The Turner Kirk Trust has provided a £250,000 donation to the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences to establish the Kirk Distinguished Visiting Fellowship scheme.
The scheme will provide funding for one visiting mathematician per programme, chosen from underrepresented groups in mathematics, in the style of the Institute’s current Rothschild Distinguished Visiting Fellows.
The aim of this initiative is to tackle the traditional underrepresentation of women and other groups in higher mathematical research. The historical bias towards male programme directors in other similar schemes has led to this decision, to ensure that the foremost figures in the field of mathematics have access to facilities to do the best possible research.
The Isaac Newton Institute is a national and international visitor research institute at the University of Cambridge. It runs research programmes on selected themes in mathematics and the mathematical sciences with applications over a wide range of science and technology. It attracts leading mathematical scientists from the UK and overseas to interact in research over an extended period.
“We have seen other programmes and fellowships in the past that have been primarily dominated by male mathematicians. I think we can do better. It is important for young people to have role models that are women at the very peak of their profession.”
The fellowship scheme also has the objective of providing role models for these underrepresented groups. It is important for work to be done at a school and university level to address the gender imbalances in STEM subjects, but it is also critically important that this work occurs at the very peak of the field as well. Through this the Trust hopes that vital steps can be taken to address the deep-seated disparities in higher mathematical research.
The first Kirk Distinguished Fellow is Professor Lesley Ward from the University of South Australia.
The Trust worked closely with the Isaac Newton Institute to ensure that the donation found the best possible use, enabling the Institute to make the most of the gifted resources. From 2019 onwards, there will be a Rothschild Fellow and a Kirk Fellow each year, mirroring each other and undertaking fundamental research at the centre.
As mathematics is typically an underfunded area, the Trust hopes to support fundamental research in a field that often receives less attention from the media and the wider scientific community.
Dr. Ewan Kirk, Co-founder of the Turner Kirk Trust, said:
“The Isaac Newton Institute is world-leading at what it does, and I am proud the Trust can be associated with it. I can think of no better place to enable people who are at the peak of the field of mathematics to do the best research possible.
“We have seen in other similar programmes in the past that mathematics is primarily dominated by men. We want to change this. It is important for young people to have role models in senior positions so that we can challenge the status quo in future and rethink what is possible in the field.
“I believe it is also important to do things in academia that don’t directly affect the ‘real world’. That’s why we don’t expect, or even predict, ground-breaking, world-changing discoveries as a result of the scheme. The advancement of mathematics for its own sake is enough of a result as it is”
Dr. Patricia Turner, Co-founder of the Trust, said:
“I am glad the Trust can support groups that are often overlooked in a field that perhaps doesn’t receive as much attention as other, more ‘glamourous’ areas of science.
“Mathematics is no less important than other STEM research and we hope that this scheme can make steps towards ending the gender imbalances and provide influential new role models at the peak of the science.”