Nontraditional Job and Growing in It"

Krystyna Kuperberg, Auburn University

Krystyna Kuperberg, Auburn University, organized the panel "Finding a Traditional or Nontraditional Job and Growing in It". The panelists were Karen M. Brucks, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Barbara S. Deuink and Barbara B. Flinn, National Security Agency; Lisa R. Goldberg, BARRA, Inc.; Sarah Holte, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Linda R. Petzold, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Margaret H. Wright, Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies.

The panelists relied on their rich experiences working in both academic and nonacademic environments. Some started their careers with positions at universities and later switched to different types of employment; some did just the opposite. The panelists shared with the audience their thoughts about the profession, based on their individual, real-life experience. Selecting the career was usually a question of choice even though some element of necessity to make a change often was involved. Both traditional and nontraditional math jobs can be rewarding, challenging, and satisfying. The panel also discussed how to overcome predictable adversities, avoid stumbling blocks, and take advantage of opportunities. Questions from the audience ranged from addressing specific mathematical issues to simple practical topics such as how to prepare an application for a nontraditional position.

Linda R. Petzold

After receiving my Ph.D. in Computer Science in 1978 from the University of Illinois, I went to Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California as a member of the technical staff in the Applied Mathematics Division. From 1985-1991, I was group leader of the Numerical Mathematics Group at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. In 1991 I moved to the University of Minnesota, where I was Professor of Computer Science until 1997. In 1997 I assumed my present position as Professor in the Departments of Mechanical and Environmental Engineering and Computer Science, and Director of the Computational Science and Engineering Program, at the University of California Santa Barbara. My interests in mathematics are in the numerical solution of ordinary and partial differential equations, model reduction, sensitivity analysis and optimal control, and scientific computing.

In this brief discussion I hope to provide some information and advice on the topics of transitioning from industry/government to academia, choosing the right position, and recovering from a wrong decision.

Over the years I have been asked many times how hard it is to move from a nonacademic to an academic position. It is not so difficult, but if you want to do this you should plan for the possibility right from the beginning. This is because you will need to keep your publication record and research visibility up to the standards required for promotion and tenure in academia. Depending on your nonacademic position and whether publication is encouraged or emphasized, this may or may not be easy to do. Unless you make the transition very early in your career, it is prudent to move to an academic position only with tenure. Once you are there, here is my experience: teaching is tiring, especially the first time you teach a course; research is the same although you may be working more with students and less by yourself; the grant process is not so difficult (selling yourself and your work in industry/government is good preparation); and the politics at a university can be much different. Making such a move is a lot of work, and in some respects you will be at a disadvantage for a while compared to your colleagues with more academic experience. On the other hand, in other ways your background is probably much more interdisciplinary than the traditional academic background, and this can be greatly advantageous, especially in your research. Having worked outside of academia, you can contribute a lot. Students are always curious about the outside world and greatly appreciate anything you can tell them. And universities can benefit from the collaborative, problem-solving culture which is more common in government and industry.

The second and related subject is choosing the right position, whether it is nonacademic or academic. Here is some advice which is most applicable to research positions. You should go where it is interesting and friendly, where they seem to be excited about having you, where there is an emphasis on science and recognition for good work, where there is a chance for visibility and where your work could make an impact. In an interview, remember that you are interviewing them and deciding whether you want to work there just as much as they are interviewing you. Be very cautious about going anywhere where people seem to be unhappy or are planning to move because of unhappiness (you can ask them about this in the interview), or where there have been recent severe political problems.

Finally, what if you find later that you have made the wrong decision? If this happens, then you will need to find a way to keep up, or even increase, the level of your research.... This may not be easy if you are upset, but it is essential in order to be able to move to another position. And your friends and colleagues in the research community can be a great source of help and support.

Karen M. Brucks

Currently I am an associate professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). I received my Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of North Texas under Professor Dan Mauldin. After completing my degree, I spent one year at Michigan State University and then one and a half years at SUNY Stony Brook, working with the dynamical systems group. I then came to Milwaukee to an "urban university."

One issue I want to address is having a productive research program even though there may be few or no colleagues in your department working in your area of research. Travel and bring researchers in to visit you. Plan your summers carefully; do
not teach in the summer. Attend workshops and conferences. Give talks! Of course, travel takes money. Your home institution may have funding available for your travel. AWM has a wonderful travel grant. AAUW has many grants and fellowships. Search out funding options. If your institution has a sabbatical program, take one when it becomes available to you.

Currently I am serving on the American Fellowship Panel of the AAUW. This is my third year of two two-year terms. This panel makes funding decisions for dissertation fellowships, postdoc grants, and summer grants. Over the past three years, the number of applicants from mathematics has seriously declined. This should not be the case. Apply!!! In mathematics we often think of postdoc funding as funding available the first few years past your Ph.D. AAUW thinks differently; here postdoc simply means "past Ph.D.," any time past your Ph.D. The summer grants are targeted towards women at smaller institutions that may have higher teaching loads during the academic year; they support summer research programs. Apply, and please advertise this funding. We need to increase the number of applicants from mathematics!

One topic of this panel was "growing." Currently my home institution is going through many changes. Part of the change involves outreach programs. Given this "climate change," we are trying to develop outreach programs in mathematics directed towards local high school students. You will have many ideas for projects that you want to create, nurture, grow ... work through your institution's channels to make your projects happen.

Enjoy your life in academics, it really is a blast!

Sarah Holte

I began my career as a mathematician by writing a dissertation in point-set topology under the direction of Lew Ward at the University of Oregon. Upon completion of my dissertation, I went to the University of Missouri at Rolla where I had a tenure-track appointment. At this point I had pretty much the "traditional career" for Ph.D. mathematicians. I was teaching and doing research in topological dynamics.

However, after a few years in this position, I decided that research in abstract mathematics was not for me. So I began to investigate other opportunities for mathematicians. I began my search by obtaining journals like the Notices of the AMS from other professional organizations. Many of these journals have advertisements for positions and postdocs. I was primarily interested in moving into an area where I could be part of medical research, and after about a year of investigating the options, I found a postdoc in Biostatistics at the University of Washington.

The postdoc allowed me to learn statistics and some programming (both areas where I had no experience as a graduate student or assistant professor), as well as the opportunity to gain experience and make contacts in the medical research community. After a year and a half on the postdoc I was offered a permanent position at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research, where I am currently employed.

My work at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center involves all sorts of projects where I contribute mathematical and statistical expertise. I've worked on projects involving the role of genetics in cancer, assessing environmental risk factors for cancer, and mathematical modeling of the carcinogenesis process; currently, I'm working exclusively on HIV research. This involves both mathematical and statistical modeling of HIV infection, as well as offering statistical guidance to large trials of methods to prevent HIV transmission. I also work in developing improved statistical methods for data analysis.

I've found the biggest difference in working in non-academic setting is the pace. Everything in medical science happens extremely fast, at least in HIV research. New results seem to turn the field around on a regular basis, and often the focus of work shifts dramatically as a result. It's both frustrating and exciting. You have to be flexible and work quickly, sometimes letting go of the "but we haven't proved it yet!" ethic we learn in graduate school in mathematics. Another difference is that I work mostly with non-mathematicians, and so communication is challenging. It takes a lot of patience to get truly collaborative research results --- when the collaborators are speaking two different languages, e.g. mathematics and biology. But you learn exciting new things in other disciplines on a regular basis.

For people interested in work in the life sciences or medicine, good training in statistics is extremely useful. Statistics is the quantitative language of biology and medicine, and if you have the ability to analyze data, it's an excellent way to get involved with medical research. Mathematics is more out-side the mainstream, but I've found that many researchers are interested in exploring mathematical models if you can offer some statistical guidance as well. It's also often the case that "less is more." I very rarely need to use extremely sophisticated mathematics. Most everything I use is part of the undergraduate curriculum in mathematics: differential equations, multivariate calculus, and linear algebra.

I've found my "non-traditional" career to be sometimes frustrating, but overall extremely rewarding. I learn new things everyday, and feel that I have the opportunity to contribute to advances in HIV science.

Margaret H. Wright

My career as an applied mathematician has been highly nonlinear. After receiving a B.S. in Mathematics and an M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford, I was not ready to go for a Ph.D. --- I had no idea what academic research was, and also I needed to earn some money. So I worked for several years at GTE Sylvania doing numerical analysis and scientific programming. This experience taught me a lot, not necessarily about mathematics, but about some of the ways of the world. It also made me realize that I would not be satisfied in the long term unless I had a job with more individual responsibility. Luckily, by this point I had become very interested in optimization and was eager to begin work on a Ph.D.

Since the topic for this panel involves our jobs, let me first describe where I work. Bell Labs is a large industrial research lab. The "research" part of Bell Labs includes about 1,200 Ph.D.'s in different scientific areas; I am in the Computing Sciences Research Center, an organization of about 65 people. It's difficult to give a precise job description of a Bell Labs researcher; one way to think about it is having several careers at the same time.

First, I'm supposed to be a visible scientist in my own field. This means that I do basic research, write papers, and give talks. Bell Labs is a wonderful environment for research because of its openness and collegiality, which have to be experienced to be understood. Second, I was hired because my area of research is seen as important to Lucent Technologies (the parent company, which was part of AT&T until 1996), so I serve as a resource for the company in this area. I'm very happy about this because I like to apply mathematics to real-world problems, and the broader Lucent environment provides plenty of these.

As well as these two core activities, I try to be an active member of the mathematical sciences community. I serve on editorial boards and committees and am active in scientific societies, particularly SIAM (of which I was president in 1995-96). And although I am still (after all these years!) uncomfortable with the idea of being a "role model," this position is inevitable, whether we like it or not, for all women working in science and engineering. I care a lot about encouraging women (and minorities) to pursue careers in science and engineering, and I give "rah-rah" math and science talks to students of different levels.

Turning now to the theme of growing in a job, I want to mention a few pieces of advice, which I offer with no claims of accuracy. Being a good mathematician is without question hard work
for anyone, but there are certain extra, familiar difficulties that women mathematicians tend to encounter. We all have our stories of what I sometimes call the "presumption of incompetence," in which we have to prove that we are good rather than being given the benefit of the doubt. One can argue that this makes us tough, but it is definitely frustrating to have to convince someone that we know what we're talking about when it should be perfectly obvious that we do! However, at least in the foreseeable future, this will continue to be a problem for women. My only advice about this is to be prepared and not to let it get you down except at the level of an occasional irritation. (And remember that it is a good source of anecdotes.)

From the beginning of any job, it's helpful to develop your own individual style. I'm not suggesting striving to be eccentric or peculiar --- simply that you should establish a definite identity, so that people will notice and remember you in a good way. My advice on this is, first, to know your-self, and second, to watch others for things you like. Think about what you admire in a speaker, teacher, or colleague; then adapt that person's behavior so that it suits you. Don't be afraid to experiment with something new; this is not a context where you can determine in advance what will work best for you. Style comes with no effort to some people --- but for me, it is something I have had to work on (and I'm still working on it).

A related suggestion is that you become familiar with your weaknesses. It is a stereotype, often true, that women as a group lack self-confidence. This is certainly true of me, and of most of my close women colleagues. But lacking confidence (which is usually bad) is not the same thing as knowing your faults (which is good). You need to take a hard, objective look at your research, writing, talks --- every aspect of your job --- and figure out which things you can do better. This is ideally done with an honest friend who will tell you the truth. We all like it when friends reassure us that everything is fine, but in the long run this is unhelpful if in reality everything is not fine. So, even though it is incredibly difficult to accept criticism, we need to do it. I used to worry because I became upset when people made critical comments to me after I had asked them to be frank, but I now think (rationalize?) that this is natural. What matters is that, once you calm down, you think carefully about what they said. If, being rigorously honest, you find that their criticisms are valid, then you can try to correct the problem --- or accept that it is part of you and try to work around it. (And remember to thank the person for being honest.)

Finally, a key part of growing in a job is a highly developed sense of self-awareness. What I mean by this is that you need to keep track of your "profes-sional temperature" and think periodically about whether you are really satisfied with what you are doing. No job is perfect and all jobs have ups and downs, but you should pay attention to serious, chronic unhappiness. A key part of growing within a job is to understand what things you would like to improve, and then to figure out an action plan to change them. Being in control, in the sense that you know what you want, makes a huge difference to your effectiveness. In the worst case, if you realize after careful thought that, despite your best efforts, your job is simply not right for you --- this happened to me at Stanford --- then you need to take the stressful and scary step of changing jobs. I completely agree with the advice given by Linda Pet-zold in her contribution to this panel about making sure that at any time your publications and visibility are strong enough that you can change jobs.

Barbara Brown Flinn

When I first learned that this would be the last panel of the conference, I worried that the subject of career development would not get the attention it deserved. To my delight, there have been many times in the last few days when we have heard or discussed career advice, so I am going to keep this short. First, I want to tell you a little about myself, highlighting experiences that you may want to ask me about later. I will finish with two observations that I hope will complement the advice you have heard so far.


After finishing my Ph.D. at Michigan, I took a postdoc at The University of Texas at Austin. Although there was only one other person in my field there, my husband was at Texas A&M (where there was no one in my field), so this seemed a good compromise. On the other hand, UT and A&M are 2 hours apart, so my husband did a lot of commuting. We tired of the lifestyle quickly, but both wanted to keep research positions.

A visiting friend suggested NSA as a possible solution, and before you know it, we had job offers. We had not researched any other jobs, we still had academic jobs, but we accepted anyway. I found that time very scary, as I was leaving academics --- the only profession I had known or prepared for. Fortunately, both my husband and I have been very happy in our careers at NSA: in particular, I have found myself well-suited to applied math and focused problem solving.

Working at NSA

Throughout my 14 years at NSA, I have benefited from a number of development programs. I joined NSA as a member of a three-year intern program, which, through rotational assignments, gave me a broad base of familiarity with the people and problems. I stayed for four years in my first post-intern assignment, during which I worked with some fantastic cryptomathematicians on some very important problems. Eventually, I moved on, both to further my own professional development (keep from getting in a rut) and to allow junior colleagues in on the high-visibility projects. I left to work on harder, riskier problems, and found this to be a tremendous way to learn. Thanks to prodding from my managers, I applied to, and was chosen for, a new in-house development program for senior technical people, which allowed me to study at the Harvard math department for a school year: another great learning experience! At present, I am working in a different area altogether, trying to discover what we mathematicians can do to help solve some of the computer science problems.

My outward-directed activities include teaching in-house, conducting research studies, leading research activities, mentoring --- all the things you might expect --- but I had two exceptional outreach experiences. First, I spent a summer as a technical director for our Director's Summer Program back when it was new. I truly believe this is NSA's best way to connect with the mathematical leaders of the future. It is also amazing to experience the energies of so many exceptionally talented students focused on our problems! The other activity I at first viewed with great skepticism, but now am very glad to have participated in: planning the 1993 Women In Mathematics Symposium. Sure, the symposium was a great way for NSA to raise its profile with the outside women mathematicians, but what I hadn't realized was just how wonderful it would be, for both the hosts and guests, to have so many women mathematicians together.

Final Thoughts

I'm waxing philosophical, so it must be time to wrap up!

You've heard many good ideas for how to move forward in your careers. As the last speaker, I can't help but underscore two general points which concern being a positive force in your workplace. These become increasingly important as you progress in your career: that is, as you become increasingly influential.

  1. You have a tremendous amount of power, so every now and then, assess how you are using it.

OK, I used to pooh-pooh the idea of role models. In my enlightened view, I reasoned that --- since I as a child had never known any grownup who was remotely like me or like who I wanted to be --- role models obviously were not necessary. Now I know better. Accomplished colleagues with whom we can identify inspire us at all stages of our lives. What's more, we are all role models right now! No matter how far down you think you are on the food chain, you have accomplished much to be here, and many less experienced people are looking to you to see how it's done.

Look for (or at least recognize!) opportunities to make an important difference. This could mean saying "yes" when you'd rather say "no" to a task you think is important and needs your leadership. It could also mean saying "no" to something that sounds like fun, in order to suggest another candidate who has the skills but needs the chance to shine. This is a perfect segue to the next point....

  1. Give extra weight to activities that build community, be it math department, AWM, faculty, etc.

Besides stepping aside to allow someone junior a chance, this includes organizing or sponsoring conferences, etc. As we've experienced these past few days, there's something very special that we all get from seeing myriad versions of success together, all of whom are a lot like us. There's the subliminal confidence boost from seeing such a wide range of success stories, for starters, and we all can add to the list!

Next: The Olga Taussky Todd Celebration of Careers in Mathematics for Women: Part II

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