Friday, June 26, 2009

The Importance of Knowing Languages, Prize Competitions, and Michael Jackson

This certainly has been an interesting week! I am serving on two scientific prize committees. The first competition is the 2009 Mathematics Competition for Young Mathematicians in Ukraine sponsored by the Shevchenko Scientific Society of America and the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation with a prize of $6,000US. This is the second year that this competition is taking place and I also served on last year's award committee. This week, as part of the reviewing process, I read over a dozen nomination packets and evaluated the scientific papers forwarded by the nominees, their curriculum vitae, plus letters by outside examiners who commented on the publications and overall reputations of the nominees. If English was the only language that I could read, I would have been unable to appropriately evaluate the submitted materials and to rank the top candidates for the award.

The years of learning both Ukrainian (my first language) and Russian (I have a degree in Russian from Brown U. plus three degrees in Applied Mathematics) paid off! As for English, that is my second language, which I began studying in kindergarten a while ago. During this competition I read mathematics papers in all three languages plus nomination and review letters in those languages. Mathematics is its own beautiful and elegant language so I certainly put my degrees and expertise to great use this week. The competition is now in its second round and we hope to announce the recipient of this award soon. To see the caliber of research and publications being done by young mathematicians in Ukraine, a country of 46 million people, which continues to struggle after its independence, was very inspiring!

In addition, I am serving as the Chair of the WORMS (Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences) Award of INFORMS. The deadline for nominations is July 1, 2009. This award celebrates and recognizes a person who has contributed significantly to the advancement and recognition of women in the field of Operations Research and the Management Sciences.It is an honor to be serving as the chair of this committee.

The shocking and untimely death of Michael Jackson yesterday at age 50 invoked memories of the death of my dissertation advisor at Brown University, Dr. Stella Dafermos, who was truly a leader in her fields of operations research and transportation science and who died just shy of her 50th birthday. The former spoke in his language of music and the latter in her language of applied mathematics and operations research. They left lasting legacies, respectively, in music and scholarly publications.