NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Dr. Elena Braverman

There are hidden gender biases in student evaluations and reviews. But one cannot negotiate it (for example, with NSERC).

Professor, Applied Mathematics
University of Calgary

Born in the former Soviet Union. Got B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in Perm, Russia (Mathematics & Education), and PhD at Urals University (Ekaterinburg, Russia).

Immigrated to Israel in 1992, had a postdoctoral position at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel) and further research associate positions in Israel Institute of Metals (Technion), Computer Science Department, Technion and teaching mathematics at the Technion and Ort Braude University College.

In 2001-2002 – a visiting Assistant Professor at Yale University. Since 2002, I am with the University of Calgary (2007 – Associate Professor, 2011 – Professor).

vA co-author of more than 150 scientific papers, one of three Editors-in-Chief of the international scientific journal “Advances in Difference Equations” and an Associate editor of several other mathematical journals.

As an academic, what is your favourite part of your job?

It is a great advantage to have research, going to conferences and communicating with colleagues in your area as a part of your job. Communication with students, seeing them progress through the semester is also mostly a pleasant experience. I also like to communicate with my colleagues on various committees both at the university and worldwide.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

My area includes continuous and discrete dynamical systems, especially systems with delay. One can see delays every day, for example, delays when you move the shower tap to change water temperature … and like in the real life, this can lead to (temperature) oscillations of an otherwise monotone system (you just increase the temperature until the water is warm enough). We study systems where small (or any) delays do not significantly change the behavior of the system, as well as those where the behavior changes significantly. Another interesting topic of my research is the influence of the dispersal strategy on the extinction and survival of species in a competition.

What types of professions can students graduating in your field enter?

They can be associates in any area where quantitative analysis is important, for example, banks, financial and information companies. Among former students, some became project coordinators, work as mathematical software developers and also (combined with the educational degree) became school teachers and those who received higher degrees, university teachers.

Is your workplace male-dominated? If so, how do you negotiate being a woman in a male-dominated workplace and/or field?

It is true that most of my colleagues are male but around 50% of my graduate students are female. I am not sure what “negotiate being a woman in a male-dominated field” means. Such things as service, salary, teaching loads are negotiated similarly, whether you are male or female. There are hidden gender biases in student evaluations and reviews but one cannot negotiate it (for example, with NSERC).

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

In Canada, being unbiased already promotes diversity. When I was a division chair in 2009-2013, our division had colleagues from over 10 countries. When on selection committees, I try to be unbiased, in many cases female colleagues were employed. Also, I try to encourage best female students to pursue higher academic degrees. I was on the dean’s advisory committee on Women in Science issues, as well on the steering committee on women in science and engineering. In 2015-2017 I was a vice president or president of Academic Women Association at U of C trying to create a more welcoming environment for women at our university and focusing on new faculty members.

What kinds of systemic support could institutions provide to help encourage girls and women to pursue careers in science and engineering?

With science, there are absolutely no problems with attracting women (50% of BSc students are girls), but lower percentage at higher levels. Even retention of female faculty members is a problem (due to the well-known “two body problem”).

What advice would you give to girls or young women who are interested in careers in science or engineering?

These are very exciting areas, and they meet the same difficulties as male students (high competition, work life balance when it is necessary to work over 50 hours per week, the necessity to move many times during the career) but combined with a family, it may require more sacrifices.

As a professional in science or engineering, who are your role models and mentors?

Probably my mother who is also PhD and was a university teacher (physics) in an engineering school.