September 7, 1948 -
Cheryl Elisabeth Praeger, born in 1948, was raised in Queensland. As a member of the faculty at the University of Western Australia, she has held a number of positions, including lecturer, senior lecturer, head of the mathematics department, and finally Personal Chair and Dean of Postgraduate Research studies. Besides her position at the University of Western Australia, Praeger has held a number of visiting positions at institutions around the world, and nearly fifty guest lectureships. Within the past three decades she has published over 100 articles and has two books to her name. In addition to being a wife, mother of two, and professional academic, Praeger has also been involved in countless outside activities.
Influences on Praeger's academic success began as early as her primary education. Having been educated in an atmosphere that revered and encouraged learning, she was the first person in her family to extend her education beyond the secondary level. She was also the recipient of over 12 scholarships and academic awards. In 1974 she received a doctorate degree in mathematics from St. Anne's College, Oxford. She then accepted a Research Fellow in the Department of Mathematics at the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Australian National University. In 1976 the University of Western Australia offered Praeger a position as a Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics. There she climbed the "ladder" through promotions from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer, then straight to Professor, to Head of the Department of Mathematics, and most recently to Dean of the Postgraduate Research Studies in 1996.
As an educator, Praeger's style has evolved, but her love for learning and her desire to help others has remained constant. In her first experience as a research supervisor, she designed the project for the student and they met weekly to discuss difficult concepts. Eighteen years later, as Dean of Postgraduate Research Studies, Praeger's style as a supervisor evolved tremendously. For example, her goals for each research student are for the student to formulate her or his own research projects, to write mathematics well, and to present their work orally in formal and informal settings. With an increase in the number of Ph.D. students, the University of Western Australia has introduced a Postgraduate Students Center where postgraduates meet and utilize the available resources. The office of the Dean of Postgraduate Research, adjacent to the Center, and the Dean specifically serve as a focus for the postgraduate students, a liaison to the college faculty, and a representative for postgraduate interests in college policies.
Praeger's research interests focus on finite and infinite permutation groups, algorithms for group computations, finite group theory, algebraic graph theory, applications to algebraic number theory, applications to experimental design, design theory, and finite geometry. She has received over fourteen research grants from the Australian Research Council, the Science and Engineering Research Council (UK), the National Security Agency (USA), the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, and the University of Western Australia. During her career, Praeger has been invited to speak at over fifty lectures or conferences and has been the key-note lecturer at over ninety percent of those lectures and conferences. Some of the more fascinating locations in which Praeger has spoken include, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Morocco, Slovenia, Oberwolfach, France, Germany, USSR, Belgium, and Japan. While researching and giving lectures, she still finds the time to be editor, associate editor, or reviewer to at least ten publications. Currently she serves as associate editor to Ars Combinatoria, Australasian Journal of Combinatorics, Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics, Journal of Combinatorial Designs, Designs, Codes and Cryptography, and Aequationes Mathematicae.
Praeger is a member of the Australian Mathematical Society, Combinatorial Mathematics Society of Australasia, Institute for Combinatorics and its Applications, Australian Mathematics Trust, American Mathematical Society, and the London Mathematical Society. Her past affiliations have not been limited to academia. She has also been a member of the Curriculum Development Center of the Commonwealth Schools Commission, Science Advisory Committee, WISET Advisory Committee to the Federal Minister for Science on participation of women in Science, Engineering, and Technology, UWA Academy of Young Mathematicians Lectures, the Western Australian School Mathematics Enrichment Course Tutor, and Data Analysis Australia Pty Ltd. As one can imagine from her already impressive list of accomplishments, Praeger dedicated herself to each of these projects, serving as President, Vice-President, Chair, or Director to many of them during some point of her affiliation.
Praeger's "free" time consists of promoting the involvement of women in mathematics by encouraging girls in primary and secondary schools with lectures, workshops, conferences, and through FAMPA. Praeger was key in implementing FAMPA, an acronym for the Family Maths Program Australia, in the local primary schools. She has also served on the Australian Federation of University Women (Western Australian Branch), the Nedlands Primary School Council, and the University of Western Australia Collegium Musicum. A member of the Uniting Church of Australia, Nedlands Parish since 1977, she has functioned as an elder (1981-1987) and organist (1985-present.) In addition to her doctorate in mathematics, Praeger also holds an A. Mus. A. in piano performance. She lists keyboard music among her stronger interests along with sailing, hiking, and cycling.
You can read about Sims's Conjecture, proved in 1983 by Peter Cameron, Cheryl Praeger, Jan Saxl and Gary Seitz, at Theorem of the Day by Robin Whitty.
Read an extensive 1999 interview with Cheryl Praeger conducted by Professor Bernhard Neumann for the Australian Academy of Science series on "Interviews with Australian Scientists".
Update (May 2020): Cheryl Praeger was appointed as a Member of the Order in 1999 for her service to mathematics in Australia, especially through research and professional associations. In 2003 she received the Centenary Medal of the Australian Government. She served as Deputy Dean for the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics from 2003 to 2007, and since 2007 has been an ARC Federation Fellow. Praeger was a member of the executive committee of the International Mathematical Union from 2007 to 2010. In 2015 she was selected as an inductee into the Western Australia Science Hall of Fame "for her outstanding contributions to the field and her work encouraging the involvement of women in mathematics. As Australia's most highly-cited pure mathematician many of her algorithms have been incorporated into powerful computer algebra and transformed the way in which algebra is taught and researched." In 2019 Praeger received the Prime Minister's Prize for Science. She is currently Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Western Australia. In 2017 the Australian Mathematics Trust began awarding the Cheryl Praeger Medal to the best performing female contestants in the annual Australian Mathematics Competition.
The May 2020 newsletter of the International Mathematical Union Committee for Women in Mathematics contains an interview with Cheryl Praeger about her successful career and personal life.
Photo Credit: Photograph used with the permission of Professor Brendan McKay, Australian National University