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November 23, 2000 Galia Dafni teaches math on an NSERC faculty award



Photo of Galia Dafni

Galia Dafni

by Janice Hamilton

What stereotypical image of a mathematics professor jumps to your mind? Male? Grey hair? Spectacles? Think again. Concordia’s newest math prof is female, looks as young as her students, has a friendly smile and a new baby. She also has a PhD from Princeton University.

Galia Dafni is now a tenure-track member of Concordia’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, thanks to an NSERC University Faculty Award that pays her salary for five years. The award is designed to open new tenure-track positions in the sciences for women (and, as of the coming year, aboriginals.)

Dafni received the award this past spring, but deferred it because her baby arrived in April. She returned to her office in October, and although she has not yet resumed teaching duties, she is hard at work, her desk strewn with books and loose-leaf papers covered with the language of mathematics.

Dafni spent her teen years in Texas, then attended the Pennsylvania State University, majoring in mathematics and computer science. “Computer science was a very hot field then, so I thought I would get a job in computer science,” she recalls. Eventually she realized she preferred math, and went on to get her PhD in 1993.

It was at Princeton that she met Henri Darmon, her husband-to-be. After stints teaching at Berkeley and at Northwestern University in Chicago, she moved to Montreal to join Darmon, who teaches math at McGill. Dafni has been at Concordia since 1998, first as a postdoctoral fellow, then as a research assistant professor.

Her research is in the broad area of mathematical analysis, a field that includes calculus. She works on Fourier analysis, an area inspired by the study of harmonics in music.

This approach was first applied to mathematics and physics 200 years ago, and has many applications today in number theory and partial differential equations, as well as in engineering and physics problems, such as signal processing and control theory. Dafni focuses on pure theory and tries to prove theorems in a specialized field called Hardy Spaces.

The assistant professor is the only mathematician at Concordia to specialize in Hardy Spaces, but she meets with other mathematicians who share her interest through the CRM (Centre de recherches mathématiques) and the ISM (Institut des sciences mathématiques), organizations which bring researchers from Montreal-area universities together.

Dafni is actually one of several female mathematics faculty members at Concordia, and she feels she has good support from her colleagues.

As for the award that made her job possible, Dafni comments that in the past she wasn’t particularly in favour of special programs for women. However, the university created the position because of the award, so this was not a situation in which she had an advantage over other applicants for an opening. Concordia was the only Quebec university to receive a University Faculty Award in 2000.

One aspect of teaching here that she appreciates is the maturity of the students. At the universities where she taught in the United States, she comments, “the freshmen were babies, and many just wanted to party. They needed a lot of personal attention and sometimes camped out for hours in my office.”

If anything, she finds Concordia students too reluctant to discuss problems or questions about their courses, although she suspects many don’t have time to do so because they have jobs as well as studies.

As for future job prospects for math students, Dafni is optimistic. “Now I hear that students who study math have more opportunities in the financial industry, and in fields like cryptography. Even in computers, they are hiring more mathematicians, because they find that the students have analytical skills that help in any job.”