Welcome to the Living Proof: Stories of Resilience Along the Mathematical Journey blog! We are so happy you’re here.
Living Proof is a project that was borne out of interactions Matthew Pons had with a number of his students. One semester, Matthew had a strong cohort of women in his Analysis class. He was impressed with their work–their ability to grapple with the course material, try problems, learn from their failures, and seek help when they needed it. From his perspective, they were succeeding. Unfortunately, from their perspectives, they were failing. They felt like mathematics shouldn’t be so hard, that the fact that it was difficult for them must mean that they aren’t intelligent or aren’t cut out to study math. Matthew tried to reassure them that everyone struggles–that he himself struggled with the subject as an undergraduate–but they brushed aside his encouragement. Perhaps they assumed that he was being dishonest just to make them feel better. Perhaps they assumed that his struggles couldn’t have been as bad as their own. In any case, Matthew thought, “If they don’t believe me, who would they believe? Maybe they can’t identify with me because I am not a woman. Maybe they can’t hear what I am saying because I am their professor.” This gave Matthew an idea. He needed to collect stories from a wide variety of mathematicians about times that they faced crises of confidence when they were in school. So, he got to work assembling an editorial team and reaching out to people to ask them to tell their stories.
With tremendous support from the AMS and the MAA–especially Steve Kennedy, MAA editor and the project’s biggest cheerleader–the Living Proof dream became a reality. Stories of struggle and resilience, told by 41 mathematicians, were shared in a book that was made freely available by both organizations. But there are many more than 41 of us in our community. And people aren’t defined by a single story–there are so many stories we can share. This is why we felt it was important to start the Living Proof blog. We need to continue sharing our stories. We need to hear new voices and hear about different types of struggles. We need to hear more people talking about the same struggles so that people who are just now beginning to live through these experiences know that they are not alone. Our ultimate hope is that someday–perhaps years from now–someone tells the story of how what got them through their biggest challenge on their own path to becoming a mathematician was reading the stories of so many others in Living Proof.