Thursday, January 12, 2017

Guest Post about the first Women in Computational Topology (WinCompTop) Workshop

The first Women in Computational Topology WinCompTop workshop was held in August at the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) in Minneapolis, MN.  In total, 27 women participated, ranging from undergraduates to full professors; in addition, five future topologists (children of the participants) attended the various social events scattered throughout the week.

The central goal of this workshop was to establish research collaborations among both junior and senior women in the field, as well as to provide an opportunity for mentoring at all levels.  There were four working groups, each led by a more senior member of the community:

Giseon Heo (University of Alberta) outlined a project that extends one dimensional scale-space persistent homology (a fundamental tool in computational topology) to a pseudo-multidimensional persistence tool that can be applied to a variety of applications.

Nina Amenta (University of California, Davis) posed a problem of producing an explicit representation of a surface S from an input point cloud P drawn from a distribution over S (possibly with some noise).

Yusu Wang (The Ohio State University) discussed a new method of persistence-based profiles to compare metric graphs and outlined that further exploration of what information is captured by persistence-based profiles and understanding their discriminative power would be the focus of their working group.

Carola Wenk (Tulane University) and Brittany Terese Fay investigated the use of topology in map construction and comparison, particularly understanding directed graphs with multiple lanes and overpasses.

The workshop began with each of the senior researchers presenting an overview of their working group’s topic.  After the overview of each project, working groups began to explore their topic; over the course of the week, substantial progress was made in each group.   Each working group will contribute an article to a special AWM/IMA Springer journal, co-edited by the organizers of WinCompTop 2016 (Erin Chambers, Brittany Terese Fasy, and Lori Ziegelmeier).  In addition, many of the participants who attended WinCompTop will meet once again at a special session of the AWM Research Symposium in April (see here).

The workshop also had several outings and other social events, including a poster session where over a dozen posters were presented, a panel on work-life balance, an open problem session, and several receptions or banquets. These events let participants come together as a group, establish future collaborations, and connect with one another. In addition to formally scheduled outings, informal activities such as a marshmallow roast one evening, group dinners, and many other gatherings happened throughout the week.

What we (the organizers) have learned, and some questions for the community:
How many women in Field X does it take to justify creating a “Women in X” network?  (Or, more generally, an in X network?)  This question was brought to our attention by Bill Gasarch (thanks for letting us post on your blog, BTW).  We started this community as a listserv over two years ago (by the way, visit here if you’d like to join: Here.  Today, we have over 100 subscribers, several of whom are not women.  Regularly, opportunities are posted through this listserv, and lively discussions sometimes ensue (for example, we recently had a lengthy thread listing all of the researchers under whom one might be able to pursue a Ph.D. in computational topology).  This network was started by just a handful of us who decided that there needed to be a more formal way for junior researchers to seek advice and for organizers of events to find diverse speakers.  So, perhaps the answer to Bill’s question is: just a handful of people, and you’ll be surprised how quickly things grow.


Finally, we want to end this post with a note of gratitude.  We thank NSF,
which funded the travel and local expenses for most of the participants (NSF DMS grant #1619908).  We thank Microsoft Research for providing a generous donation, which funded the social events and travel for one of our international group leaders.  Thanks also to AWM, which provided logistical support and advice for the event, and financial support for the upcoming follow-up events.  Most enthusiastically, we thank the IMA for all of their support of both time and resources.  The IMA donated the meeting spaces, breakfasts, as well as poster-printing, all in-kind.  Last but not least, we thank every participant of WinCompTop 2016.  We’ll see you again in 2018!

If you have any questions or comments about our experience organizing WinCompTop, we encourage you to contact us:

Erin Chambers

Brittany Terese Fasy

Lori Ziegelmeier

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