Raise your hand if you were just rejected by the NSF! Fun times, right? I don’t know about you, but I like to celebrate such occasions with a full re-evaluation of all of my life choices. So of course, I am currently wondering whether I should stay in academic math. It’s a question I have been asked and I have asked myself way more often than my more successful or more white-male-type colleagues have (as far as I can tell). When you don’t fit in, whenever there is some sort of friction, suddenly you have to justify your continued presence.
I wasn’t always wondering if I should do math. In fact, I loved math and was comfortable being associated with math for my entire childhood. College was the first time I hit a set-back. I immediately quit math and moved on with my life. That is, until I un-quit and decided to go to graduate school. Ever since then, I have had two strong and conflicting feelings about being in math.
As many of us look forward to the sense of community at the Joint Meetings this week, we should remember that conferences include many situations that are fraught with the danger of harassment and alienation, especially for people in our community with less power or privilege. We can be better.
This short post was inspired by the attention that has recently publicized harassment and marginalization issues at Political Science, Psychology, and other disciplinary conferences. Below, you will find list of articles, ranging from first-person narratives to survey research to suggestions for code-of-conduct policies. Because the articles below are from other disciplines, I thought I would share three short anecdotes that I have observed at math conferences to help connect with these articles.
Last week, Bates hosted speaker Susan Burch, from Middlebury College, for a workshop called “Learning for EveryBody: Inclusive Teaching and Curricular Practices”. I was lucky enough to be able to participate in the interactive session and later have dinner with the speaker, and in this post, I wanted to first share some of the main ideas from the workshop, and also some of my own ideas on how this could be applied to the mathematics classroom.
A few weeks ago I attended the 2017 Field of Dreams conference. This is the annual gathering of Scholars and Mentors of the Math Alliance. I wasn’t really aware of this group until about a year ago, when I heard about it from Edray Goins. Even then, I don’t think I understood the reach and the power of the alliance until I attended the conference. With this post, I hope to bring more attention to the important work being done by the Math Alliance and their sponsors.
This keeps happening to me:
Student: When did you decide to become a calculus teacher?
Me: I didn’t, and I’m not.
And then I laugh reassuringly and explain that they are at a research university and that their professors are people who decided they wanted to do research. Many of us do also enjoy and care about teaching, but the way the system works we are basically discouraged from caring too much about teaching. I tell them that the idea is that those doing cutting-edge research in a field are inherently valuable as mentors, role models, and educators simply because we might have the ideas, perseverance, and dedication to make it in academia. Of course, this is a highly flawed philosophy. (Some of this was discussed in Edray’s post which you should read if you haven’t already.)
(Guest post by Emily Riehl.)
A few months ago, after our post for Pride month, the i/e editorial board reached out to Spectra to request a guest blog post. That led to the wonderful interview that follows, which was conducted during the Floer Homology and Homotopy Theory summer school, co-organized by Mike and at which Emily spoke, that was held at UCLA in July.