I am proud to present another fellow mathematician, now working as a Senior Lecturer at Aalto University and as Docent at University of Helsinki, Kirsi Peltonen. Kirsi will also be the speaker at the seminar Women in Mathematics in Finland on November 9th at 4 p.m. in Exactum CK112 (info to come soon).
Please, tell me briefly about yourself…
I am currently working at Aalto University Science School Mathematics department as a Senior Lecturer. I am also docent in Mathematics at Helsinki University. I do research in geometric analysis in pure mathematics. At Aalto I am responsible on activities related to differential geometry and applications. This is a broad field with exciting connections not only to research inside mathematics but also physics, computer science, engineering and arts. At the moment I live in Järvenpää together with my husband and two cats. Our 3 children have already moved away from home and started their own careers and live together with their spouses.
When did you start getting interested about mathematics?
It is hard to pinpoint any particular time or event for a start of getting interested in mathematics. I found natural sciences in general the most interesting subjects at school. I also enjoyed all sorts of handcrafts at the same time. The passion for mathematics is difficult to explain, but it has been a crucial part of all my activities as far as I remember.
In simple words, what is your research about?
In the heart of my research are mapping problems between abstract shapes with certain geometric constraints. The principles of this process could be compared to recycling textiles. You take for example men’s shirt and would like to change it to women’s skirt. If the material, size and other properties are appropriate, you cut and sew to perform the needed changes according to your plan. In my research I take different types of manifolds instead of shirts and skirts which I suppose they could be transformed to each other and try to prove it by making use of the properties they have. I use techniques like cutting and sewing for abstract entities. Sometimes the outcome is a beautiful example but more often the constructions fail. This does not mean failure, but like often happens in sewing, you get something completely different as planned but still something useful. You also learn why certain things do not work and this is important as well.
Up to now, what do you regard as your most satisfying professional achievement?
I think it is the fact that I have been able to find the joy of doing mathematics over and over again. I am privileged to have so many talented collaborators and colleagues that have inspired and encouraged me over the years.
What was your hardest professional period and how did you overcome it?
Without no doubt it was almost 10 years ago when I found myself in the middle of hostile bureaucrat acts and almost lost my health. Thanks to my family, Finnish healthcare and great colleagues in Finland and abroad, I am now completely recovered. I am also happy that this process did not make me a bit bitter or cynical but made me more aware of unconscious bias and the fact that your true friends are those who also tolerate your success.
Did you face any obstacles – direct or indirect – in your work because of your being a woman?
This is a tough question as being a mathematician is equally hard to everybody working in the field. Good collaboration is an essential ingredient of this profession and I think this has been most challenging to me, especially when I was younger.
Your ideal day outside work…
Crisp sunny day in the forests together with my husband to pick up some mushrooms.
What is your piece of advice to young mathematicians?
Be active, go to seminars, listen broadly what other people are doing and share your problems and ideas with others. Do not take it personally if you do not get the grant you applied. It is not all about you, but most often about politics and circumstances. Just make the next application and continue working persistently.
What would you tell to girls who are thinking to study or work in mathematics?
Just go ahead! Math is fun and always useful ! And when you get the grant you applied be happy and continue working persistently no matter other people might say.
(Picture: Eeva Lehtinen)