Jessica Sidman

Jessica Sidman
Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

Jessica Sidman came to Mount Holyoke in 2003. She had just completed the first year of a prestigious NSF postdoc (one of only three given to a woman that year) and her University of Michigan Ph.D. was not quite a year and a half old. At Michigan, Jessica was a student of Rob Lazarfeld, a fabled algebraic geometer. At this time she was rapidly becoming central in a growing cadre of young algebraic geometers and there were many institutions hoping to have her join their faculty.

Today, Jessica Sidman is a prolific mathematician, an excellent teacher, a great colleague, and, to use Freeman Dyson’s classification scheme for mathematicians, she is a bird. Dyson wrote:

“Some mathematicians are birds, others are frogs. Birds fly high in the air and survey broad vistas of mathematics out to the far horizon. They delight in concepts that unify our thinking and bring together diverse problems from different parts of the landscape. Frogs live in the mud below and see only the flowers that grow nearby. They delight in the details of particular objects, and they solve problems one at a time.”

While, as Dyson maintains, mathematics is broad and deep and needs both birds and frogs, how lucky we feel to have Jessica Sidman, our very own mathematical bird, here on the faculty.

Jessica’s research areas of algebraic geometry and commutative algebra are some of the most exciting and fruitful in mathematics today, and Jessica’s work is in the front ranks of her field. Mathematicians describe her work with the adjectives “spectacular,” “brilliant,” “inspiring,” and “simply wonderful and beautiful.” But Jessica’s work has been about more than just discovering new mathematics: She is a mathematical scholar who reflects deeply on ideas and sees them in new, unifying ways. Her work has been central to the areas of algebraic geometry and commutative algebra because her mathematical taste is so good and because she has the ability to look at things from multiple and sometimes unexpected vantage points. She creates the bridges that lead to new and richer applications and extensions of mathematical thought. Other excellent mathematicians have flocked to work with her and her list of coauthors is impressive for its extremely high quality.

Jessica is renowned for her expository skills. One mathematician writes: “She tops everyone’s list. I really do not know anyone who is a better lecturer than her.” She has presented at conferences all over the world in France, Italy, Norway, and Canada, and has given a series of lectures at all the most prominent research institutes for mathematics. While Jessica’s list of publications is extraordinary for its length and breadth, she has not stinted in her engagement with every aspect of her faculty role: teaching, advising, supervising independent students, supporting the work of the math/stat department, and contributing to the governance of the College.

Jessica’s students praise her enthusiasm, her approachability, her preparation, and her energy. But most of all they feel as one student writes: “I have learned more mathematics in this math class than I ever did in all my years of taking math classes.” Her students work hard to keep up with the demands of the material in her classes, but overwhelmingly they report that they have learned a great deal. Jessica has guided numerous independent studies and honors projects and has supervised two summer research groups in the department’s Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates.

For all these achievements and with our most heartfelt congratulations, we are so pleased to award Jessica Sidman the Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship.