Cohen-Corwin, Amy

Areas of Interest: 
Korteweg-deVries equation, cubic Schrodinger equation on the line, and improving undergraduate education, especially for future teachers.
My Story: 

In some sense my career path began with an honors calculus sequence at Harvard University. The first three semesters were both challenging and beautifully taught. The fourth semester started challenging and ended almost unintelligible to most of us. I decided then that I wanted to learn mathematics and teach it, but that I did not want to let my enthusiasms for the subject make my teaching inaccessible to my students. Harvard was like the Marine Corps – very tough, but preparation for surviving future terrors.

I chose Harvard for my undergraduate education because I “got in” and because it has the reputation of being “the best”. I chose U.C.-Berkeley for graduate school because a faculty member there recruited me as a future scholar. The other school that recruited me promised to find me a suitable husband!!

Later, at a low point in my graduate work, I considered changing direction and becoming a marine biologist. A more serious diversion from a standard professorial career came after I was promoted to full professor. Frustrated by the difficulty of balancing serious interest in education with research in a university that seemed to care only about research, I tried academic administration. After two years as Vice Chair and Undergraduate Director in my department, I became Dean of University College (the Rutgers unit for returning adult students seeking undergraduate degree) for six years. This experience was valuable, but in the face of personal crises I returned to teaching and research in my department.
The most influential person in my career was my Ph.D. advisor. He caught me when I was about to quit mathematics and set me to reading research reports, describing their content to him, and trying to solve problems these reports had left unsolved. After my degree, he and I published several joint papers. As I was changing research directions, he introduced me to a post-doctoral fellow who was also looking for a new focus – thus starting me off on another productive collaboration. My advisor was a true mentor, long before that term became fashionable. He helped me find jobs; he helped me negotiate the professional ladder; he was the model of a compassionate mathematician.

My father, also a mathematician, was also a major influence in my life. He raised me to believe in myself and to believe that mathematics was an accessible intellectual discipline. He surely did not believe that mathematics was a suitable job for a woman. Nonetheless, he rose above his beliefs and helped my make my way. My mother had been, so she told me, a Bohemian in her youth. But supporting my father as a faculty member at the University of Kentucky during the Depression, she came to believe that conformity was the price of economic and social survival.

My first marriage lasted ten years; its impact was important by not positive. It ended just as I was embarking on the research that would earn me my tenure. My second husband was an exceptionally strong research mathematician, but also a thoroughly decent and caring human being. I learned a lot from him. My son, now 27, has also taught me much, especially how to “have a life” as well as a job.

My grandparents and my mother were all Jewish immigrants. My family lived through the Great Depression and experienced the extensive anti-Semitism of the thirties and early forties. They saw the rise of Nazi and Communist regimes, World War II, and the McCarthy era. It is not surprising that I have a rather severe sense of obligation to my fellow human beings and a severe fear of authoritarian tendencies in government. Nor is it surprising that these feelings influence my commitment to good teaching and to good university governance.

The greatest challenge in my life did not come from my career, but instead came in my personal life. My dad died at age 89; he had been ill for some time. He left me the care of my 86-year-old mother, who was exhausted from caring for him and who had never been independent. My husband died at age 49, exactly 27 days after my father. His death was sudden, only four days after a catastrophic separation of tissue layers in his aorta. He left me the care of our 11-year-old son. At the time I was Dean of University College and trying to cope with a budget crisis. Adversity may sometimes build character, but more often it drains the energy and optimism needed for productive work. I survived. I returned to a standard faculty job, and have enjoyed it. My son is pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics.