Speakers honor past and present female mathematicians
For Bhadra Man Tuladhar, Sofia Kovalevskaya has always been a big influence on his mathematical career. The mathematician, who founded Nepal’s Kathmandu University and has served twice as the president of the Nepal Mathematical Societyin recent years, says that his studies in Russia had a great influence over his professional development.
“I am a graduate of Russia, and as such it becomes my duty to tell the stories of our prominent Russian mathematicians,” he says. “When I was a student in Russia, I used to see her picture on the wall’s of my university. She even inspired my thesis.”
Kovalevskaya, like Tuladhar, also once received her inspiration from the walls around her. At the age of 11, the walls of Kovalevskaya’s nursery fell victim to a wallpaper shortage and were consequently papered, temporarily, with pages of lecture notes on Ostrogradsky from her father’s university says. She went on to become the first women in modern Europe – and as such, in the whole world – to earn a doctorate in mathematics, as well as winning the prestigious Prix Bordin.
While female participation in mathematics and science at higher education levels is notoriously lower than male participation, researchers from the University of Brasilia (UnB) believe that this is gradually improving. Hanna Carolina da Silva Rezende and Melissa de Sousa Luiz, presented their study of female participation in mathematics degrees since UnB first began offering them.
However, their findings do show that fewer women feature, compared to men, in both Masters and doctoral mathematics programs. Undergraduate studies, still far from an equal gender split, have the highest levels of female participation. “As you reach higher degrees, the less and less women you see,” said Sousa.
Rezende and Sousa do not blame UnB, or any other higher education institution for the gender imbalance in academic mathematics. “We don’t actually think that this is the biggest problem [with this data],” said Rezende. “We are studying this at a university level, but it really begins before this.”
“If you don’t have people enrolled at undergraduate, you obviously can’t have them enrolled in Masters or doctorates,” added Sousa. The first woman to earn a Masters in Mathematics from UnB only managed in 1973, almost a decade after the first man. The gap is even greater for doctorates: the first man to earn a mathematics doctorate from UnB did so in 1978, while the first woman only managed in 1995.
But Sousa nor Rezende are despairing at their findings; on the contrary, both believe that their results show the scenario is “getting better, really slowly”.