Modellansatz: Modell121 - Rage of the Blackboard
On closer inspection, we find science and especially mathematics throughout our everyday life, from the tap to automatic speed regulation on motorways, in medical technology or on our mobile phone. What the researchers, graduates and academic teachers in Karlsruhe puzzle about, you experience firsthand in our Modellansatz Podcast: "The modeling approach“.
Constanza Rojas-Molina is a postdoc at the Institute of Applied Mathematics of the University of Bonn. Gudrun Thäter met her in Bonn to talk about Constanza's blog The Rage of the Blackboard. The blog’s title makes reference to an angry blackboard, but also to the RAGE Theorem, named after the mathematical physicists D. Ruelle, W. Amrein, V. Georgescu, and V. Enss." Standing at a blackboard can be intimidating and quite a few might remember moments of anxiety when being asked to develop an idea in front of others at the blackboard. But as teachers and scientists we work with the blackboard on a daily basis and find a way to "tame" its "rage".
Gudrun and Constanza share that they are working in fields of mathematics strongly intertwined with physics. While Gudrun is interested in Mathematical Fluid dynamics, Constanza's field is Mathematical physics. Results in both fields very much rely on understanding the spectrum of linear (or linearized) operators. In the finite-dimensional case this means to study the eigenvalues of a matrix. They contain the essence of the action of the operator - represented by different matrices in differing coordinate systems. As women in academia and as female mathematicians Gudrun and Constanza share the experience that finding the essence of their actions in science and defining the goals worth to pursue are tasks as challenging as pushing science itself, since most traditional coordinate systems were made by male colleagues and do not work in the same way for women as for men. This is true even when raising own children does not enter the equation.
For that Constanza started to reach out to women in her field to speak about their mathematical results as well as their experiences. Her idea was to share the main findings in her blog with an article and her drawings. When reaching out to a colleague she sends a document explaining the goal of the project and her questions in advance. Constanza prepares for the personal conversation by reading up about the mathematical results. But at the same moment she is interested in questions like: how do you work, how do you come up with ideas, what do you do on a regular day, etc.
The general theme of all conversations is that a regular day does not exist when working at university. It seems that the only recurring task is daily improvisation on any schedule made in advance. One has to optimize how to live with the peculiar situation being pushed to handle several important tasks at once at almost any moment and needs techniques to find compromise and balance. An important question then is: how to stay productive and satisfied under these conditions, how to manage to stay in academia and what personal meaning does the word success then take. In order to distill the answers into a blog entry Constanza uses only a few quotes and sums up the conversation in a coherent text. Since she seeks out very interesting people, there is a lot of interesting material. Constanza focuses on the aspects that stay with her after a longer thought process. These ideas then mainly drive the blog article. Another part of the blog are two drawings: one portrait of the person and one which pictures the themes that were discussed and might not have made it into the text.
Surprisingly it turned out to be hard to find partners to talk to, and the process to make it a blog entry takes Constanza a year or longer. On the other hand, she feels very lucky that she found women which were very generous with their time and in sharing their experiences. Besides the engagement and love for what they do, all the participants had this in common: they were already promoting the participation of women in science. To learn from them as a younger researcher means, for example, to see the own impact on students and that building a community is very important, and a success in its own. Though Constanza invests a lot of time in the blog project, it is worth the effort since it helps her to work towards a future either in or outside academia.
Gudrun and Constanza found out that though both of their projects explore mathematical themes as well as people working in mathematics, the written parts of blog and podcast differ in that what makes it into the notes in Constanza's blog is, so to say, bonus material available only for the listening audience in Gudruns podcast (since it is never in the shownotes). In that sense, Gudrun's podcast and Constanza's blog are complementary views on the life of researchers.
Constanza did her undergraduate studies in La Serena in Chile. She started out with studying physics but soon switched to mathematics in order to understand the basics of physics. When she had almost finished her Masters program in La Serena she wanted to continue in science abroad. She was admitted to a french (one year) Master program at the University Paris 6 and later did her PhD in the nearby University Cergy-Pontoise. After that she applied for a Marie-Curie fellowship in order to continue her research in Germany. She spent time as postdoc at the Mittag-Leffler-Institut in Stockholm and at CAMTP in Maribor (Slovenia) before moving to the LMU Munich for two years with the fellowship. After that she got the position in Bonn and is now preparing for her next step.
Gudrun and Constanza want to thank Tobias Ried who put them in contact.
References and further reading
- Women in Math statement
- Constanza Rojas-Molina: Etude mathématique des propriétés de transport des opérateurs de Schrödinger aléatoires avec structure quasi-cristalline (The mathematical study of electronic transport in random Schrödinger operators with quasicrystalline structures). PhD-thesis Université de Cergy-Pontoise, 2012.
- A. Pohl: Quantenchaos, Conversation with G. Thäter in the Modellansatz Podcast, Episode 79, Fakultät für Mathematik, Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), 2016. http://modellansatz.de/quantenchaos
- Constanza's illustration blog