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On Monday next week, ICTS will be hosting the second Summer School for Women in Mathematics and Statistics- a two week long workshop at its Hesarghatta campus. The first edition of the school was held in May 2018 for women students who were in the first year of their undergraduate program with mathematics as one of their subjects.

This twelve-day residential school has been specially designed to equip participants with problem-solving techniques.

Women are underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. While this pattern is seen globally and in all branches of science, the gender-gap is more pronounced in the area of mathematical sciences. In India, government agencies like the National Board of Higher Mathematics, conducts special programs in advanced mathematical topics that are geared towards students in graduation courses from their second year onwards. The first year students in-turn find limited options for learning enrichment during summer. Given the diversity of subjects and interests that the students are exposed to during the first year of their under-graduation course, Anita Naolekar and Siva Athreya from the Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore, felt it was better to start with a broad audience to inculcate the idea of problem solving in mathematics.

This twelve-day residential school has been specially designed to equip participants with problem-solving techniques. Subjects in the curriculum have been chosen keeping in mind their universal usage across mathematical sciences, thus keeping it relevant to all first year under-graduate students. It also presents them with opportunities to meet and interact with frontline women researchers from diverse scientific backgrounds such as physical, biological and ecological sciences, mathematics, economics and engineering. Popular science talks are also a part of the School’s curriculum, and these help the participants to learn about the different areas in which  mathematical concepts can be applied. The exclusive post talk interaction sessions in a relaxed setting allows the speakers to share anecdotes from their personal journeys while answering queries from the participants, providing a unique invaluable enriching experience for the students. 

Popular science talks help the participants in learning about the different areas for application of mathematical concepts.

A typical day of the workshop has three problem solving sessions, each of which last one hour and twenty minutes. During these sessions the participants under the supervision of instructors, work on math problems from a specially designed worksheet covering a specific topic from Calculus, Linear Algebra, Probability and Statistics. The mid-afternoons and evenings are set aside for two one-hour popular science talks by established researchers. The day ends with yet another problem-solving session where they mentored and encouraged to work in groups. However, each student has to submit their own worksheet, for which feedback is shared the next day.

The aim of including popular science talks in the curriculum is twofold. The first is to provide exposure to the diverse topics through lectures delivered by established researchers in the field, and to familiarize them with career options available in mathematical sciences and related fields. The second aim is to offer all participants an opportunity to informally interact with the speakers and have their questions and queries discussed and answered. Here are a few examples of the topics covered in popular science talks from last year’s school:

  • Role of theory v/s role of proof in mathematics.
  • How mathematics is used in space science.
  • Geometry and topology of surfaces.
  • Social structure and behavior of elephant population at Kabini.
  • Optimum usage of water during times of shortage.
  • Puzzles inspired through themes in theoretical computer science.
  • Mathematical modelling of chemical reactors.
  • Origami inspired talks and hands on science and mathematics activities sessions.

Participants of the Summer School for Women in Mathematics and Statistics 2018 in one of the problem-solving sessions

This year, forty-eight students from fifteen states have signed up to participate in the summer school. They will have the opportunity to learn and interact with some of the finest speakers and researchers from different walks of science. The organizers believe, the participants of this summer school will not just benefit from problem solving skills in mathematics but may also derive inspiration from the role model researchers delivering the talks.  Thus, in the long run, they hope to see many more women pursuing higher studies in mathematical sciences.

A participant from Summer School for Women in Mathematics and Statistics 2018 shares her experience.

 

Ipsita Herlekar

is the Science Communication Coordinator at ICTS