Carnegie Mellon University
July 03, 2018

Women and Mathematics Conference Held at Carnegie Mellon

By Amy Laird

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, Mellon College of Science
  • 412-268-9982

Kim Weston had a busy day. As the distinguished lecturer at the Women and Mathematics conference at Carnegie Mellon, she gave two lectures and worked with students during two problem sessions. For Weston, the highlights of the day were the more low-key moments, like lunch and the undergraduate panel discussion, where she had the chance to peer into the students’ worlds to see what motivates them.

“The energy and enthusiasm that these students have is impressive,” said Weston, currently an NSF postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Mathematics at Rutgers University who earned her Ph.D. in Mathematical Sciences at Carnegie Mellon in 2016. “I was honored to be able to work so closely with this group of talented women.”

The Women and Mathematics conference at Carnegie Mellon (WAM at CMU), held on April 14, was organized by Jessica De Silva, a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, along with undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Carnegie Mellon, as a way to bring together female students, alumnae and faculty with an interest in math in general and mathematical finance in particular. The focus of the conference was on partial differential equations in mathematical finance, a topic that appealed to many undergraduate women in the department—25 students attended the conference. With nearly the same number of recent alumnae, faculty and guests in attendance, WAM at CMU offered invaluable experiences for undergraduate women to learn from their peers and from successful female mathematicians working in academia and at companies like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. 

In addition to Weston’s lectures and the related problem-solving sessions, attendees had the opportunity to participate in two panel discussions—one with current students and another with alumnae who work in the finance industry as well as current and future CMU faculty members. Panelists discussed everything from what it was like being one of only a few women present in a class, internship or on the job to how to maintain a good work/life balance.

“It was extremely interesting and inspiring for me to hear the experience and advice of female professionals from both academia and industry perspectives,” said April Li, a senior in Mathematical Sciences who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computational Finance. “Although we don’t study the exact same area or share the same experience, I felt that there was something—the passion and respect for mathematics—that bound us together.”

De Silva, who spearheaded WAM at CMU, had similar experiences when she attended programs and conferences for women in mathematics. For her, it was uplifting and incredibly empowering to be surrounded by a large group of successful, supportive, and inspiring female mathematicians, and she wanted to bring that experience to CMU students.

For the past two summers, De Silva has helped out with summer programs offered by CMU’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, so when she saw that the Institute for Advanced Study Women and Mathematics Program was offering funding to organize a conference for female math majors, she knew that she wanted to host it at CMU (since the University of Nebraska-Lincoln already holds an annual conference for undergraduate women in math) .

De Silva worked with Mathematical Sciences Professor William Hrusa to bring the conference to CMU.

“It was a really powerful event,” Hrusa said. “So many wonderful things came up during the panel discussions. A lot of fantastic discussion took place.”

Senior Cissy Shi, who helped organize the event and spoke on the undergraduate student panel, really enjoyed the conference. “It was a great learning opportunity for me to hear women in industry and in academia speak of their experiences. It was also an opportunity for me to get to know some women mathematicians that I will feel comfortable talking to in the future,” she said.

“I learned many different perspectives and practical advice from the professionals at the conference,” added Li, who also learned something surprising. “I didn't realize how few women mathematicians there are in the country until the panelists brought it up.” 

This is one of the reasons Weston was happy to be back at her alma mater to participate in WAM at CMU. “I feel that a women's network in mathematics is important for bringing up the next generation,” Weston said. “Passing on knowledge and showing younger women that there are female role models can help motivate women to stay in the field.”

WAM at CMU was funded by the Institute for Advanced Study Women and Mathematics Program and the CMU Department of Mathematical Sciences. Several CMU undergraduate and graduate students worked with De Silva to organize the conference: Antoine Remond-Tiedrez, Xiaofei Shi, Janice Bian, Billie Chen, April Li, Cissy Shi and postdoc Michael Tait.