Dr Holly Krieger challenges the status quo
Dr Holly Krieger is making waves in the field of mathematics. Not only is she making great strides with her teaching and research, but Holly takes an active role in encouraging more women to explore mathematics.
Appointed in 2016 as the Corfield Lecturer in Mathematics and the Corfield Fellow at Murray Edwards College, Holly’s appointment in the Faculty with a Fellowship in the all-women’s Murray Edwards College places a talented mathematician, conducting cutting-edge research in the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics, firmly within the context of the College environment. Holly grew up in the US and attained her PhD at the University of Illinois before undertaking postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Corfield Lectureship was established thanks to a gift from noted mathematician and Cambridge graduate, Nick Corfield (St John’s 1978), to encourage young women to study maths and to support the progression of female students and young researchers in their academic careers. Holly is the inaugural holder of the post.
On establishing the lectureship, Nick, who has been a generous donor to mathematics across Cambridge, said, “I hope my support facilitates the emergence of role model for talented women mathematicians and helps to redress the imbalance.”
Women have long been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) university courses and occupations. Although engineering and computer sciences attract the least number of women across STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), for every 100 people enrolling on a mathematics higher-education course in the UK, only 37 are women according to a report by STEM Women. 
Holly describes the role as “a mathematician’s dream in terms of the amount of time I'm able to dedicate to research”. However, she also strives — very successfully — “to take on the issues surrounding women in maths at a place and time where there is so much opportunity and support for progress”. She has co-organised a touring Women in Maths portrait exhibition, speaks at Cambridge recruitment days and brought world-class female mathematicians to visit and work in Cambridge. She initiated a regular 'tea' catch-up for women in number theory at Cambridge, emphasising the importance of keeping women in maths in touch with each other and their mentors and supporters.
I have only one hope for public talks — I want everyone to have one of those amazing moments where for all your life, you never knew or understood properly, and then suddenly, it clicks!
Holly’s activities extend beyond Cambridge, internationally and into the cybersphere. She is a regular contributor to the Numberphile YouTube channel, which has approximately 3.1 million subscribers and provides videos designed to suggest alternative ways of thinking about perennial mathematical problems. From Catalan’s Conjecture to the Mandelbrot Set, the Numberphile channel appeals to aspiring mathematicians of all ages.
Upbeat, down-to-earth and thoroughly engaging, Holly exudes an infectious love of her subject. As one viewer commented, “I’ve got the feeling that, all of a sudden, a lot of people are going to become very interested in maths.”
Holly is currently touring Australia delivering a series of Mahler Lectures. The inaugural Mahler Lecture Tour took place in 1991 and, in the 28 years since, Dr Krieger is the only woman to be appointed to the role, presenting lectures to students and academics in universities across the country, as well as several public talks.
Holly is passionate about speaking to mathematicians and laypeople alike: “I want everyone to have one of those amazing moments where for all your life, you never knew or understood properly, and then suddenly, it clicks! And not only does something new make sense to you, it makes so much sense that you can’t imagine never understanding it again. … I want everyone to see something that they’ve never seen or never understood, and really make it their own knowledge, for the first time.”
Her maths genius alone would propel Holly into a stellar career, but her ability to inspire is taking us all along for the ride. She is motivating a new generation of mathematicians, and, at the same time, helping redress the balance.
"The University of Cambridge is committed in its pursuit of academic excellence to equality of opportunity and to a proactive and inclusive approach to equality, which supports and encourages all under-represented groups, promotes an inclusive culture, and values diversity." — Equality & Diversity, University of Cambridge