18 June 2018


Spanning three generations, a panel of female Optimisation experts will tackle gender equity as part of this week’s Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) Optimise 2018 conference on Decision Making Under Uncertainty and Humanitarian Applications.

Despite slow progress, women still account for only 16 per cent of Australia’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce and 9 per cent of mathematics professors, with some barriers the same as in the 1960s.

Chaired by University of Melbourne’s Professor Kate Smith-Miles, panel members speaking during Wednesday’s Women in Optimisation session include, Assistant Professor Marie-Ève Rancourt (HEC Montréal), Associate Professor Maria Antónia Carravilla (Universidade do Porto) and Optimisation and statistics pioneer, Alison Harcourt.

Still working at the University of Melbourne at 88 years old, Harcourt says while she has seen some positive changes over her six decades in academia, there is still a long way to go.

“While comparatively better than it once was, Maths is still very male dominated, particularly through the top levels,” she says.

Harcourt based her Master’s thesis on the new problem of Integer Programming. Further work in London with Professor Ailsa Land was reported in the landmark 1960s optimisation paper An Automatic Method of Solving Discrete Programming Problems. On her return to Australia she did not take on a PhD, partly due to isolation and time out for family. She later returned to statistics.

“With no Master’s supervisor I did it all myself and as a result decided not to do a PhD. Time out for family made it difficult to find my way back into the field, so I moved towards statistics,” she said.

Harcourt was also part of the team behind the Henderson Poverty Line and played a key role in the amendment of the Commonwealth Electoral Act to introduce the ‘Double Randomisation’ method still used today.

Having seen industry reluctance to embrace research, she applauds programs such as AMSI’s APR.Intern, which is expanding opportunities for women and academic engagement with industry.

“This creates great opportunities for women and engagement with industry. Despite its applications, when I was working in Optimisation the research was viewed as a threat rather than an opportunity for input and collaboration,” she said.

Comprising a three-day industry facing conference and two-day workshop, AMSI Optimise aims to foster critical industry-research collaboration to drive innovation.

As well as providing an important platform to accelerate optimisation research and its industry applications, AMSI Director Professor Geoff Prince says the event is a game changer in opening avenues to expose PhDs to commercial innovation environments.

“AMSI Optimise not only offers a unique space for researchers and industry to explore opportunities to drive cutting-edge collaborations, but nurtures pathways to place some of brightest STEM PhDs at the industry frontline through APR.Intern,” he says.

Hosted by the University of Melbourne, AMSI Optimise will run in Melbourne from 18 – 22 June. The Women in Optimisation session will run from 1.15 pm – 2.30pm, Wednesday 20 June 2018, at the Melbourne School of Design.

Jointly sponsored by AMSI, APR.Intern, the Department of Education and Training, the University of Melbourne, ACEMS and Biarri, AMSI Optimise is part of the Institute’s Securing Australia’s Mathematical Workforce project.

Media Resources

For Interview:
Alison Harcourt
Women in STEM Panelists
AMSI Director, Professor Geoff Prince

Media Contact: Laura Watson
E: media@amsi.org.au
M: 04215 18733
P: +613 9035 3683