Doctorats honorifiques

D. Université 2008Maria KLAWE, 2008


I am very honored to be one of today’s graduates at the University of Ottawa. I want to start by congratulating all of the other graduates. Today marks an extraordinary achievement for every single one of you. Congratulations to you, and to the members of your family, your friends, your professors and everyone else who supported and encouraged you over the years.

Vous avez reçu une éducation remarquable à l’Université d’Ottawa. Lorsque j’ai obtenu mon diplôme de l’université d’Alberta, je n’avais pas conscience de la qualité de ma propre éducation. Surtout, je ne savais pas si elle était comparable à celle offerte par d’autres collèges et universités célèbres du monde. Après avoir fréquenté plusieurs de ces établissements célèbres au cours des trente et un ans qui ont suivi l’obtention de mon doctorat, je suis convaincue de l’excellence de l’éducation postsecondaire canadienne. Vous êtes bien préparés à affronter les défis et à saisir les occasions qui se présenteront à vous dans les années à venir. Sans compter que vous savez déjà communiquer dans au moins deux langues, un net avantage dans notre village planétaire. (You have received a wonderful education at the University of Ottawa. When I graduated from the University of Alberta, I had no idea about the quality of my education, especially how it compared to the famous universities and colleges of the world. Thirty-one years after my Ph.D. and having spent time at some of those famous institutions, I am certain of excellence of the education provided by Canadian universities. You are well prepared to take on the challenges and the opportunities that you will encounter in the coming years. Moreover, you already speak at least two languages, a significant advantage in our global community.

Based on the turns and twists of my career I have two suggestions that you might find helpful. First, stay open to the unexpected and the unwanted.

One morning in September 1979 I broke up with my boyfriend and swore off men forever. That afternoon I met the person, Nick Pippenger, who I married nine months later, and who is still the center of my life.

When I was first approached about the opportunity of being president at Harvey Mudd College I was pretty sure I didn’t want the job. Ditto for Dean of Engineering at Princeton, Head of Computer Science at UBC, and joining IBM Research in San Jose. Yet each of these unwanted opportunities ended up being one of the best choices in my life. So keep an open mind about options that don’t seem attractive at first.

My second suggestion is look for ways to pursue your passions where there is a need. Among my life-long passions, mathematics and painting are perhaps the greatest. When I was doing my Ph.D. I was sure my career would be as a math professor at a Canadian university. It never happened. There were few academic openings for pure mathematicians in Canada the year I graduated so I took an assistant professorship at a university in Michigan. I hated it, mostly for lifestyle reasons … no ethnic restaurants, no foreign movies, no bookstores, no boyfriends, no other Canadians.

By chance I discovered there were lots of job openings in computer science departments in Canada, and that some mathematicians taught in CS departments.  Unfortunately I knew nothing about computer science. I decided to do a second Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Toronto. My plan was to complete the course requirements in my first year, and write my thesis in the second. Five months later I was being asked to apply for positions in Canadian CS departments. When Toronto heard I was interviewing for positions elsewhere they demanded that I apply to their department too … I did, and by fall of 1979 I was an assistant professor in computer science at Toronto. I never finished my second Ph.D. because no one seemed to care that my Ph.D. was in math rather than CS. The point of this story is that I wanted to do mathematics at a time when the world needed computer scientists. I’ve ended up being both a mathematician and computer scientist, and being passionate about both disciplines.

What about my passion for painting? After graduation I kept on painting but hid it from everyone but my closest friends and family until I turned forty. I thought it was hard enough to be taken seriously as a female researcher in math and CS without having people know that I was an artist too. On my fortieth birthday I hung some paintings in my home and office. Ten years ago I started painting at meetings: board meetings, conferences, workshops. Surprisingly I found out this made me a better participant at meetings because painting kept me from talking too much (definitely a need!) Today I manage to paint every week.

Finally, I have a request for each of you. Please help us make the culture of science and engineering supportive to everyone with the interest and ability to contribute. Today girls in Canada and the USA are still being told by teachers and counselors that girls aren’t as good as boys at math and physics. Girls are less likely to be encouraged to study engineering or computer science in university. There are fewer barriers for women and minorities studying science or engineering than forty years ago but cultural issues still impede success especially at the more senior career levels. My request is that throughout your career, you encourage and support all your colleagues whether junior, senior, male or female. And help teach parents, teachers, and children that science and engineering offer great careers for everyone.

Je vous souhaite à tous un franc succès dans vos projets. Armés d’une éducation de qualité, vous êtes outillés pour contribuer à un avenir meilleur. (Best wishes to each of you for the next stage in your career. Remember that your excellent education enables you to make the world a better place.)


Dernières modifications : 2013.07.08