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Lisa Jeffrey

“Contrary to the stereotype, mathematical research is a very gregarious activity and not solitary at all.”
Lisa's Biography

I did my undergraduate degree at Princeton specializing in physics. I won a Marshall Scholarship which enabled me to spend two years at Cambridge University doing Parts II and III of the Mathematical Tripos (leading to an M.A. degree). I then did my doctorate at Oxford University under the supervision of Michael Atiyah. Following four years of junior positions in the UK and US, I moved in 1995 to a tenure-track position in the Mathematics Department at McGill University. Three years later I moved to my current position as Professor at University of Toronto (Scarborough campus).

I learned LaTeX as an undergraduate. I spent one week learning to type from a book (‘Quick Typing’) the summer before beginning university, and the week I spent learning the basics (plus years of constant practice) have been very useful. As my undergraduate degree was in physics, I was not afraid to do calculations.

I enjoy working with graduate students. Contrary to the stereotype, mathematical research is a very gregarious activity and not solitary at all.

I sing in an amateur congregational choir at my church. My daughter just started grade 2, and her activities absorb a lot of my non-work time (and are not entirely relaxing).

I was fortunate to be mentored by Michael Atiyah (my doctoral supervisor) and Edward Witten (who supervised my first postdoctoral position at Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton). Their insights were invaluable. On the other hand, a grade 10 physics teacher wrote on my report card: ‘Learn to accept those areas in which you may not excel’. I did not take his advice.

I grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and was familiar with the Scarborough campus because my stepfather, a biologist, taught there. After he retired in 1993, my parents left Toronto, asking if there was any chance I might want their house. I told them it was unlikely I would have a job in Toronto, and in any case it wouldn’t be in Scarborough, would it? So my parents sold the house and I was back in Toronto three years later. Funny how things have turned out, and not at all how I predicted.

Academic work is more flexible than many other professions. Disregard anyone who tells you to ‘get a proper job’. But also don’t rule out non-academic positions — too many graduate students appear to think they have failed if they cannot get an academic job.

Through outreach and professional development activities, research, partnerships, thought leadership and online initiatives, we work with industry and academia to educate on the value of diversity for innovation, to inspire women to thrive and to celebrate the contributions of women in science and engineering.
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