To Appear in ORMS Today
A Year as a Science Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard

Anna Nagurney
Radcliffe Institute Fellow
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
34 Concord Avenue
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
John F. Smith Memorial Professor
Department of Finance and Operations Management
Isenberg School of Management
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, Massachusetts 01003

As my year as a 2005-2006 Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University draws to a close I thought that I would offer some of my reflections as to this unique experience to the operations research/management science community. I was one of a dozen Science Fellows, with fifty-one Fellows total, from disciplines ranging from physics, biology, medicine, material science, computer science, and mathematics in the sciences, to historians, economists, philosophers, independent writers, playwrights, literary scholars, film-makers,   political scientists, an anthropologist, a sociologist, a lawyer, a  composer, a choreographer, and a linguist, among the "non-scientists." The Radcliffe Institute was founded in 1999 following the merger of Radcliffe College and Harvard University and unlike the former "Bunting Institute" it is not limited to females. This year there are eleven male Fellows; two of whom are spouses of other Fellows, and one of whom is a priest.

The fellowship is a "residency fellowship" and, in order to accept it, I had to turn down a one-semester Fulbright in Canada.  I became one of  two Science Fellows representing Mathematics, with the other one being Pierrette Cassou-Nogues, who is a pure mathematician from Bordeaux, France. The Fellows' offices are in Radcliffe buildings and mine was in Putnam House, which is located on Brattle Street directly across the street from the American Repertory Theater. Putnam House is more of a "home" with fireplaces in many of the offices and a large communal work area on the first floor. Two physicists, the Becker sisters, who are string theorists, as well as Rachel Goldman, a material scientist, and the cluster team of Barbara Scholz, a philosopher, Geoffrey Pullum, a linguist, and James Rogers, a computer scientist, also had offices in Putnam House.

In addition to work on one's project, the major fellowship activities this year consist of three lunches per week at the Radcliffe Institute main building, located at 34 Concord Avenue in Cambridge,  seminar presentations, and various brunches, wine and cheese parties, teas, and dinners. The Monday lunch each week is preceded by a presentation by a Fellow on his/her fellowship project. The Wednesday afternoon seminars, also given by the Fellows, are open to the public. In addition, this year there were spontaneous get-togethers to, for example, celebrate accomplishments, as well as  fellow-instigated panels on writing and trauma.

We are a varied group this year with both academics and non-academics in the "mix." Some are Assistant Professors whereas others hold named Chaired Professorships. Some are parents with young children, whereas others are single. Several of us are spending most of the year away from our spouses (and even children). Fellows come from the Northeast, the Midwest, the South, and the West of the US and this year there are two international Fellows. Quite a few of us have rented apartments provided by Radcliffe Housing which means that we  see each other readily outside the formal activities and  our offices.

This was a year in which we dined with President Larry Summers at his home before he resigned, and in which it seemed that the rain would never end. It was also a year in which a Fellow, Geraldine Brooks, received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (propitiously) two days before her prescheduled Radcliffe seminar while a former Fellow, Caroline Elkins, received the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction. Within a week, Radcliffe Fellow Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist, had been elected into the National Academy of Sciences, and Radcliffe Fellow Mary Waters, a Harvard sociologist, had been elected into the Academy of Arts and Sciences. Several Fellows finished writing their books -- the Becker sisters their co-authored book on string theory, and I my book on supply chain network economics and the dynamics of prices, flows, and profits. Others made major progress on their projects. Sarah Sze, a sculptor,  has her exhibition now at the corner of 59th Street and 5th Avenue in NYC whereas one of Lee Breuer's theatrical productions is taking place in Greece this month.

We all made new friendships and found  common language in our disciplines, struggles, and successes. We listened to one another's seminars, which spanned the spectrum of low to high-technology modes of delivery (with some Fellows preparing their very first Power Point Presentations) but kept us captivated throughout as we gained deeper insights into psychomatic illnesses, the evolution of butterflies, the influence of Alexander the Great in the Far East, and the death rituals among the slaves in Jamaica. We learned that we are all, in a sense, writers, in that we prepare journal articles for publication, write books of non-fiction or novels, and/or proposals for funding, etc. Most importantly, we supported each other and laughed, oftentimes, uproariously, as we shared our stories of academic (and other types of) politics, the inner drive to create, and, especially,  to try to discover new knowledge. We gathered new strength in an environment unencumbered by committees and many other duties and one in which we reveled in one another's creative accomplishments.

One may ask, why would a operations researcher on her sabbatical not prefer to  interact with others from the same discipline or, at the very least, with other scientists and engineers or, at least, mathematicians? I can say that some of the most interesting questions after my seminar came from "non-scientists," and some of the presentations that I found very profound and even haunting were by the "non-scientists." I had wanted to somehow recreate the Bellagio Research team residency that I had held in March 2004, where the Rockefeller Foundation funded two of my collaborators and me for a two week period, complete with our own villa at the Bellagio Center on Lake Como, Italy. While there, my research team, consisting of a female pure mathematician and another applied mathematician, interacted with poets, historians, civil rights activists, and a photographer, among others. My  research team members have been visiting me for the past several weeks at Harvard, with additional support provided, in part, by the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard, while we continue to break new ground in the modeling and analysis of dynamic networks with applications ranging from congested urban transportation networks to the Internet. We have also  met new colleagues at Harvard and have started a new collaboration. The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study is the only institute in the US, that I am aware of, that supports simultaneous residency fellowships from different disciplines.

The best experience of the year was in interacting with so many creative and energetic individuals  who possess an  incredible  work ethic and dedication to their projects and the fellowship. The nurturing of our souls and minds through conversation, food, and seminars will have an impact on the Fellows personally that outlasts the fellowship year; I expect that the research and creative outcomes will endure. We were and are a community.

Traveling back and forth to Amherst to see my family on most Fridays and weekends was itself quite the transportation experience since I commuted on a weekly basis using the "T" to get from Harvard Square to South Station, and then the bus to UMass Amherst. I did my part for the environment and got a tremendous amount of work done  without uninterruptions during the bus ride from eastern to western Massachusetts, allowing also for a transition from being a "city" mouse to a "country" mouse. My doctoral students visited me several times at Harvard and also came to my seminar. We kept in close touch and saw each other regularly as well during the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter Seminar Series, which also brought a fellow Fellow, Rina Dechter, to Amherst to speak, as well as such well-known INFORMS members as Ed Kaplan of Yale, Irv Lustig of ILOG, and Georgia Perakis of MIT.

We are not the same individuals who arrived last September at Radcliffe. Having been dropped off by my husband and by my, then eleven year old daughter, Alexandra, at my apartment in Cambridge last September, I had a feeling similar to that of being a "freshman" again with the mixture of anxiety as to the newness of it all, coupled with anticipation and excitement. Would I find congenial Fellows to eat lunch with; would my seminar on dynamic networks be appreciated by a general audience; would I manage without my family beside me? Next week, I will partake in the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study graduation ceremony on May 24, at which we will receive our certificates. The connection to Radcliffe will continue, since the Institute has informed me that the exploratory seminar on dynamic networks co-organized by David Parkes and me has received funding for the Fall of 2006.

Thank you, the Radcliffe Institute, for the incredible experience and thank you, Radcliffe Fellows, for your wonderful humanity. If only there were more such institutes in the US!

For the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study homepage, see:

For the list of the 2005-2006 Fellows, see:

Last update: May 20, 2006