Irena Lasiecka

Country of birth: 
Poland
Country of studies: 
Poland
Country of residence: 
United States

From EWM Newsletter no. 20 (2012/1)

Irena Lasiecka obtained her M.S. and PhD in Applied Mathematics from the University of Warsaw, Poland, in 1972 and 1975, respectively. Her research interests include Nonlinear PDEs, Optimization and Control Theory, Dynamical Systems and Numerical Analysis. She is the author of several books and review papers, and over 300 original research articles. Her first academic appointment was as an assistant professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. From 1977, Prof Lasiecka has been affiliated with universities in the USA: The University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Florida in Gainesville and finally the University of Virginia, where she has been a professor since 1987. Her current position there is Commonwealth Professor of Mathematics, a post she has held since 2011. In addition, Prof Lasiecka has held a number of visiting positions during her career, both in the USA and in Europe. She has supervised about 20 PhD students and 10 postdoctoral fellows. She has been a (chief-)editor of various mathematical and engineering journals, as well as leader of several third-party research projects. Prof Lasiecka has been given several awards for her research work, most recently the SIAM 2011 W.T. Idalia Prize for contribution to Differential Equations and Control Theory.

EWM: In your opinion, which are your most important academic achievements, in particular in terms of mathematics?

IL: It is difficult to respond to this question without entering the mathematical details. I can only say that every time when you discover something new you feel great. Achievements of my PhD students are very important to me. These make me even happier.

EWM: Your academic activity is very rich. Could you briefly describe your typical working day? How about your free time, how do you like to spend it?

IL: Typical working day is pretty standard. Going to the office, preparing for classes, lecturing, talking to students, discussing their progress etc. In addition: my own research, editorial work, committees work etc. Day is simply too short. I travel a lot professionally, so a concept of "vacation" has a different meaning for me. Changing a routine, visiting different places and meeting new friends are all both relaxing and rewarding. In a real free time I like reading, listening to music, watching movies, going to the gym and meeting with my friends and family.

EWM: What advice would you offer a woman mathematician at the beginning of her career (e.g., postdoc) in order for her to become a respected scientist in her field? What should be her focus?

IL: First of all, try to balance professional career with a personal life. Not an easy task. At various stages of life different things matter more. Priorities and focus may change. One may say that focusing on a career before having a family is a safer way to go. But it all depends. There are situations when a reverse order may be more desirable. These are very individual choices. It is important that we enjoy what we do. Then the rest will follow.

EWM: You have had a great deal of success obtaining grants for your research. Could you offer any advice for beginning researchers on how best to approach the writing of grant proposals?

IL: It is important that we really like what we propose to work on. Enthusiasm is a key for writing good and convincing proposals. Of course, one must have a knowledge of the topic too- but this is obvious.

EWM: Why did you choose (if indeed it was an active choice) to pursue your career in the USA instead of in Europe?

IL: This is hard to answer. To some extent this decision was not really planned. There is always a mix of personal and professional reasons. At some point I felt that scientific opportunities and "easiness" of living, from the logistic point of view, were much greater in the States.