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Math conference highlights lack of women in faculty

The Society of Undergraduate Mathematics Students (SUMS) held a discussion on Wednesday about the under-representation of women in mathematics at McGill.

Women make up almost 60 per cent of McGill’s overall undergraduate population; however, the math department estimates that between one-third and one-half of math majors are female.

SUMS President Catherine Hilgers told The Daily that she was more concerned with the low number of female honours students. According to Hilgers, between 10 and 15 per cent of honours math students are female.

Hilgers also pointed out that of the Math department’s 37 professors, only one is female.

In an interview with The Daily, Math Departmental Chair Jacques Hurtubise said that the department was “working on” hiring more women.
“There is a desire to get more women [into the department],” he told The Daily. “There’s a policy in the faculty, which we entirely support, to interview at least one woman for every opening. We’re actually in the process of hiring a second woman right now.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Colleen Alkalay-Moulihan, an honours student in Applied Mathematics, spoke about having felt marginalized as a female, by her peers and certain professors.

“Someone once told me that it’ll be easier for me to get into graduate school because I’m a girl,” she said. “My second year I had a rude professor – my male friends didn’t notice, but his attitude affected me. I felt like he treated the male students like peers, and me like an idiot.”

“We should identify the environmental factors that make [the Math program] unfriendly to women, and figure out how to change them,” Michael Snarski, an honours Math student, explained during the meeting. “Confidence is key to being in math – if you don’t believe you can solve a problem, you won’t solve it.”

Students at the meeting underlined a number of areas the department could work on.

“We’re going to suggest that the department work to increase the number of women in math, increase the sense of community, and increase the number of female mathematicians hired,” Hilgers said.