NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Dr. Joy Morris

Find something that interests, excites, satisfies, or delights you, and pursue it.

Professor, Mathematics
University of Lethbridge

Joy Morris was born and grew up in Toronto. After completing a Bachelor’s degree in Math and English at Trent University, she went on to do her PhD in algebraic graph theory at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver under the supervision of Brian Alspach. She graduated in 2000, and has been working at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada since then. She received a University Faculty Award from Canada’s national research agency (NSERC) in 2001, a prestigious grant that supports promising young researchers by reducing their teaching requirements for 5 years. She was promoted to full Professor in 2015. Joy has 43 publications that have appeared or been accepted, in journals including the Transactions of the American Math Society. She has been an invited speaker at a number of international conferences in Slovenia, China, and Canada.

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

I derive deep satisfaction from successfully proving an interesting result. I also love working with bright young people and helping them work toward achieving their dreams.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

My research is primarily in automorphisms of graphs. In lay terms, that's symmetry in networks, but mathematicians use graphs to model networks and abstract algebra (permutation groups) to study symmetry. I enjoy being able to draw diagrams to illustrate my work and to try out new ideas. I love that there are so many interesting problems to think about and to work on!

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

Mathematics teaches problem-solving skills and careful, rigorous thinking with attention to detail. These skills can be useful in almost any career. The skills involved in mathematical proofs are particularly useful in tasks such as writing and debugging computer programs, where it is important to ensure that every possibility is considered. Teachers, statisticians, actuaries, and financial analysts are some of the more obvious career paths for students of mathematics, but the skills can be applied far more broadly.

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

The majority of professors in the sciences (including math) at my university are men. It isn't always easy to negotiate this, as even supportive men can sometimes be unaware of issues that arise, and all of us have unconscious biases. I try to stand up for myself and my female colleagues when issues come to my attention.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I try to advocate for people from minorities. We all carry a lot of biases that are often hard to recognize, much less overcome. I am vocal in support of measures proposed by or on behalf of minority groups on campus. I have taken a massive open online course on Reconciliation through Education, and have done a lot of self-study on the topic of reconciliation with indigenous people.

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

Scholarships and bursaries. Mentoring programs. Funding and support for groups of female students in these areas who are interested in providing peer support for each other. Maria Klawe visited our department recently and mentioned an initiative that involved giving female university students some funding and support to visit their former high schools (during breaks if they lived further away) and ask their teachers for permission to speak to classes about their studies.

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

Follow your dreams. Find something that interests, excites, satisfies, or delights you, and pursue it - don't trade future years of joy for something that may be more lucrative or steady but will be a never-ending chore.

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

I've been fortunate in having been greatly encouraged and helped by many men in my life - my thesis advisor and my father in particular - as well as in having had many strong female role models. Many of the women I look up to (such as my mother) weren't scientists, but nonetheless stood out as strong, independent women with amazing insights, who made big differences in ways both large and small.