The position of women mathematicians in contemporary Russia

Saturday, October 13, 2007
Natalia Lyulko

Russia gave the world a number of famous women mathematicians. Among them is Sofia Kovalevski – a worldwide known Russian woman mathematician, Barry, Oleynic, Kochin etc. More recently, one of the most prominent women mathematicians was Olga Alexandrovna Ladigenski (1922-2004). She was a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a president of St. Petersburg Mathematical Society, a professor of Mathematics and Mathematical Physics. She used to be a chair of mathematical department for 50 years, published over 250 research papers, and seven books on the theory of differential equations with partial derivatives and the stability theory of the problems of hydrodynamics. She also became famous for solving problems number 19 and 20, posted by Hilbert at the beginning of the 20th century.

One can go on and on with famous women mathematicians, but I would like to highlight the position of women mathematicians in contemporary Russia. Nowadays, more than 90% of all mathematics teachers in schools, and about 70% of the teachers in higher learning institutions and colleges are women. Unfortunately, the proportion of women pursuing research careers in mathematics is very small.

I work as a senior scientific researcher at the Sobolev Institute of Mathematics in Novosibirsk Akademgorodok. It was founded 50 years ago by the decree of the Soviet government as a centre of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science. Right now, it has more than 60 research institutions pursuing studies in different areas: Physics, Geology etc. Institute staff number about 280 employees, only 14% of which are women (there are two scientific degrees in Russia: one that corresponds to PhD and another one that is called a Doctor of Science – which does not correspond to English equivalent). During the last five-year period, the number of dissertations defended by women has doubled, compared to the number in the five-year period prior to that one. Now there are 28 women with PhD degrees working at our research Institute; only two of them hold a PhD of a higher level. One of them was awarded this degree last year.

The researchers about to work for the institutes obtain their education at the Novosibirsk State University. The department of Pure Mathematics has about 1,500 students, 25-30% of whom are women. About 40% of all students in the doctoral program are women; twenty years ago, only 25% of the doctoral students were women. Among the authors of dissertations defended at the University for the last five years there were 48% of women, while there were 18% of women in the Soviet Union during the same period. However, there were only two women in the last 16 years who were awarded a higher PhD, which makes a total of 11%.

One can see that there are very few women mathematicians in our Siberian region, but the number of women mathematicians awarded the PhD degrees at their younger age has doubled recently – compared to the time before the demise of the Soviet Union. The demise, during the 90s, had for its consequence a severe cut in funding of science and education. Naturally, scientific careers became less attractive. Many people adapted to these changes, set off for business entrepreneurship or politics, and went abroad. Women, however, continued responding to a higher call for teaching and researching.

We all know that if a meaningful creative work is to continue, the exchange of ideas and approaches to the solution of new problems is vital. Therefore, back in the 90s of the last century, when the crisis hit science and education, Russian branch of the European Association of “Women Mathematicians” came up with an initiative to establish an organization uniting women in science and education. The goal of the organization was to continue the tradition of Russian science and fundamental education. This organization became known as the Association of «Women in Science and Education». The first conference was held in 1994, and Professor Risnichenko, a Doctor of Mathematical and Physical sciences at Moscow University, was elected as its president. Presently, it is a very active organization; it holds annual conferences “Women-mathematicians”, “Mathematics, Computer, Education”, “and Non-linear World”. The published papers presented during these conferences comprise more than eighty volumes.

Professional branch of this organization is the Association of “Women Mathematicians.” Inna Emelyanova, a professor at Nijniy Novgorod University, has been a leader of the Association since 1993. Until 2004, the Association held annual conferences in Volgograd, Cheboksary, Voronej and Novorosiysk. Now these conferences are held every three years, gathering between 100-150 participants. Women delegates usually present their results of research in theoretical or applied mathematics, exchange professional information and problems, and share the pedagogical experience in doctoral programs. Mathematics, Information Technology, and Education are traditional topics of these conferences. These conferences are a good schooling opportunity for young women who undertake challenging careers in education and research. Publication of papers and theses usually follows the conferences.

In conclusion, I would like to mention the All-Siberian Congress of Women Mathematicians that is held biannually, in January, in Krasnoyarsk. Delegates come from Siberia, Ural, and Far East. The first such conference was sponsored by the “Women in Science and Education”, and was devoted it to the celebration of 150th birthday of Sofia Kovalevsky. Despite the severe weather in Krasnoyarsk (occasionally it gets down to -40 degrees Celsius), it is becoming more and more popular among women mathematicians. In addition, it is becoming popular among professional mathematicians as well. Among the delegates of the 4th Conference held in 2006, there were many foreign participants. The total number of the delegates reached 160, and they came from 42 towns and cities. One of the delegates, Lyudmila Demidova Lopuhina, came from Sweden. Her presentation was devoted to the Stockholm period in life of Sofia Kovalevsky. The next conference of All-Siberian Congress of women mathematicians will be held from January 15th to January 18th, 2008 in Krasnoyarsk. For more information please visit our website