Discusion on the proposal of a Maryam Mirzakhani prize

Sent by Olga Rossi:
Dear All,
I would like to make a proposal for a establishing a new Prize for
young women mathematicians (say up to 45 - not to discriminate so much
those who interrupted their career due to children). The Prize should
be named by Maryam and should be given every year for outstanding
achievements in Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Physics. I suggest
to ask some big companies for donation, in particular, I have in mind
L'Oreal who are known for their support of activities against breast


Email sent by Laura Tedeschini:

dear Olga, thanks for the suggestion.
many years ago EWM had taken a stand about age limits, if we reconsider them, let us consider them entirely in all their aspects. We were then opposing age limits, as it would reinforce one of several myths about mathematical activity, that we thought would hinder rather than facilitate it. We know there are many late bloomers in math.
Interruption due to children is only one aspect, and in fact not particularly relevant, in my experience and according to statistics. There are others.
even more relevant, for instance, is the self-projection of girls (both scientifically and internationally), and corresponding doubts about one's vocation.

As we all know, travelling and sharing maths is a great way to gauge our competences, reinforce us and step over those doubts. So the idea of travel grants for younger women is really very nice and I forsee it as being very helpful.

Contacting L'Oreal for their support of research against breast cancer is also a very good idea.

A prize in the name of Maryam is too, but if we decide for age limits, please, be aware of other deep considerations. 

Email sent by Eleni Katirtzoglou:

Dear Olga,

I also think that a prize in the name of Maryam is a good idea. I agree with Laura about age limits and I could add my own personal experience regarding reasons for interrupting careers.

Regarding the source of money for the prize I would like to suggest instead of approaching a big multinational for it, to raise the money though ground-sourcing. The latter could create an awareness campaign about mathematics and give the opportunity to people who love mathematics but are not mathematicians to support the discipline. It would also show what we girls can achieve if we all stick together. I think that if just all of us contribute a bit of money we could start with a respectable amount of seed investment.

Finally, I would also like to take this opportunity to kindly ask along with research to start raising the profiles of women who teach mathematics.

Email sent by Anna Grybos:

Dear Olga,

it is a GREAT idea! At every point, with L'Oreal supporting the activities against breast cancer in particular.

I only stress that we should precise well the term "outstanding achievements" (for to avoid possible stupid accusations in the future). Let's discuss it a bit. 

from Christina Sormani

Perhaps rather than an age restriction we require that the prize be for a specific sole authored result published within the prior five years.   In this way we avoid the tendancy towards a lifetime prize without imposing an age restriction.  The sole author rule is just to avoid a male author being given credit for the award.

Christina Sormani

from Camilla Hollanti and Sylvie Paycha

Very much agree with Sylvia, and also that this discussion should be moved away from this 600+ recipient email list as suggested earlier .


Dear all,

Although I understand Chrisitina's reason for requiring a sole authored published result instead of an age restriction, I do not think it is an apropriate requirement at a time when mathematicians tend to join their efforts in joint publications. A joint publication is a sign of a fruitful collaboration and hence of a good insertion in the mathematical community, which is what I think we wish any woman mathematician.

Why not give up on the age restriction and just add a sentence saying that "preference will be given to applicants who defended their PhD thesis less than ten years ago + a year per child". This way, we woudn't exclude other external factors which might have slowed down the candidate's career whose application the committee might want to priotise over others.

Best regards,

I strongly support the Christine Sormani idea;  an age restriction for women may exclude those whose careers start late, after rising children.


Thanks to Olga for starting the discussion and to all the other contributors for their ideas. We share their deep grief after Maryam Mirzakhani's death and their wish for her to remain an inspiration for all women in mathematics and the mathematical community at large, particularly in Iran.

We would like to explain why in our opinion an EWM proposed scientific prize for women mathematicians only named after Maryam Mirzakhani is not a good idea.

Maryam's most outstanding achievement was to be the first woman - and the first person from Iran - to win the Fields Medal.  Thanks to her achievements, along with those of many other distinguished women,  arguments about women's ability as mathematicians can surely soon be laid to rest. In view of what she achieved, a prize "especially for women" named after her looks to us like a regression. It could be seen as some sort of `second best', a consolation prize almost implying that  women will never be the equal of men in their achievements, and could even become something of a double edged sword for the winner.

A scholarship named after her and making it possible for women and/or people from emerging or developing countries to make prestigous doctoral studies might be a better option.

In any case, Maryam did not have any special connection to EWM or - to the best of our knowledge- any other specific organization for women in mathematics. We admire her but she does not belong to us. Not to mention that EWM is a very small organization with little influence.

So we are convinced that

a)   an initiative in her memory -if any- should come from IMU which is the largest body representing mathematicians worldwide, and moreover in charge of the Fields Medals,

b) such an initiative should be carefully thought through by a competent committee and also discussed with her family

c) a scientific prize for women mathematicians only named after her is not a good idea.

Marie-Francoise Roy and Caroline Series

I support  Caroline and Marie-Francoise and would argue that the proposed EWM scientific prize restricted to women, and named after Maryam Mirzakhani, is not a good idea. 

Caroline and Marie-Francoise have put the arguments very clearly. A memorial for Maryam Mirzakhani is esssential, but it is for an appropriate organisation  - for example the  IMU or Stanford - to make that proposal, through an appropriately constituted committee, and in consulation with the family, and to raise funds to do it properly. 

 I agree that a prize restricted to women seems a backward step, and I like the idea of supporting a scholarship for people from emerging or developing countries.