Mathematician awarded Dell Award

Cather Simpson and Vivien Kirk

Associate Professor Vivien Kirk has been recognised for her work mentoring young mathematicians and physicists with the Miriam Dell Excellence in Science Mentoring Award from the Association for Women in the Sciences (AWIS).

Vivien is Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Associate Dean Postgraduate for the Faculty of Science at the University of Auckland. Her research is in the field of applied mathematics, developing mathematical methods that can be used to explain and predict the complex behaviour of physical and biological systems.

In 2007, Vivien helped found the Vaughan Park Maths & Physics Retreat, an annual residential workshop that focuses on mentoring, career advice and networking for female scientists. These retreats provide a valuable opportunity for women at any stage in their career to develop their careers.

“For decades, Vivien has underpinned her students’ and colleagues’ successes with wisdom and compassion,” says Professor Cather Simpson, who nominated her for the Award. “Transcending her individual mentoring is her leadership in establishing and fostering a culture of support for female mathematicians and physicists across New Zealand through the establishment of annual retreats for women mathematicians and physicists. This has extended her reach to empower women in science far beyond her office walls.”

Dr Frédérique Vanholsbeeck, from the University of Auckland’s Department of Physics, has also been Highly Commended by the Judges of the Award. Frederique was the only female academic when appointed to the Department in 2005, and has subsequently championed and implemented processes to ensure unbiased hiring and mentoring of staff, selection of scholarship awardees and identification of colloquium speakers. As a result of the physics equity committee that she leads, the Department of Physics is the only recognised Pleiades Organisation in New Zealand (Bronze level), bestowed by the Inclusions, Diversity and Equity in Astronomy (IDEA) of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

“The Dell Award brings to light many strong women in science using their experiences to support others in their fields and beyond,” says Emma Timewell from AWIS. “These women go beyond their prescribed role of mentor to their immediate team members and have identified opportunities to improve pathways for a wider group of women who are starting, or struggling with, a career in science. Vivien and Frederique are great examples of these amazing women who are helping to build a more balanced science system.”

The Miriam Dell Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring was introduced in 2013 and is awarded on a biennial basis to someone who demonstrates outstanding mentoring efforts to retain females in science, mathematics or technology. Nominees can be from any part of the science system – including teachers at primary or secondary schools, lecturers or supervisors in tertiary education, or from commercial science-based organisations. They may have mentored, formally or informally, females at any stage in their career – from school age to the science workforce.

The Award is named for Dame Miriam Dell, Patron of AWIS, botanist, secondary school teacher and advocate for women’s advancement. Previous recipients are Judith O’Brien from the University of Auckland and Dr Roslyn Kemp from the University of Otago.

Photo: Vivien Kirk, Dell Award winner, and Cather Simpson, who nominated her. Credit: Billy Wong, University of Auckland Media Productions