March 28, 2022

AAU: Role models with powerful research experience inspire young women mathematicians

Mathematics is widely regarded as a male-dominated field. Michaela Szölgyenyi is one of a number of female scientists who demonstrate conclusively that this does not have to be the case. The 34-year-old professor has served as the coordinator of a highly competitive FWF-doc.funds doctoral school since 2020; fourteen doctoral students are currently conducting their research here. Ten of the young researchers are women, which is partly due to the fact that women have long ranked among the (leading) researchers at the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Statistics in Klagenfurt. 

Michaela Szölgyenyi has been a full professor of Stochastic Processes at the Department of Statistics at the University of Klagenfurt since 2018 and has also served as head of the department since 2020. Before her appointment, she worked at ETH Zurich, the Vienna University of Economics and Business, and the Johannes Kepler University in Linz. Michaela Szölgyenyi appreciates the supportive conditions provided for researchers at the University of Klagenfurt, regardless of their gender. “I am especially glad that so many of our doctoral students are women. Discrimination against women and other forms of injustice annoy me immensely,” she tells us. She adds: “We have to believe in ourselves, especially in Mathematics, where the path can be difficult and arduous, but reaching the goals is all the more rewarding”.

In Klagenfurt, women mathematicians encounter a number of inspiring role models. Among them is another professor, Barbara Kaltenbacher. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the European Mathematical Society and of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, to name just two. “Ultimately, Mathematics is a gender-neutral science. So it is all the more disconcerting that there are still fewer women than men in the field of Mathematics. The gap is shrinking with each generation, but we need to reach parity more quickly,” according to Barbara Kaltenbacher.    

Sarah Jane Selkirk is one of the doctoral students in the doc.funds doctoral school “Modeling – Analysis – Optimization of discrete, continuous, and stochastic systems”. She recognizes the benefits of working in an environment where one is inspired by female role models: “People often wrongly assume that women cannot achieve the same level of success in Mathematics as men. The department here in Klagenfurt proves the opposite.“ This issue was close to her heart during her time in South Africa, where she was on the organising committee for the African Women in Mathematics Conference in 2019: “People often don’t realise how creative Mathematics can be. Much of my work consists of drawing and trying to establish connections between the sketches, or lattice paths as they are called in my work. Working with others is another crucial part of my work. At school, but also at university, not enough emphasis is placed on the creativity of this subject. Even though the initial steps into mathematics can often be really tough and challenging, the effort is all the more rewarding later on.”

Cover picture: Michaela Szölgyenyi (photographer: Karlheinz Fessl)

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