Participant Testimonials

May 22 - May 27, 2011

The BIRS workshop greatly impacted my research. In general, over the past year I have wanted to begin a successful collaborative mathematical project in algebraic combinatorics, with an aim of broadening the scope of my active research beyond the immediate sphere of my thesis. Geographical and financial constraints make forging such collaborations difficult, and I am incredibly indebted to the organizers for helping to make this professional goal a reality during the BIRS workshop. In particular, there was a new project that I was interested in working on, for which I did not feel as though I was individually equipped with the requisite background. I proposed this problem to my designated research group, we generated a conjecture which would solve the problem, and we currently have a working draft of a joint paper. Of the four other group members, three of the four are individuals with whom I likely would not have had a chance to collaborate otherwise, and whose energy and expertise were vital to the movement of the project. My group members will certainly remain important contacts for me, and without the workshop several of these professional relationships would not have been made. Moreover, given more time at the workshop, I am confident that one or two additional collaborations might have begun, both with people in and outside of my designated working group.

Elizabeth Beazley Assistant Professor
Mathematics & Statistics, Williams College

On behalf of all 42 participants of the Algebraic Combinatorixx Workshop, I would like to thank you and BIRS for inviting us to hold this meeting in such a spectacular venue. The workshop achieved its goals of introducing participants to recent developments in areas of active research and of fostering much collaboration. BIRS was an ideal location to make this happen. The response to the workshop has been quite overwhelming.

Georgia Benkart Mathematics, University of Wisconsin - Madison

The participation in the workshop was an amazing experience. The quality of the talks was exceptional, and the discussion between talks was very lively; I met many mathematicians (in particular younger ones) whom I hadn't known before. The 'research in teams' initiated by the organizers will probably lead to a joint paper with members of the team; it was a fruitful discussion on quasisymmetric analogs of Schur P-functions which both are among my current research interests (apart from the organizer Steph van Willigenburg I had not met any other member of the team before). A talk of one of the principal speakers (Anne Schilling) on the rather new topic of k-Schur functions together with direct exchange on her data on k-Schur functions already led to a conjecture on the determinants of the corresponding tables and a refined one on the invariants; this is closely related to my own work on character tables of the symmetric groups. We have exchanged emails after the meeting and will keep in touch on these questions. A poster and short presentation by a younger participant (Kelli Talaska) on determinants for special graphs led to an exchange on determinants and invariants for paths in certain quiver algebras, where formulae of a similar structure occurred in work of mine; it is not clear yet what can be learned from this observation. Also, data on the composition poset appearing in work with Steph van Willigenburg and collaborators were discussed also with Georgia Benkart; here, the question is whether the data helps in finding an algebra that is connected with the composition data.

Christine Bessenrodt Professor
Department of Mathematics and Physics, Leibniz University Hannover

This was, by far, the best conference I have ever been to. Everything was organised as to maximize interactions between (junior and senior) participants. And it worked brilliantly! I have come back with several new research projects with new collaborators. More specifically, I have started a project with Rosa Orellana on the restriction/induction rules for the Partition algebra (and other diagram algebras). This should give a new approach to the longstanding problem of describing the Kronecker product of Schur functions. With my "working group" at the conference (Benkart, Vazirani, Parker, Orellana), we have started investigating possible representation theoretic interpretations of the quasi-Schur functions introduced by van Willigenburg, Mason, Bessenrodt and al. and we plan to continue this work in the coming months. Following my talk at the conference, I have also had very useful discussions with Georgia Benkart, who suggested new directions for my own work, such as investigating the representation theory of the derragement algebra, and the relationship between the decomposition of tensor space for the orthosymplectic super Lie algebra and the Brauer algebra. I would also like to mention another aspect of the conference which (indirectly) influences my research as well. I did not know there were so many women in this field. I usually only meet a few at conferences. And many of them face the same challenge of juggling research and family life. I felt really encouraged hearing about other (more senior) people's stories and sharing experiences.

Maud De Visscher Lecturer
Centre for Mathematical Science, City University London

This was an extremely valuable conference for me, and I believe for many other participants as well. I was actually a little skeptical of the idea, but I think it worked well for a couple reasons -- a tone was created in which speakers felt comfortable trying to make talks as understandable as possible (rather than feeling like they simply should impress people as much as possible), and I think there was a team spirit created in which people really did try to draw in and help the younger participants both to learn about important areas and to get included in new collaborations.

Patricia Hersh mathematics, North Carolina State University

Participation in the BIRS workshop Algebraic Combinatorixx led to new research ideas, new research collaborations, and meeting new people. This was a fantastic workshop, well scheduled to really take advantage of being at BIRS. We had many interesting talks, but also plenty of time dedicated to small working groups. This workshop had a secondary theme beyond the research topic. It was an all women's workshop and time was set aside for panel discussions and general group discussion of the issues and difficulties facing women in mathematics. I truly appreciate BIRS supporting this additional aspect of the workshop. It is hard to describe the need and positive effect such gatherings have for female mathematicians. Among other things, I was "re-charged" to come home and face the challenges that arose while I was away.

Caroline Klivans Mathematics and Computer Science, University of Chicago

I found this conference to be well-organised with a surprisingly refreshing format. The organisers decided to have more expository talks - from which one learns more anyhow and fewer talks in general in order to put an emphasis on group discussions. My particular group was a good mix of people from different backgrounds and stages in their career. Our group started a project in a area that is new to all of us but for which our common background allowed us to discuss. I learned quite a lot from these discussions as well as from the talks. We hope that a paper (at least one) will result from this collaboration and are in the process of working further on it. This collaboration most likely would not have started up without this conference. Although this workshop did not personally affect my job prospects as I am tenured, it was a valuable opportunity for mentoring as most of the participants were in the early stages of their career. I had some doubts about the all-woman format before attending, but was pleasantly surprised on how the whole thing worked out. I would say that it was one of the most effective workshops that I have attended and the organisers are to be congratulated.

Nicole Lemire Mathematics, University of Western Ontario

The workshop impacted my current research. In our group, we worked on quasi-symmetric Schur P-functions. We conjectured the formula for that and plan to work on more problems related to quasi-symmetric Schur P-functions. We hope to write a paper together. In this workshop I worked with some professor from Korea. This was the first time I could collaborate a Mathematician from a such far place. The workshop affected my job prospects. The other participants told us that women in Math usually are more productive as age grows.

Huilan Li Postdoctoral Fellow
Mathematics, Drexel University

This workshop was the best of all workshops/conferences I have ever attended. I am so happy I was able to be at BIRS. I have learned a lot of new mathematics and new perspectives on mathematics, as well as found new potential research projects and collaborators that I likely would not have found otherwise. My time in Banff was very rewarding and enjoyable!


I had conversations with many new people that might ultimately lead to research collaborations. For example, Patricia Hersh came to my informal presentation on crystal bases and got an idea on how to apply this to symmetric chain decompositions of the Boolean algebra modulo a cyclic action. As a result of our discussions at the workshop we published the following article: Georgia Benkart had some interesting question regarding the decomposition of tensor products of Demazure characters. Christine Bessenrodt made some interesting observations about the character tables I presented in my talk.

Anne Schilling Mathematics, University of California, Davis

The workshop was incredibly useful for me. I expect 2-3 new collaborations to come out of conversations during the workshop. I found out about some jobs that sounds like especially good fits for me, and got advice on contacts for those. I met quite a few new people, and managed to form better relationships with others I had briefly met before.

Kelli Talaska NSF Postdoctoral Fellow
Mathematics, University of California-Berkeley

This was the best conference I have ever attended. The mathematics was superb, and I have started (at least) two new collaborative projects as a result. Additionally, the opportunity for panels and other discussions about women's issues in academia/mathematics was very valuable. I hope we can do this again!!!

Bridget Tenner Department of Mathematical Sciences, DePaul University

This was a fantastic workshop. The scholarship was outstanding. The focus on professional development was at an exceptionally high level. The research that I began during that workshop has continued with a dedication that I have never experienced in a research group this large, or from research arising out of an impromptu discussion. The professional contacts that I made and solidified promise to be exceedingly useful, both to my research and career more broadly (mine as well as theirs, I hope). The organizers are to be commended for the time, energy, and thoughtfulness that they put into this conference. I hope that BIRS will support more workshops of this form---I can only imagine the scientific impact if every research area had a group of organizers who could bring together women in their discipline this effectively.

Julianna Tymoczko Mathematics, University of Iowa

Every time I have the opportunity to attend BIRS I have an outstanding experience. This workshop was no exception. The opportunity to meet a wide range of women algebraic combinatorialists led to my making many new valuable contacts across the globe. Furthermore the breadth of talks and high quality of exposition meant that I cemented a number of concepts and deepened my knowledge of many more. The poster sessions for graduate students helped them to bring their research to the attention of many senior mathematicians, and the panels gave much valuable insight to life in academia for all participants. One of the most amazing aspects of the workshop was the collaboration groups, which brought together researchers of similar interests in groups to discuss open problems. By the end of the workshop at least four papers were originated (my group included), with the amenities that BIRS provides being crucial to the success of these projects: breakout rooms to work in, the library for resources, the lounge for continuing discussions late into the night, the mealtimes for swapping ideas with other groups. As an organizer, I was thrilled to hear from a number of participants that this was the best conference they had *ever* attended, and that BIRS was a fundamental contributor to this.

Stephanie van Willigenburg Mathematics, University of British Columbia