In Memoriam Jeroen Witteveen (1980 – 2015)

The quiet academic summer was interrupted yesterday by the tragic news of the death of a young mathematician, Jeroen Witteveen, from the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam. He was only 34 and worked in uncertainty quantification.

http://www.cwi.nl/in-memoriam-jeroen-witteveen

I did not know him personally, but can’t help wondering what brought this young and talented person to the desperation of ending his own life. Was it personal or work hardships? Perhaps both? Perhaps neither? We will probably never find out. But I also can’t help wondering what, if anything, can universities and institutes do in order to support their staff when they go through personal or emotional difficulties. A few years ago, when my fiancé was working at a not-very-large US university, he kept receiving email notifications from the university head about suicides on campus. This happened several times a year and the number of suicides amounted to an annualised rate of about 0.1% of the campus population of that university. Not infrequently, it was someone he had heard of, or knew someone who knew the person. The academic world is small, and one campus is even smaller. And yet there are all these people who become so sad they decide to leave the world, and at least for some of them perhaps something could have been done to help them be a little happier.

P.S. This blog is mainly about the work and life of mathematicians, and about fun mathematics. But then, death is part of life… Perhaps, as my fiance put it, when a young mathematics postdoc chooses to die, this may be “the ultimate manifestation of personal and career difficulties”…

 

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