Hema Srinivasan, a math professor at MU, is one of 10 women to be named a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society on Wednesday.
She was nominated by a colleague and chosen by the society for her contributions to algebra and algebraic geometry, mentoring and service to the mathematical community.
The Fellows of the American Mathematical Society program recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication, and utilization of mathematics, according to its site.
Srinivasan sat down with the Columbia Missourian for a conversation about her award. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about this recognition. What exactly does it mean to you?
It’s kind of pleasant to be recognized by your peers, and that’s really what fellow actually means: recognition of what you have done by your peers. It was very nice that somebody chose to nominate me.
How does it feel to be named one of only 10 women in this year’s overall list of 63 Fellows?
Really? Only 10? Wow. I didn’t realize it was such a small number. Huh, that’s interesting. I guess it is true that at one point there may not have been very many women in the math field. But with the number of young women today, it’s possible the numbers will go up. Maybe (this recognition) doesn’t happen very often, but it will change.
There’s a clear disparity between men and women involved in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field.
It’s true; it is not encouraged. Unless you happen to have somebody in your family that’s involved in math, like your mother or your aunt, many people are not going to choose to go into the STEM field, especially women. Girls can somehow have this culture of thinking that they shouldn’t be interested in it, and that is a problem.
What advice do you give to female students in your classes?
Girls should never believe someone if they tell you that math is not for you. I remember someone telling me when I was younger that boys were better in math. No one should believe such things. People should just like what they are doing and do it.
When you go to a university, look for someone who will be supportive of you. Have some confidence in yourself.
So what inspired you to get involved with math?
I’ve been interested in two things since I was a child: one of them was math and one of them was music. I knew very early on in the game that I wasn’t going to do music. I know that math has been my passion from the time since I was a kid.
You know how sometimes parents say something that sticks in a child’s mind? I still remember in the beginning, when I was 10 or 11 years old, and my father had someone come to visit. I was in the room and he said, “I’m going to have Hema study pure mathematics.”
I had never heard of pure mathematics before that. I knew I liked math, but somehow it just stuck with me. I was really passionate about it, and even when he tried to sign me up for chemistry in college, I switched it back. I knew I didn’t want to just stop at the undergraduate program, so I finished that in India and I came to America to get my Ph.D.
What is your favorite part about math?
You know the thing that I really like is that I’m so happy when I’m doing it, even if it isn’t working out. And when you actually prove something, there is a euphoria that you get where you are so happy and you cannot sit. It doesn’t happen everyday, but when it comes, it stays with you for a while.