Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Broadening Your Horizons - How a Female Operations Researcher Did It

After receiving my PhD in Applied Mathematics, with a specialty in Operations Research, from Brown University, and evaluating offers from both academia and industry, I accepted the offer of  a tenure track faculty position in Management Science, a STEM field, at the business school at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, now the Isenberg School of Management. Since arriving on campus in 1983, I have managed to make “herstory” by becoming the first female Full Professor at the Isenberg School and the first female named chair professor in the UMass system.

Although UMass Amherst is my home and has provided me with the right environment in which I could pursue my research and teach courses on subjects on a variety of network themes including humanitarian logistics and healthcare, I have always felt that to thrive one needs new academic experiences and to challenge oneself by broadening one's horizons.  Such experiences enrich your scholarship as well as teaching.

In 1988, shortly after receiving promotion and tenure, I received a National Science Foundation Visiting Professorship for Women (NSF-VPW) award. I was off to MIT's Civil and Environmental  Engineering Department for a year as a Visiting Professor in the Center for Transportation. At that time,I was the only female faculty member in the department. While there, I taught a transportation network course  and also organized a speaker series focusing on Females in Operations Research at the Operations Research Center. It was a time when MIT Management Professor Lotte Bailyn organized get-togethers for female faculty. I remember them fondly and was able to meet and be inspired by such renowned female scientists as Mildred Dresselhaus. While at MIT I received a UMass Faculty Fellowship, which allowed me to spend another year at MIT, this time at the Sloan School.

In 1996, I was invited to be a Distinguished University Visiting Professor at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden. The goal of this professorship was to broaden the visibility of female Full Professors at the KTH since, at the time, there were only two.  With my husband, who also managed to get a Visiting Professorship there as well, and our 2 year old daughter, we embarked on a 7 month adventure during which I taught a class on optimization, met with many colleagues there and students, and managed to co-author the book, Financial Networks. Picking up my daughter, who was enrolled in daycare in Stockholm, then known as daghis, was always interesting because sometimes I would have to find her in a local park with her group where she was learning to climb trees and rocks. She was well-nourished there with a team of cooks preparing lunches consisting of salmon, potatoes, and carrots, with crunchy bread and fish egg spreads for snacks for the children between ages 2 and 7. We lived in the Wenner Gren Center with 150 other visiting academic families. It was a joy to see groups of children with no common language playing together. We ended up returning to Stockholm for multiple months in 1998 and again in 2001, when I co-authored Supernetworks: Decision-Making for the Information Age.

In 2002, I received a Distinguished Fulbright Visiting Professorship at the SOWI School of Business at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, so with my now 8 year old daughter and husband we were off to live in a villa in the Alps while I taught a series of courses on networks, while our daughter attended school (2nd grade), which was only in the morning, and learned her multiplication tables in German. If the students did well on math questions they got to stand on their desks and be applauded. The teacher also taught the children to rollerblade. Culturally, it is expected that Oma and Opa (grandparents) will take care of children once school is over, which we did not have the advantage of, so there was always juggling. Again, the mountains inspired, and no wonder my daughter ended up majoring in geology and is soon off for her PhD in this field. We have returned to beautiful Innsbruck because of the friendships made and once when we did, a colleague was wearing the Isenberg School t-shirt I had given him. Even the waiters remembered our orders in our favorite restaurants there.

In 2005-2006, I had the terrific honor of being one of twelve Science Fellows in a group of about  fifty Fellows at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. This fellowship in a community of writers, scholars from different disciplines, who listened to one another's guest lectures, and enjoyed lunches and great esprit de corps, cemented my thrust to continue placing myself in new environments. While at Radcliffe, I collaborated with female colleagues that Radcliffe helped to support  and completed my book: Supply Chain Network Economics. It was the year that Larry Summers resigned and the Dean of Radcliffe, Drew Gilpin Faust, became the first female president of Harvard.

Over the years 2011-2015, I held a Visiting Professorship at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, with a commitment of 44 days a year, which was very manageable. Living again in that marvelous country I have come to appreciate my male colleagues serious about their parental leaves, the celebrations associated with having a paper or book published, complete with coffee and cakes, and a quality of life with great transportation systems  and a focus on the environment that I wish I could bring back to the US with me.  My family has continued to travel with me as their commitments allow.

Last July, I returned from being a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College at Oxford University, where I spent the Trinity Term,  and was provided with an office overlooking a garden and fountain, and an apartment, with delicious lunches and formal dinners, so that I could just think, reflect, and write. Although scientists are the minority among both Visiting Fellows and Fellows of All Souls College, the conversations with a naval historian, medieval historian, archeologist, classicist,  Sanskrit expert, along with the mathematicians, physicists, and, of course, economists, I will never forget.  And I managed to complete the co-editing of the Dynamics of Disasters book and my Competing on Supply Chain Quality book was published with acknowledgment of Oxford, which I presented to the Codrington library. On June 22, 2016, Encaenia took place at Oxford University, during which 9 were awarded honorary degrees, including Mildred Dresselhaus of MIT. I had the special privilege of speaking with her and reminiscing about MIT at a reception and luncheon at All Souls College following the ceremony. Serendipitously, Louise Richardson, who was the Executive Dean at the Radcliffe Institute. when I was a Science Fellow there, is now the first female Vice Chancellor at Oxford University. On June 23, Britain voted to leave the European Union, with major ramifications for the economy as well as for research funding, and with shock waves permeating globally. And on June 24, 2016, we celebrated at All Souls College the 50th anniversary of this magnificent program with a full day of events, despite Brexit.

While a visitor at different universities, I have attracted students to our graduate program at UMass. I have also used the knowledge of the various universities to help advise UMass students on their future. I believe that my research was only propelled by my time away and am looking forward to the next opportunity.