Australian mathematics trailblazer honoured with UQ honorary doctorate

10 Jan 2018
Professor Cheryl Praeger (left) and UQ Dean of Science Professor Melissa Brown (right)

University of Queensland (UQ)-educated mathematician Professor Cheryl Praeger, AM, was once told by a government vocational guidance officer that girls “would likely fail university maths”.

Undeterred, she has carved out a distinguished international career in maths, and last month UQ Deputy Chancellor Tonianne Dwyer conferred Professor Praeger with the degree of Doctor of Mathematics, honoris causa during the December graduations. 

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said that Toowoomba-born Professor Praeger was a trailblazer on many fronts, after graduating from UQ in the early 1970s with first class honours, the university medal in mathematics, and a masters degree, before she attended the University of Oxford, attaining a second masters degree and a doctorate.

 “At times the most highly-cited pure mathematician working in Australia, Professor Praeger has conducted world-leading research on group actions and their applications to the study of networks, combinatorial designs and geometry, as well as randomised algorithms for fast computation with complex symmetric structures,” he said. 

“Her pioneering work is in the vanguard of the finite simple group classification, demonstrating how this ground-breaking result has dramatic consequences spanning algebra, combinatorics and other mathematical areas. 

“In 1983, seven years after beginning work at The University of Western Australia, Professor Praeger was the first Australian-born woman appointed as a full professor in mathematics at any Australian university.”

Her citation also noted that Professor Praeger was the first female president of the Australian Mathematical Society. 

She was the first Australia-based executive committee member of the International Mathematical Union, the first pure mathematician to receive an Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship, an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society, a foundation board member of the Australian Mathematics Trust, and a core member of the first Australian Prime Minister’s Science and Engineering Council.  

Professor Praeger has published with over 150 co-authors in many countries and fields, held visiting appointments in six countries, and filled editorial positions on numerous international journals. 

Through Australian and overseas service, Professor Praeger has supported women in mathematics, advocated for school maths at all levels, and promoted the discipline in emerging economies. 

Having supervised dozens of research students (who are now working in industry and academia in Australia and other countries), she has earned Australian Government recognition for “developing the gold standard in mathematics research supervision”.

Professor Praeger is Foreign Secretary and Council member of the Australian Academy of Science.

Her state, national and international fellowships, memberships and accolades, include Honorary Life Membership of the Australian Mathematical Society, Honorary Membership of the London Mathematical Society and awards and honours from seven global universities. The Australian Mathematics Trust has created the Cheryl Praeger Medal - a new annual award for female secondary school maths students.