The scientists who inspired us (VII): the value of anonymous women scientists

In honour of Women in Science, at the Basque Center for Applied Mathematics - BCAM we have come up with the idea of sharing some stories about the women that inspired our researchers to pursue a career in science. Keep reading to understand why Luz Roncal claims the value of anonymous women scientists to be a guide and an inspiration to those around them and to other potential young scientists:

About the author:

Luz Roncal

Ikerbasque Research and Ramon y Cajal Fellow

Luz received her PhD in Mathematics from the University of La Rioja in 2009. Since 2016 she has been a researcher at BCAM – Basque Center for Applied Mathematics, where she is part of the Analysis of Partial Differential Equations group. Specifically, she works in the Harmonic Analysis research line. In 2019 she obtained the Prize for Young Female Scientific Talent in the category of mathematics granted by the Royal Spanish Academy of Sciences Foundation (FRACE) and Mastercard to young Spanish scientists who have stood out for their trajectory.

I can’t say that there was a particular woman scientist who motivated my career and guided me in times of darkness. In fact, only recently I realized about the existence of many illustrious female scientists. So, it wouldn’t be fair to say that the scientist who inspired me was this one or that one. Although seen in retrospect, it is clear that my lack of knowledge about them is reprehensible and it is necessary to know these extraordinary women, who opened unimaginable paths.

But it turns out that there was not only one “motivational woman scientist”: there were many, and there still are. I know some of them very well because we have met many times over the years, or because they encouraged me when I was a frightened student, or because they advised me when I was wrong, or because they congratulated me when it was time for ephemeral success. Or because they were very few in their time, maybe the only ones, and this is remarkable. Others are mathematicians that surround me, that I see every day, with whom I work. I have never met many others, but I know their names in outstanding research papers that have been inspiring for my research.

All these women scientists, in one way or another, are a reference for me. Perhaps they will never either receive an important award, or appear in a history book, or be the subject of a series of articles that seek to give them recognition. Or maybe they will, you never know. So, I would like to give my small recognition to these “anonymous” scientists who were an inspiration (and still are) in one way or another throughout my career.

These lines are for them, because it is very difficult to be a researcher, and a quality researcher, while you’re a mother, or when your family or your partner lives many kilometers away, or when you have to fight every day, completely alone, with the real world and with the scientific community, which is often hostile. The scientists who inspire me are these brave women who are able to concentrate on their research while weathering the storm.

In a first version of this article, I wrote a series of names of women in mathematics, Spanish and foreigners, who work in my area of research. I wrote the names as they were coming to my mind, in an attempt to put names and surnames to these anonymous scientists I speak of. When I had written almost fifty names, I realized that including such a list wasn’t right, because obviously I would be leaving many of them behind, and I didn’t want to do that. So, if you’re a woman in mathematics and you’re reading this, keep in mind that you were on that list, and your work is and will be an example to others (men and women!). You may not be as famous as Sofya Kovalévskaya, Maryam Mirzhakani or Ada Lovelace, but you have a responsibility to be a guide and an inspiration to those around you and to other potential young scientists. Which is no small thing.

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