Date: Jun 30, 2013 12:55 PM Author: Jerry P. Becker Subject: Woman receives AMS Centennial Fellowship *******************************

From INQUIRY [News from the University of Chicago/Physical Sciences

Division], Spring-Summer 2013, p. 4. See

http://psd.uchicago.edu/newsletter/Inquiry%20SpringSummer2013.pdf

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A special group

Karin Melnick's scholarship has earned her an AMS Centennial Fellowship.

By Jeanie Chung

Karin Melnick, PhD'06, an assistant professor at the University of

Maryland, received the 2012 American Mathematical Society's

Centennial Fellowship, presented annually to outstanding early-career

mathematicians. The monetary award, given primarily for excellence in

research, allowed Melnick to return to Hyde Park this spring to

advance her work in differential geometry and dynamical systems.

How have you spent your time on the fellowship?

I divided it into two semesters over two years. I didn't want to take

a whole year off, and we're shorthanded for professors in my

department. I came here to focus on a project with Tullia Dymarz,

PhD'07, at the University of Wisconsin, and David Fisher, PhD'99, at

Indiana University.

We're studying delta hyperbolic groups, which are like discrete

versions of hyperbolic space. Hyperbolic space is negatively curved;

it's a non-Euclidean geometry. There is a nice, contracting dynamical

system coming from the geometry of the delta hyperbolic group. From

this dynamical system, our goal is to build some additional

differential geometric structure so that in the end, we can prove a

conjecture about what the original group was. What the conjecture

asserts is what we call a rigidity statement; there are some really

special examples that are well known in mathematics. We take one of

these delta hyperbolic groups and make one seemingly minor assumption

about its boundary, and from this we try to prove that it's one of

the really special groups.

What if you conclude that it's not?

Then we haven't proven the conjecture.

My expertise is differential geometry, Tullia is a geometric-group

theorist, and David knows a lot about dynamical systems. It's fun

because we each are learning from the other and hoping to combine our

expertise.

How important is collaboration in mathematics?

I think it's a lot more common today than it was 50 years ago,

probably because it's been successful. Also, we have more ability to

travel and meet potential collaborators. Some people like to work

alone, but I think most people enjoy being social and interacting

with other people and find it energizing and inspiring. Doing math is

problem solving. You need ideas, and the more people you have, the

more ideas you're going to come up with.

You are one of only five women to receive the ams Centennial

fellowship out of 95 recipients since 1974-75. is it difficult to be

a woman in a male-dominated field?

There's a double-edged sword. We get more attention and in some cases

more opportunities. For

example, we might be invited to give talks more often because people

are making an effort to include women in their conference or their

seminar. On the other hand, there are certainly men and women who

question whether a woman, or a member of a minority group, has gotten

recognition by virtue of being in the minority. Everybody has anxiety

when they move up from being a grad student to a postdoc and from a

postdoc to starting a tenure- track job. The men I know who are

willing to talk about their insecurities have told me they also felt

anxious, but I think it's amplified if you're worrying whether other

people are looking at you and considering whether you actually

deserve to be there.

In march you presented at a UChicago colloquium cosponsored by the

association of women in mathematics. Is such a support network

something you'd encourage for future women mathematicians?

In my career, I haven't really been mentored by senior women. There

were no permanent female faculty in the math department at my college

[Reed]. There were no female [mathematics] faculty at the University

of Chicago when I was a graduate student. There were no female

[mathematics] faculty at Yale when I was a postdoc. Now I'm in a

department of 60 people that has five women on the faculty, and

before I arrived there were three.

Somehow it hasn't been crucial for me to have these sorts of female

role models or mentors, although in the cases where I have met them,

I've found it really inspiring and worthwhile. I was joking before my

colloquium lecture that as a graduate student here, I complained that

they weren't inviting enough senior women to give colloquia or

distinguished lectures, but I did not have myself in mind as a

potential speaker.

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SIDEBAR PHOTO: Photo courtesy Karin Melnick

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--

Jerry P. Becker

Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction

Southern Illinois University

625 Wham Drive

Mail Code 4610

Carbondale, IL 62901-4610

Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]

(618) 457-8903 [H]

Fax: (618) 453-4244

E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu