Living Proof: A Must-Read

The AMS and MAA have recently published a phenomenal collection of essays entitled “Living Proof: Stories of Resilience Along the Mathematical Journey”, edited by Allison K. Henrich, Emille D. Lawrence, Matthew A. Pons, and David G. Taylor. The book is free, and features an astounding group of contributing authors. The stories are organized around common themes in the experiences. Part I is about math getting hard and people hitting a wall. Part II is about struggling to belong in math (and is particularly well aligned with the goals of this blog). Part III is about persevering through and overcoming difficulties. And Part IV is about the sometimes challenge of integrating our mathematical identities with the rest of our lives.

Enjoy. Reflect. Be the change you want to see in our community.

 

Table of Contents:

Foreword, Stephen Kennedy

Preface, Allison K. Henrich, Emille D. Lawrence, Matthew A. Pons, & David G. Taylor

Part I: Mathematics Just Suddenly Feels Hard! 1

1 In the Deep End in Algebra, Deanna Haunsperger. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
2 The Road Less Traveled?, Lloyd Douglas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
3 Help Will Always Be Given at Hogwarts to Those Who Ask for It,
Allison Henrich. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
4 I Don’t Know What I’m Saying—Using Language as a Model for
Embracing Mathematical Struggle, Steven Klee . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
5 A Complex Conundrum, Matthew Pons . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
6 An Accidental Mathematician, Jennifer Quinn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
7 Nowhere to Go But Up, Lola Thompson. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
8 Hitting the Wall, Laura Taalman. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
9 To Algebra or Not to Algebra, Jacqueline Jensen-Vallin. . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
10 The Unnecessary Struggle of Self-Mandated Isolation,
Alicia Prieto-Langarica . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
11 The Struggle of Qualifying Exams, Alejandra Alvarado. . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

Part II: Who Are These People? Do I Even Belong? 35

12 I Am a Black Mathematician, John Urschel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
13 Cold, Austere, or Queer, Autumn Kent. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
14 A View of Mathematics from Behind the Veil, Robin Wilson. . . . . . . . 43
15 When You Are Told You Can’t: Do Just the Opposite, Angie Hodge. . . 47
16 Look for the Helpers, Jennifer Bowen. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
17 Good, But Not on the Team, Tim Chartier. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
18 Othering and Such Climatic Joy Killers, Arlie Petters. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
19 Black, Female, … Bigger, Candice Price. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
20 Moving Beyond Affirmative Action for Men, Alice Silverberg. . . . . . . . 65
21 Struggling with the Messaging of Mathematics, Rachel Weir. . . . . . . . 68
22 The Harassment Is Real, Pamela Harris. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
23 Sustaining Through Mathematics, Donald Cole . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73

Part III: Can I Really Do This? How Do I Muster Through? 77

24 Good Things Come to Those Who Shower, Robert Allen. . . . . . . . . . . 79
25 Winning by Impression, Robin Blankenship . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
26 A Walk in the Park Isn’t Always a Walk in the Park, David Neel . . . . . 84
27 Just Don’t Bomb the GRE, Amanda Ruiz. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88
28 Sometimes When Your Hopes Have All Been Shattered,
Nick Scoville . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
29 The Compassion Is Life-Changing, Hortensia Soto . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
30 A Close Call: How a Near Failure Propelled Me to Succeed,
Terence Tao. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
31 Oh My Darlin’ Clementine, David Taylor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
32 A Dream Almost Deferred, Emille Davie Lawrence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104

Part IV: What Do I Do Now? What Happens Next? 107

33 Mathematics, Beauty, and Creativity: How I Learned to
Stop Worrying and Love Mathematics, Victor Piercey. . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
34 Five Dollars, Colin Adams . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
35 Am I “Good Enough”?, Christine von Renesse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
36 My Journey from Slippery Rock to Duluth, Joe Gallian. . . . . . . . . . . . 117
37 Failure By the Numbers, Dominic Klyve. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120
38 How I Learned to Research Like the Incredible Hulk
(or I’m Always Angry), Robert Vallin. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
39 Anxiety Attacked Me, But I Survived, Ken Millett . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
40 It’s Like a Jungle Sometimes, It Makes Me Wonder How
I Keep From Going Under, Christina Eubanks-Turner. . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
41 Should I Quit Mathematics?, Francis Su. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134

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SET Theory: On reading student evaluations of teaching

The school year is over, commencement has come and gone, grades are in, and the summer lies ahead of us, with all of its promise of research or rest or travel, and only one potential obstacle looms in the horizon – the dreaded teaching evaluations. We have all been traumatized and scarred by teaching evals at some point in our lives. If you’re in a privileged position like mine, with tenure, chair of your department, and no promotion coming any time soon (I am only eligible to go up for promotion in like three years), you can avoid the trauma using one simple trick: just don’t look, until you have to.  You know no one else will, either. But this is not the case for early career tenure-track faculty, postdocs and other visiting faculty, or for “tenure exempt” faculty (Linse, 2017). The fact is that so-called Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET) are still heavily used for reappointment and promotion, and sometimes requested by hiring committees. But another fact is that this data could potentially be useful even to senior faculty – for our own teaching but also as colleagues and mentors to these more vulnerable faculty. Last week, I attended a workshop at my institution run by my colleague in Chemistry Dr. Lynn Mandletort, designed to help us make the most of these teaching evaluations. In this post, I summarize some of my main takeaways from this workshop, and some suggestions and resources for further reading.

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Challenge for JMM2020

tl;dr I am challenging AMS and/or MAA to invite and promote a speaker and/or panel to a main stage to openly discuss the very real issues facing marginalized members of our community.

For the past two years I have been invited by the AWM to participate in their panel related to activism or inclusion. Being on panels is always somewhat awkward for me. My main claim to fame is (if you will) my self-expression. This only counts as activism or in any way noteworthy because of the (toxic/oppressive/erasing) context in which I live. I don’t participate in or research initiatives. I am not on any front lines (except when the front lines come to my inbox). Yet because of the specific things I say, people invite me onto their platform. I respect that, which is why I say yes, but I always feel out of place.

At the panel this year, the first question was asking us for practical ideas. I (repeatedly) declined to comment. When I did speak, the first thing I said was that I hate these panels. Every AWM panel I’ve attended has contained a self-selecting audience, disproportionately women, people of color, and I imagine queer. We, who can not breathe the air of academia without choking, sit in a room and discuss the poor quality of our environment and we ask ourselves what *we* can do.

While this important yet discouraging conversation ensues, I have to ask myself do the AMS and MAA actually care? Are they doing anything to challenge the status quo? Note, this is a different question from asking whether they promote inclusion. For instance, inclusion/exclusion is hosted by the AMS, but they officially have no stance on what we say here, and it’s certainly very easy to be a mathematician and not know about our blog. It is my personal opinion that the AMS and MAA and a large number of mathematicians are more or less supportive of our goals, but are simply not willing to take risks in the name of justice.

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Karen Uhlenbeck: Congratulations and Thank You

Dr Karen Uhlenbeck is the 2019 Abel Prize winner for “her fundamental work in geometric analysis and gauge theory, which has dramatically changed the mathematical landscape. Her theories have revolutionized our understanding of minimal surfaces, such as those formed by soap bubbles, and more general minimization problems in higher dimensions” [Hans Munthe-Kaas, Chair of the Abel Committee, photo credit Andrea Kane IAS].

Uhlenbeck is the first woman to receive this award, though “it’s far from the first time she has broken through a glass ceiling” [Erica Klarreich, Quanta Magazine]. In a NY Times interview about this award, she claimed Julia Child as a role model, which seems like a perfect comparison to me because both Uhlenbeck and Child are bold and original thinkers who changed the world simply by insisting on being themselves in it and by knowing that the world needed to grow space for them to be.

I do not know Uhlenbeck particularly well, but she was a powerful voice in the department when I was a graduate student at UT Austin. I first noticed something distinctive about the department on my campus visit as a prospective student. Compared to my other experiences, the graduate program seemed significantly more diverse and supportive. In particular, I got a sense on that first day that women and people of color felt more at home in the department than at other programs and that (all of) the graduate students valued and felt bolstered by this diversity. The department was and is by no means perfect, and I’m certainly more sensitive to some marginalizing factors than others, but I could tell that something was different here. Building and sustaining this kind of culture takes many factors and agents acting together, and Uhlenbeck was a central pillar, like a force of nature for growing this community.

As the UT News piece about her award identifies, Uhlenbeck was part of creating multiple, ongoing, formal programs that support the mathematics community. But Uhlenbeck also did this work through all of her informal relationships with us as graduate students. When I heard of this award, I was immediately reminded of the ways that these former graduate students continue to mention the impact that Uhlenbeck’s support had on them over the years, so I asked them to contribute reflections. In what follows, you will find stories of the profound good that she did through both subtle and explicit acts of human decency. I hope readers will feel challenged to be the kind of advisor and mentor Uhlenbeck was to each of us.

Karen, thank you, from all of us. –Brian P Katz (BK)

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Moving from what and how to who: Using instructional analytics to create an inclusive mathematics classroom

Guest Authors:
Daniel L. Reinholz, Robin Wilson, and Amelia Stone-Johnstone

Introduction, by Daniel Reinholz

As mathematicians, we think deeply about what mathematics we want to share with our students. We think about all of the beautiful aspects of the discipline that they might be interested in. As mathematics educators, we also think about how to help our students learn these ideas. We do our best to develop meaningful activities that can engage our students in the deep work of really doing mathematics. It takes considerable expertise to understand mathematics and to teach it well. At the same time, it can be easy to overlook who gets to participate in the activities we create. When we facilitate a discussion, how do we make sure all students are getting a chance to participate? How do we keep track of the students who do have access to opportunities to learn in our classrooms, and what do we do when we notice some students don’t seem to be getting a fair chance? This blog post focuses on one tool, EQUIP, that can help address these issues (see Reinholz & Shah, 2018; Reinholz, Bradfield, & Apkarian, in press).

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Posted in equity, gender research, implicit bias, inclusive pedagogy, introduction, latinx in math, math education, minorities in math, participation, supporting students, teaching | Leave a comment

An Existence Proof: The Mathematicians of the African Diaspora Website

Guest Authors:
Erica Walker, Scott Williams, and Robin Wilson

In Mathematics, more than any other field of study, have we heard proclamations and statements similar to, “The Negro is incapable of succeeding.” Ancient and present achievements contradict such statements. One of the purposes of this website is to exhibit the inaccuracy of those proclamations by exhibiting the accomplishments of the peoples of Africa and the African Diaspora within the Mathematical Sciences.[1]

Over twenty years ago, SUNY Buffalo Professor Scott Williams took it upon himself to create a website in the early days of the internet that would provide African Americans with access to the many, little told stories of African Americans mathematicians.  He called the website the Mathematicians of the African Diaspora.  At the time, most images of African Americans in popular culture were of athletes, actors and musicians, and little information was available about African Americans in the Sciences, let along in Mathematics. This website is being updated and modernized and the new version is available at www.mathad.com.  In this article we share reflections from three authors, including Scott Williams himself, on the importance that the Mathematicians of the African Diaspora Website has had on their lives and careers, and on the American mathematics community in general.

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Posted in history of mathematics, introduction, mathematics experiences, minorities in math, racism, STEM | 1 Comment

Diversity, equity, and inclusion at the JMM 2019

The year is coming to a close, and for mathematicians that means that the Joint Mathematics Meetings are just around the corner. This year, the meetings will be held in Baltimore from January 16-19, and we are expecting about 5000 people to descend on Charm City.

I was recently told by someone that they were “eagerly awaiting” the inclusion/exclusion roundup of diversity and inclusion events, talks, panels, receptions, happening at the meetings, similar to what we did for the last JMM. Not ones to disappoint our readers, we are happy to comply.

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The STEM Inclusion Study: What we’ve learned so far

Guest Post by Helen G. Grundman, Director of Education and Diversity, AMS

About a year ago, the American Mathematical Society (AMS) agreed to take part in the National Science Foundation-funded STEM Inclusion Study.  The study’s goal is to identify potential mechanisms of disadvantage at the interpersonal, organizational, and professional levels in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.  It is the first large-scale, national-level study to simultaneously examine the experiences of women, racial and ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning individuals working in the STEM workforce.  The study has two phases: first a survey of large samples of the members of participating STEM Inclusion Study logoprofessional organizations, then in-depth interviews with selected survey participants. By participating in the study, professional organizations not only guaranteed that their members will be represented in the broad results of the survey, but they also received a summary of their member’s answers to a small subset of the survey questions.  The summary provides some insights into the beliefs and experiences of our members, specifically concerning their places of work, but does not provide any of the details that researchers expect to glean from follow-up interviews with a smaller sample of the survey participants.  (Note that for most of this analysis, only respondents who were employed at the time were included, with graduate students included only when comparing responses across employment sectors.)  The goal of this post is to share the results in the summary received by the AMS.

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Converging on a Solution: A Playwright’s Path

Guest Post by Corrine Yap

Uniform Convergence is a one-woman play, written and performed by mathematics graduate student Corrine Yap. It juxtaposes the stories of two women trying to find their place in a white-male-dominated academic world. The first is of historical Russian mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya, who was lauded as a pioneer for women in science but only after years of struggle for recognition.  Her life’s journey is told through music and movement, in both Russian and English. The second is of a fictional Asian-American woman, known only as “Professor,” trying to cope with the prejudice she faces in the present. As she teaches an introductory real analysis class, she uses mathematical concepts to draw parallels to the race and gender conflicts she encounters in society today.
– synopsis that was included in the MAA MathFest 2018 program

In 2016, at a graduate school open house, I was told by a math professor that I would fit right in because they had “a large group of international students from China.” I responded, “Oh, I’m not international; I’m from Missouri.” He replied, “Well, yes, but it would be a good group for you.” Throughout my life, I’ve had many little exchanges like this. Uniform Convergence was not born out of these experiences but rather out of my struggle to discuss these experiences (and race in general) with other people.

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Girls Talk Math: Not Your Ordinary Math Camp

Guest Post by
Francesca Bernardi & Katrina Morgan
girlstalkmath@unc.edu
http://girlstalkmath.web.unc.edu/

Programs supporting girls in STEM are becoming more and more common. But we believe there is a gap in these offerings: General STEM programs tend to leave out the M, at least in the way that a mathematician would define Mathematics. Most of the math centered programs for girls focus on students at the undergraduate level or higher. The math programs for high school girls that are out there tend to be designed for the top students who are competitive enough to win a spot.

The 2018 Mathematical Epidemiology group working together to develop their own disease spread model

These programs are important as they offer much needed support for talented young girls, but what about the girls who think they’re not good at math? We know they’re out there. Research has shown that girls as young as 3rd grade start to believe they struggle with math even though they perform as well as their male peers who see themselves as capable. If we want to address the low number of female mathematicians, we can’t limit outreach to high schoolers who managed to make it past the first hurdle.

The reason that more girls don’t enter mathematics is not simply that they didn’t have the opportunity to study it. Women and minorities do not see themselves represented among mathematicians and therefore do not see the field as one that is available to them. Underrepresented groups also often report feelings of social isolation that contribute to decisions to leave mathematics. When we dreamt up the Girls Talk Math summer camp, our goal was to create a program that not only introduced high school girls to fun and exciting mathematics, but also addressed the issues that we know would prevent these girls from continuing in mathematics. No one program can address every barrier girls face in entering mathematics or engage every under-confident student, but we wanted to reach some of the young women who underestimate their mathematical abilities to increase their confidence. We developed a non-traditional math camp with the goal of attracting non-traditional math students from a variety of backgrounds. We hope our approach, the lessons we have learned from implementing it, and our camp curriculum (now freely available online) will be useful to others engaged in similar outreach initiatives.

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