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"In math there is still discrimination and lack of diversity"

2020-02-17T01:40:02.133Z

Mathematics, one of the most difficult careers. Stanford, one of the best universities in the US. They are unattainable goals for many and very rare for a woman. His



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Mathematics, one of the most difficult careers. Stanford, one of the best universities in the US. They are unattainable goals for many and very rare for a woman. The story of Emmy Murphy is that of a privileged mind; a transgender woman who has survived with hard work, effort and enthusiasm for a very hard career and prejudices of society.

He studied mathematics at the University of Nevada (Reno, USA), earned a doctorate at Stanford and works at Northwestern University (both in the US), where he researches about contact topology, a specialty of geometry. It is the New Horizons Prize for Mathematics for young researchers and the Breakthrough Prize for Mathematics 2020 (considered the oscar of science).

Defend diversity in the academic world and work to bring all students, regardless of their origin, gender, race or sexual preference, STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), as He explained to this newspaper during his participation in the Congress of Geometric Methods in Sympathetic Topology organized by the Institute of Mathematical Sciences of Madrid (ICMAT).

How did you become interested in research in Mathematics? I became interested in mathematics at a very young age. I was good at them, attended a couple of private lessons and studied mathematics as a career. I didn't know very well what the academic world would be like. I didn't plan on doing a doctorate but I wanted to know what it was like, to receive a salary doing mathematics and to continue enjoying them. And it was as I had imagined it? I did the PhD at Stanford University. I found it very intimidating because most of my teachers came from Princeton or Harvard. It was a cultural shock and I was exposed to a world in which I had never been before. I am the first person in my family who has obtained a university degree. In Spain the number of students studying STEM has declined due to the difficulty of these careers and the high unemployment rate in our country. Would you encourage young people to study math? It's something you should feel passion for. Some scientists will say that what they do serves to improve the world or cure diseases, which is something tangible. Mathematics is more abstract. I don't really believe in an innate talent, but in a way you should have it. To maintain motivation, you must appreciate them and consider them to be something beautiful. Otherwise, study finance or technology and earn more money. I understood that companies also look for mathematical profiles. You don't make money with this profession, you do make money compared to other professions. I don't know how it works in Spain. I can only talk about what happens in the United States, where the technology sector is very large and moves a lot of money, as in places like Silicon Valley. Mathematicians do not suffer, really. But if you have a technical training or logical training you will not have difficulties to work on Google and be a millionaire. In the world of mathematics there are very few women. Many are not attracted, others suffer discrimination throughout their career and there are teachers who demotivate them. Have you experienced any of these situations? Honestly, no. Both during the career and during the doctorate I have felt very supported by the professors although it is true that I have heard how many of these cases have occurred. You are a defender of diversity in STEM careers. What things have you seen? I see discouraging things, such as feeling that there are people who judge me or that some women leave their careers for cultural reasons. Sometimes I go to seminars and see that there are only white people. I try to tell myself that progress is something that happens slowly. Improvements, even if they are slow, are valuable. Although there is still discrimination and lack of diversity in mathematics, I really believe that things are improving. Somehow I contribute to it, along with many other people. And this does not happen for free. What do you mean? Things do not change by magic. The reason things are getting better is because of the hard work, effort and time of many people. I don't want to be complacent but I am grateful for what has been done so that I don't get discouraged. Some propose using only the initials of names (plus last name) to avoid discrimination against women in scientific publications. What do you think of this? It can help but it is not the solution. It could work in fields such as biology or computer science in which there are many people. Mathematics is a small world and it is easy to guess who is who because we know each other. Sometimes you can intuit by the style of writing or by the curriculum, especially in very specific fields in which we are all very aware of the work of others. Sometimes discrimination occurs in conversations or meetings. It is not so much that I felt discriminated against or that they said something sexist directly. But many times you see that when a woman has an idea, there are people who respect her less because she comes from a woman's mouth. There are also many men who speak above when she is saying something. It is difficult to change this with rules or laws. It is a subject that requires a cultural change. What is being done for equality and diversity? I try to be supportive of young people, particularly in mathematics and with other women or other minorities. I actively collaborate with large organizations, such as the association of Women in Mathematics. In the United States we have many conferences for women, to establish collaborations and professional contact networks. I think that North America is ahead of Europe, in that there are more programs to support women, to make it more visible and build networks. Sometimes the difference is simply the way to discuss these issues. You are more alert. This summer I attended a specific conference for LGTB mathematicians specializing in geometry. There were many participants from Europe. And in Barcelona a couple of months ago there was a conference for women in mathematics organized from there. It was spectacular and it is the first time in my life that I have seen a conference of this kind in Europe only for women. Surely it is not the first one, but it is the first one I have attended.

SERGIO ENRÍQUEZ-NISTAL

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