Korana Introduces Herself

By Korana Burke

My name is Korana Burke and I am the latest addition to the DS Magazine editorial team. For a while I have wanted to give back to the community I consider my academic home. The stars finally aligned at the SIAM Annual Meeting in Chicago, where Lennaert van Veen suggested I help out with the Magazine. Since I already knew two-thirds of the editorial team and have frequently used the Magazine as my procrastination tool, I knew it was a very good suggestion.

In my non-academic habitat.

For those of you that I haven't already met, my academic path can best be described as a chaotic orbit in a search of a stable attractor. When I started my undergrad studies at Berkeley, I wanted to be a pure math major, but after getting exposed to some really good professors in the physics department, I became very interested in particle physics and ended up working in particle astrophysics and plasma physics labs. I am sure most of you have a story of the first time you got fascinated by a dynamical-systems problem. For me it was a lecture on the driven inverted pendulum in my upper-division mechanics class. However, a proper introduction to the field had to wait a few more years when I became one of the inaugural graduate students at UC Merced and started working with my advisor, Kevin Mitchell. Kevin is an amazing mentor and he introduced me to many incredible people. I remember Jim Meiss visiting Merced a year after campus opened and Kevin suggesting that I take Jim for a coffee before his seminar. It was a remarkable experience I still treasure.

While I was trying to decide what to write in this editorial, Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman to win the Fields Medal. The fact that we had to wait until 2014 to witness the first woman be awarded this honor resulted in an even bigger than usual number of articles reporting on and examining the status of women in science. The main points raised centered around the facts that there are not enough women in science, and those that do decide to become scientists have to face sexism and gender bias on a regular basis. As I was reading these articles, it was hard not to reflect on my own experiences. Unfortunately, the numbers don't lie and women truly are a minority in science. According to the latest SIAM membership numbers, only 12.4% of the non-student membership and 18.1% of the student membership is female. I was not able to find separate statistics for the DS working group, but it is safe to assume they are probably in the same range. The numbers are not much better in physics either. This past summer I was invited to speak at a week-long physics workshop. Out of 50 attendees I was one of three women in the audience and the only female speaker. I believe there is no single right answer to the numbers problem, but I know that if it had not been for positive encouragement from the earliest age from both my family and my teachers, and later on from my professors, advisors and mentors, I would not be writing this editorial right now. My lucky streak continues with my postdoc advisor, Jim Crutchfield, who always finds time to offer great insights and who supports me in both my academic and service activities.

As our community continues to grow and we keep outgrowing our conference facilities, I am excited about the opportunity this Magazine gives me to learn much more about all the new and exciting directions our field is exploring.

I look forward to seeing all of you next May in Snowbird.

Korana Burke

Categories: Magazine, Editorial

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