Five Questions With: Sigal Gottlieb

SIGAL GOTTLIEB, a professor of mathematics and founding director of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Scientific Computing and Visualization Research, was recently chosen as a fellow by the Association for Women in Mathematics. / COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS DARTMOUTH

Sigal Gottlieb is a professor of mathematics and founding director of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Scientific Computing and Visualization Research. Gottlieb was recently chosen as a fellow by the Association for Women in Mathematics.

PBN: What are your plans in being part of this national fellowship?

GOTTLIEB: I have been a proud member of the Association for Women in Mathematics for many years and have worked to form supportive groups for women in different areas of mathematics. The recognition of being selected as a fellow of the AWM is deeply gratifying to me because it recognizes my efforts in promoting the success of colleagues in the mathematical and computational sciences. The selection as a fellow of the AWM was for “exemplary and lasting work in forging an active and positive research environment, proactive outreach, effective mentoring, and promoting the success of women in mathematical and computational sciences.”

In 2019 I was selected as fellow of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics, which recognized my “contribution to strong-stability-preserving time discretizations and other schemes for hyperbolic equations, and for her professional services, including those to SIAM and women in mathematics.”

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My plans are to be worthy of these citations by continuing my own research and the building of positive multidisciplinary research groups, and by mentoring and promoting the success of students and junior researchers, paying special attention to those underrepresented in the mathematical sciences.

PBN: Kindly explain UMass Dartmouth’s Center for Scientific Computing and Visualization Research and what it offers students.

GOTTLIEB: The mission of the CSCVR is to promote and conduct high-level interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research in scientific computing, and to mentor students of scientific computing in a supportive, broad and deep interdisciplinary research environment.

The Center for Scientific Computing and Visualization supports, facilitates and advertises the activities of the scientific computing group that is comprised of over 30 researchers from a variety of departments, including biology; chemistry; computer science; civil, electrical and mechanical engineering; fisheries; mathematics; and physics. The center also supports as many as 25 doctorate students working in different areas of computational science and engineering. The CSCVR affiliates develop and use computational algorithms to simulate complex physical problems.

The role of the directors is to provide the resources, mentorship and programming that allow our faculty to leverage our current strengths to develop inter- and multidisciplinary research projects. As co-directors of the CSCVR, Gaurav Khanna and I work to initiate and support joint research projects, grant proposals, graduate student advising, and conferences and workshops. Through these initiatives, we help create exciting and supportive interdisciplinary research groups.

PBN: In what ways, in your current role at UMass Dartmouth, have you helped promote the success of women in the mathematics field?

GOTTLIEB: I am a strong believer in the power of intensive mentoring. I have invested a lot of my time in trying to be a good mentor to my junior colleagues, both male and female. I have helped students and colleagues – at UMass Dartmouth and in other institutions – in applying for jobs, managing their career path, writing proposals and preparing dossiers for promotions.

My position as director of the CSCVR at UMass Dartmouth has given me the ability to proactively engage in outreach and mentoring of over 30 faculty and their students who are CSCVR affiliates. In this role, I was able to get to know and mentor female graduate students who are in our engineering and applied science doctoral program, and colleagues throughout the sciences.

I was very proud to hear that UMass Dartmouth’s College of Engineering is in the top 20 of 422 engineering schools and colleges for the percentage of Ph.D.s awarded to women, and in the top 25 for percentage of women in tenure/tenure track positions [according to the recent American Society for Engineering Education report, “Engineering and Engineering Technology by the Numbers 2019”]. I hope that my efforts in this direction have contributed to this accomplishment.

PBN: Which mathematics-related industries are in the most need to have women in the workforce?

GOTTLIEB: I believe that in all industries related to computational mathematics, science and engineering, we need to harness any and all talent that we can to advance science and society. So often, students from groups who are underrepresented in these fields are not encouraged and included, and this results in fewer talented people to advance the progress of science.

The main problem I see with the lack of gender and racial diversity in the mathematical sciences is the shocking waste of talent. So, the question, I believe, is not “Where do we need most to have women in the workforce?” but rather, “How can we stop discouraging people who are underrepresented in the sciences in order to leverage the immense untapped talent we have in this country?”

PBN: What, if any, new programs are on the horizon at CSCVR?

GOTTLIEB: At the CSCVR, we are constantly working to push forward multiple areas of computational research and education on our campus. Our approach is to provide cutting-edge computational resources, an environment for multidisciplinary research that leverages knowledge in multiple fields, and robust dissemination to ensure that our efforts have widespread impact.

Some of the exciting research problems affiliated with the CSCVR include computational quantum chemistry, gravitational wave astrophysics, supernova simulations, simulations of fractures in materials, oceanography simulations, multiphase and interfacial flows, design of wave-energy converters, and determining protein structures. Mathematical and computational approaches and techniques developed and used by our affiliates include efficient and accurate numerical methods for ordinary and partial differential equations, uncertainty quantification, and reduced order modeling. This is only a taste of the varied and fascinating research the CSCVR affiliates are engaged in.

We are starting a brand-new project that will impact computational education in all undergraduate STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] fields. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation and led by one of our faculty affiliates, [professor] Yanlai Chen in mathematics. [Professor] Chen got a large group of STEM faculty together to build this proposal, which received $650,000 from the NSF. The project will fund undergraduate students in STEM who have unmet financial needs, integrate contextualized computing and data analysis into courses across the STEM disciplines, and include intensive mentoring.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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