Meet Professor Jessica Purcell: the Society’s Incoming President

As announced yesterday, Prof. Jessica Purcell has been appointed the new Incoming President. I took the opportunity to pose some questions to her. -Ed

1. When did you decide that mathematics was going to be your career, and what attracted you to the field?

I really liked mathematics classes through high school and university. I liked the logic, the pictures, the puzzles, and I liked understanding how deeper mathematics works and why. At various points in life, I decided that I liked mathematics enough to keep trying for new opportunities: postgraduate study, postdoctoral programs, continuing positions. I’m grateful to have received enough opportunities to make a career!  

2. What do you think is the most important issue facing the Society at present?

In my mind, the most important issues concern promoting mathematical sciences, and representing mathematicians. Mathematics is important. It contributes to science, medicine, engineering, and is an important human endeavour on its own. It has been disheartening to see a weakening of some Australian university mathematics departments in the last two years, which affects the careers of current and upcoming mathematicians, and diminishes our ability to train students and high school teachers. Access to mathematics should not only be for the wealthy and well-connected. On the positive side, the Society is full of outstanding mathematicians who are contributing significantly to Australia and to the field, and it has many friends who love mathematics and support our aims. I think the future of mathematics is bright. 

3. Where would you like the Society to be in 5 years’ time? Or perhaps 10 years’?

I would like the Society to be larger and more diverse. I would love to see more of our PhD students and early career researchers staying on as fully active Society members even when their careers take them outside of academia. I’d like to see more gender diversity, more racial diversity, more willingness to learn from each other across different fields. 

4. What is one mathematical fact or idea you would wish the broader public to know?

I am a big believer in knot theory for the broader public. The field of knot theory encapsules the beauty, the puzzles, and the depth of mathematics, with cool pictures. Knots for the greater good!

Prof. Jessica Purcell