The Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences (INI) is one of the world's leading research centres for mathematics research and its applications. Part of the University of Cambridge, it attracts leading mathematics from around the world and runs research programmes on emerging themes in the mathematical sciences. From its inception in 1992, the INI has been devoted to hosting research within the mathematical sciences in the broadest sense of the word, which marks it out from similar institutes in other countries.
Despite the leading role female mathematicians have played globally in solving many of the world’s most challenging mathematical problems, there are still too few senior women in mathematics departments participating in world-leading research. Too often, women’s contribution to emerging mathematics research is overlooked and undervalued.
This is because many women face unique challenges in accessing career and research opportunities, which sadly puts a ceiling on the careers of female academic researchers. This also has the potential to deter more young women from entering the field more generally. More needs to be done to provide leading female mathematicians with opportunities and career pathways into senior, world-leading mathematics research.
While there’s a lot of critically important work being done to address the imbalance at a school and university level, it’s also important to have role models that are women at the very peak of their profession.
In 2019, the Turner Kirk Trust provided a historic £250,000 charitable gift to the Isaac Newton Institute to establish the Kirk Distinguished Visiting Fellowship – a unique, prestigious, long-standing research fellowship specifically for distinguished female mathematics researchers.
This fellowship provides funding for one senior mathematician per programme in the style of the existing Rothschild Distinguished Visiting Fellowships. These field-leading figures are chosen from under-represented groups within higher mathematical research, with the vast majority being senior women mathematicians.
As well as being provided with the funding and support to pursue their area of research, the Fellows also become part of the academic ecosystem at the INI, building international research connections and, if appropriate, providing lectures to the wider academic community in Cambridge.
By establishing a research fellowship specifically for senior women mathematicians, the scheme has provided an important new gateway for senior women to access mathematics funding and further their careers. Between 2019 and 2021, 9 senior mathematicians from all over the world have been appointed as Kirk Fellows. For many of the fellows, the scheme has provided an important stepping stone to further research roles as well as permanent research positions at globally-leading universities.
Perhaps most importantly, through establishing itself as one of the leading and most prestigious research fellowships in the world, it has also given much greater visibility to female mathematicians in academics research more generally, providing younger female mathematicians with important role models within the field. By increasing the visibility of women within the senior echelons of mathematics, the Fellowship has challenged notions about what a mathematics researcher is.
Kirk Distinguished Fellows, 2019-2021
Ingrid Daubechies Duke
"It is the Institute's hope that this prestigious fellowship will help create and promote influential new role models within the field, and address the historical gender imbalance that persists within the science."
In collaboration with The University of Glasgow, the project aims to develop the evidence needed to produce a transformative method for improving children’s ability across STEM subjects, independent of background or birth.
In partnership with Imperial College London, the Turner Kirk Trust Sprint Challenge was established to bring together conservation scientists and mathematicians from Imperial’s Centre for Environmental Policy, Department of Life Sciences, and Department of Mathematics.
A child protection programme that aims to develop a replicable model for preventing harmful institutionalised care, in favour of family-based care.
An innovative pilot project by SolarAid to provide solar lights to every household in an off-grid village in central Malawi, aiding their mission to light up all of rural Africa by 2030.
The University of Cambridge and the Turner Kirk Trust have launched the Kirk Global Challenge, a competition designed to jump-start economic growth in the developing world.