Maryam Mirzakhani Wins Fields Prize, and What Does This Mean for Iran-US Relations

Fields Medal is Nobel Prize of mathematics, and Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman and the first Iranian, to win this prestigious prize.

maryam

Via Feministing:

Congrats to Maryam Mirzakhani, who is the first woman to win the Fields Medal! Basically the Nobel Prize of mathematics, the honor has gone to 56 men since it began back to 1936.

Born and raised in Iran, Mirzakhani studied at Harvard (ironically, President Larry Summers made his infamous comments about how women are naturally bad at math just a year after she finished her degree) and is now a professor at Stanford who works on ”the geometry of moduli space, a complex geometric and algebraic entity that might be described as a universe in which every point is itself a universe,” which I’m sure would sound even more impressive if I understood what it meant. At her girls high school in Tehran, she convinced her principal to start math problem-solving classes like the ones being taught at the boys high school so she could make Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team. She went on to be the first Iranian student to achieve a perfect score in the competition.

As Quanta notes, the gender imbalance in Fields Medal recipients probably reflects both the general gender gap in mathematics as well as the fact that the award is for mathematicians younger than 40, “focusing on the very years during which many women dial back their careers to raise children.” But Mirzakhani expects many more women will follow her. “There are really many great female mathematicians doing great things,” she said.

This is great news and I congratulate Maryam Mirzakhani. However, while feminist bloggers are focusing on the woman side of the issue, (and rightfully so), let me focus on the Iranian side of it.

It’s incredibly hard for Iranians to leave Iran and study abroad. There are many obstacles inside, like those studying in public universities need to pay a hefty amount of money to have their certificates and official transcripts, but the main obstacle is from the outside, as the consequence of the sanctions, and the unfriendly relationships between the two countries.

It’s very expensive to apply to American universities, because of the price of dollar, and because of the banking sanctions it’s very hard to make that money reach the university (often increasing the costs), and the there is all the problems of travelling, and then there’s this very tough interviews in the embassies for VISA which causes many students to be rejected after spending so much money and going through so much trouble to be accepted somewhere.

Mirzakhani’s success shows that Iranian students coming to USA have a lot to offer and might enrich the academic environment of USA considerably. I think this is good case to show that we need to soften some of the most draconian sanctions against Iran, especially those that mainly target academics and don’t harm regime officials, and also to work hard for amending the relations so that there are less obstacles before Iranian talented people who want to come to USA and contribute to it.

If she could never leave Iran, a position many Iranian students end up this day, she would never win Fields Medal, and remember, that is a prize which predicts excellence in future as well as rewarding it in the past.

Normalizing relationships and opening the doors is in the interest of both nations.

About Kaveh Mousavi

Kaveh Mousavi is the pseudonym of an atheist ex-Muslim living in Iran, subject to one of the world’s remaining theocracies. He is a student of English Literature, an aspiring novelist, and part-time English teacher. He is passionate about politics, video games, heavy metal music, and cinema. He was born at the tenth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. He has ditched the Islamic part, but has kept some of the revolutionary spirit.

  • EveryZig

    I heard of this story on the radio and wondered what your take on it would be. I am curious as to how her achievement has been received in Iran and whether it will lend support to the reformists.

    Also, I think “that is a price which predicts” is a typo of “that is a prize which predicts”

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      I think the Iranian academic environment is too limited so she would never achieve that success. People are very happy and proud. I think if reformists are intelligent and use the same argument I did here it would lend support to them, saying “See Iranians can all benefit from relations between the two countries”, but so far I’ve seen only myself saying that :P

  • colnago80

    Unfortunately, it appears that Prof. Mirzakhani, like Nobel Prize winners Abdus Salem and Ahmed Zewail, the only Muslims who are Nobel Laureates in the sciences, will spend her entire productive career in the West. This only goes to point up the bankruptcy of intellectual life in the Muslim World.

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      Why unfortunately? That is good for her.

      • colnago80

        Yes, but it is bad for the Muslim World when their best and their brightest find no place for themselves there.

        • Kaveh Mousavi

          Muslim world will benefit more from people being successful in the West than remaining unsuccessful in Muslim world. Things will be better gradually, hopefully.

          • colnago80

            How are they going to get better when the best and the brightest leave those countries?

          • Kaveh Mousavi

            Iranians can still use the fruits of labors of those leave abroad, by translating their books and stuff. They can still comment on Iranian situation by following the news. So if we have excellent Iranians outside who are fascinating economists, we can use their advice more if they had remained inside Iran and had remained mediocre because of the limited academic capacity.

            It’s not like Iran is now a North Korea separated from the rest of the world. See, I’m in Iran and I blog for a western network. We can use their work even if they are not physically inside Iran, by means of communication such as telephone, fax, internet, carrier pigeons…

  • Pingback: Hijab and the First Woman Fields Medal Winner

  • http://frree Muhammad Moosa

    Actually this is a big deal for Iran…if their educational standards were piss poor,there would have been no possibility of Maryam becoming a great mathematician…she would not have had the grounding …so it is a very big deal for Iran.

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      Our educational standards ARE piss poor. I assure you as someone involved in education from elementary to academic levels.

  • aram

    you are putting your finger on a very important issue. In fact, when Mirzakhani was a student at Harvard she once went to visit her family but she couldn’t get back in time for beginning of semester. The homeland security was not issuing her student visa and she was even afraid that they might not tissue it at all. There were and still are many Iranian students for whom visiting their families even once could potentially cost their graduate studies. there are many tragic stories of parents dying but hiding it from their children in fear of jeopardizing their child’s future if she/he goes to see them. The extra immigration procedures for Iranians’ student visas are very frustrating and in fact they don’t make much sense from security perspective either.


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