U hosts workshop for women in the sciences

A national meeting held every four years began Thursday.
April 02, 2009

A three-day conference for women in North America involved in the mathematical sciences began Thursday at the University of Minnesota.
The Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) and the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) organize the workshop, called Career Options for Women in the Mathematical Sciences, every four years.
Cheri Shakiban, associate director for diversity at the IMA, said they invited speakers from all around North America to talk about discoveries and opportunities for women in the field. There will be 45 presenters from different campuses and companies over the three-day conference. Shakiban said topics will include things like skill development, developing technical research programs and grant writing. Fadil Santosa, director of IMA and University professor , said the workshop will also cover the barriers to career advancement women face.
“Women make up about 30 percent of math sciences Ph.D.s finishing their degrees in a given year,” he said, “yet if you look at a typical math department, in the Big Ten for example, you find very few women in the senior ranks. The same goes for women Math Ph.D.s in companies; a lot of the key positions, with very few exceptions, are held by men.”
This sentiment and hope for education through the workshop was echoed by Carme Calderer, a professor in the school of mathematics who helped organize the workshop.
“There are a lot of prejudices [against women] that remain, but there is a lot of work that has been done,” Calderer said. “A lot of it is trying to even out the field so that women can prosper everywhere.”
Women from large cities and small towns were called to participate at the workshop.
“All the different perspectives they bring in will make it a lot more interesting,” Shakiban said. “I am sure that most of the women will take something away from it.”
In addition to the speakers coming from diverse locations, they are at different stages of their careers, which IMA hopes will open their eyes to possible unique opportunities within the field.
“They will see women from many different stages and ages,” Calderer said. “The other thing [we wanted to do] was to give them the opportunity to let them see state-of-the-art issues in the field.”
Calderer said she feels the field is rapidly advancing, and more young women need to become involved in opportunities like the workshop to explore possibilities.
“It’s really a very attractive possibility right now,” Calderer said. “It is the future. We are going to see great things in the future and mathematics is going to play a big part in that.”
Shakiban said they had to turn interested women away due to lack of space and money, but added it would be nice to expand the conference in the future.
“I think the young mathematicians will leave the workshop feeling energized and excited about their future,” Santosa said. “We hope some will become future leaders of the mathematical sciences community and come back here to tell those coming up how it is done.”

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