Women in Numbers

Kristin Lauter spoke today at Columbia at the New York joint number theory seminar.  She divides her time between cryptography and arithmetic geometry and gave a fascinating talk about how an effort to improve running time of encryption algorithms led to new results (joint with Bianca Viray) on arithmetic intersections of special cycles in Shimura varieties.

But I’m not going to talk about that, nor about the insights she has gleaned from moving from academia to Microsoft Research, where she is Principal Researcher in the Cryptography group.  Instead, I’m going to take the opportunity to follow up on a point raised in the insouciant laddishness discussion.  Kristin, who is now President of the Association for Women in Mathematics, was one of the initiators of the Women in Numbers series of conferences, and she explained that the main purpose of the meetings was to create collaborative research networks, with special attention to involving postdocs and graduate students who are typically the only women in their fields at their home institutions.  She also mentioned the points raised by Emily Riehl in the comment she wrote a few weeks ago.  Emily felt that what made the program successful — she attended a Women in Topology meeting — “was more a feature of the structure of the program than a result of any gender dynamics.”  Kristin told me that the structure of the “Women in” programs was going to be tried out in some meetings in the future without regard to gender.

I left the after-seminar dinner with a strong sense that things are moving in the right direction.  But slowly.  Not many women came to dinner with the seminar speaker.  I didn’t count, but I think the speaker was the only one.

[Publication of this article in yesterday’s Libération has touched off a lively internal email discussion at the Institut Mathématiques de Jussieu of the reasons for underrepresentation of women in the sciences in France.  I just received a collective message recommending this exhibition which is running through December in Montreuil, just outside of Paris.]

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