Oksana Yakimova

  • Born inRussia
  • Studied inRussia
  • Lives inGermany


Photo Copyright: Noel Tovia Matoff, www.matoff.de

This is an EXCERPT of the interview from the catalogue “Women of Mathematics Throughout Europe, a Gallery of Portraits”, published in Verlag am Fluss 2016, info@verlag-am-fluss.de, and featured among thirteen portraits in the corresponding exhibition http://womeninmath.net. See also the EWM newsarticle.

We would like to thank Sylvie Paycha, Sara Azzali, Alexandra Antoniouk, Magdalena Georgescu, and Noel Tovia Matoff for allowing us to use the interview excerpts. Moreover, we acknowledge the work of Veronica Corona and Joana Grah for editing the interview excerpts.


Did you come across obstacles in pursuing your career as a mathematician?

I do not see the fact of being a woman as a problem in my career. But I do have a vivid recollection of a train trip in 1995 with a group of some twenty 9th, 10th and 11th grade pupils (I myself was in the 10th grade) on our way to Saratov, quite far from Moscow, for a mathematical Olympic game. I recall the astonishment on the (female) ticket officer’s face when she came up to me, the only girl in the wagon since the students who were accompanying us were also male. I then realised that I indeed was the only girl!

In Germany, there are few women mathematician professors; in Jena out of some 10 members of our algebra group, only one PhD student and myself are women. In Jena, among seventeen full professors in mathematics (including stochastics) there used to be one woman, who has recently retired.
Even though I enjoy collaborating with women, I find it more difficult than with men, since we start talking about other things; starting from mathematics, we can end up talking about flowers! Men are much more focused, no flowers with them!

In retrospect, are you happy to have chosen mathematics or do you have some regrets? For you, what are the joys of mathematics? What are the hardships?

I do not regret, not at all; things I do regret lie outside mathematics. I still enjoy solving mathematical puzzles and in a way I am the same small girl with the big quiz book. I like to find out as much about a mathematical object as possible, just as you might want to understand a person as well as possible. Collaborating with other people is part of the fun; I myself collaborate with people from Italy, England and Hungary. I enjoy inviting people, visiting them, going to conferences. But not yet having a permanent position is a source of worry and an unpleasant situation for me. I cannot project myself into the future, to buy a flat for example is something I cannot do in my situation. I do not think that the fact of being a woman is the source of the problem, even though it is true that usually a man gets the position in spite of the fact that a woman was invited for an interview. Being a Russian woman, which is what I officially am even if I actually feel Ukrainian, is a handicap.

I do not enjoy teaching too much, maybe not at all! Teaching students seems like a hopeless task to me! Teaching becomes enjoyable when you have students who understand the material, but this is rare since students do not like to think nowadays. When I was young, I thought you had to think to become a mathematician, until I met some PhD students at the Max Planck Institute in Bonn who told me the opposite; a computer program,
they claimed, is enough to generate an article. But I believe that everyone needs to think, otherwise life is too boring!