Alumni profile

Emeritus Prof Jennifer Seberry

PhD Computational Mathematics, La Trobe, 1969

Pioneer in mathematics, cryptology and computer science

Emeritus Professor Jennifer Seberry is known as a pioneer in mathematics, cryptology and computer science. 

She was the first woman and first mathematician to complete a PhD at La Trobe, and is a member of the Class of 1969.

In her near 50-year career, Jennifer has trail-blazed in computer science and for women in science.

She says being a pioneer is not easy, as a number of factors worked against her throughout her career.

"I had to fight for everything. There wasn’t maternity leave, there wasn’t child care leave, there wasn’t school holiday leave," Jennifer said. 

"They’ve got unconscious bias. They just don’t think of women."

But she found a way to realise extraordinary achievements in her career. 

After graduating, Jennifer quickly achieved global recognition for her discoveries in areas of Hadamard matrices. Her findings helped NASA to improve the quality of pictures brought back to earth from space probes.

Not satisfied with her assistance with NASA, she co-invented a whole new area of Discrete Mathematics and went on to become the first woman reader in combinatorial mathematics in Australia.

In an Australian‑first, Jennifer introduced the study of cryptology to the University of Sydney in 1980. She is also the first – and only – Australian Fellow of the International Association for Cryptologic Research. 

Jennifer was a founding member of the University of Sydney’s Research Foundation for Information Technology Information Security Group in 1987. 

And she accomplished all of these things while remaining a prolific publisher throughout her career, with over 450 articles mostly in journals and books. Jennifer retired from her 23-year tenure at the University of Wollongong in July 2015.

Recalling her time at La Trobe, Jennifer said there was just one computer in the university when she was studying. 

"I used to have to put my program into the computer and then let the compiler do some work, and then put everything out on paper tape," she said.

"So I ran that computer every night for months. It was probably about three metres long and two metres high and a metre deep."

Beginning her career in a marginalised position, Jennifer notes that a resilient attitude is needed to reach heights she was able to.

"Never give up. There’s always something you can do," she said. 

"It may look like every path is blocked, but there will be a way if you think laterally and keep going. There will be a way."

Distinguished IT and engineering

Last updated: 2nd May 2019