Interview with Serte Dinderwinkel


Interview with Serte Donderwinkel

Dr. Serte Donderwinkel (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen)
  • What is your name and what do you do?
    I am Serte Donderwinkel and as of February 2024 I am an assistant professor in probability theory at the University of Groningen. I mostly study random trees and graphs, but I occasionally make an exception for other fun discrete (probability) questions. I am also a member of the interdisciplinary centre Cognigron of mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists and material engineers that aim to improve learning-based cognitive computing with materials-centred systems.
  • How do you think about gender representation in your work, be it in articles, conferences or in the classroom?
    As a female mathematician, I often move through professional spaces being aware of my gender. Most times we are in the minority, and even during exceptional situations when this is not the case, the culture in our workplaces has been sufficiently shaped by men that the feeling of not belonging stays. Like in many male-dominated professions, women struggle speaking up and taking space. I think an additional challenge in mathematics research is that much progress is made by shouting (mostly silly) ideas at the blackboard, but to contribute to sessions like that a level of comfort and confidence is needed that minorities often lack. That being said, I feel extremely fortunate to start my career now, when so many incredible women that came before me have already paved the way and there are great initiatives like the EWM-NL where we can meet and support each other.
  • When doing research or teaching, how do you think about your identity in relation to the subjects you research and the students you teach and supervise?
    I think my identity does not have much impact on the subjects I study, but definitely on the people that I choose to do research with. As academics we are extremely lucky that we can work with our friends, and I notice that many of the struggles of being a minority vanish when you surround yourself with people that you like and trust. Regarding interactions with students, I try to use my own experience as a minority in STEM to be mindful of the struggles that my students might face, and to not be distracted by whoever speaks the loudest. I try to give extra support to those that started with a disadvantage, to be curious about the experience of my students and to keep learning about my own blindspots.
  • How does an awareness of your positionality affect your work, be that research or teaching?
    I think minorities face a danger of being slowed down by self-doubt, and I have definitely fallen into that trap in the past. I am getting better at turning this around: to not believe the room of people that underestimate you but to instead put your chin up and show them that they are wrong. But this is not always easy!