As I write this, it’s been nearly a week since the conclusion of the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Denver. Over the past week, I have been decompressing (well, as much as one can decompress when classes started two days after returning), but I have also been reflecting. There is so much preparation that goes into just attending a 5-day conference. So much so that I know many mothers who forego the JMM altogether because leaving their responsibilities of home life is too much of a burden. Moreover, for those of us who do manage to go to the JMM, there can sometimes be a question of should I go. My spouse is not in academia and works a “9 to 5” job in tech, so in particular, taking time off to travel with me and our children to conferences is not really in the cards for him. That means when I am away, he is at home being solo dad to two kids–a job that he would never complain about…out loud.
At any rate, away I went from Tuesday to Saturday night, which is a long trip for me. I caught up with lots of math friends, attended several meetings, was a panelist for two panel discussions, gave a talk on gerrymandering, and co-organized along with Della Dumbaugh and Carrie Diaz Eaton an AMS Special Session on Mathematics and Motherhood. It’s that last one that I’ll dig into a bit more here. I cannot overstate how awesome it was. We had 7 speakers giving their take on the subject followed by a panel discussion which was hands-down the
best panel I’ve had the pleasure of attending, but more on that later. I was blown away by all of the speakers. To mention just a few, Heidi Berger talked about how she uses mathematics to help guide the treatment of her son Isaac who has Down’s Syndrome. She has even made his diagnosis a central focus of her math modeling course. Tiffany Kolba talked on how the birth of her fraternal twins spurred her research in the probability of double ovulation. Roseanna Gossman wore her newborn as she talked on her research on the fluid dynamics of childbirth with her toddler in the audience sleeping in a stroller. I was awestruck! As I sat in the audience, I could not help but marvel at the strength, sacrifice, and general badassery of the women on stage.
Then came the panel discussion. Let me tell you, we somehow landed the Dream Team of panelists. I knew it would be good, but I didn’t know how good until I was in the room. Karoline Pershell (AWM Executive Director), Karen Saxe (AMS Associate Executive Director) and Talithia Williams (Harvey Mudd College) were so generous and open with their comments about their lives and their decisions and non-decisions surrounding their positions as leaders in the field and motherhood. They made us think, and they made us laugh out loud with the synergy of old familiar friends. I could not have asked for more…but more I got!
As if on cue, Talithia’s young son, Micaiah, ran on stage and became the fourth panelist–from under the table, of course. Absolutely perfect!
So, how do I feel about my JMM experience? It was a magical time with math friends and acquaintances. I felt energized and uplifted and hopeful for things to come. And I missed my family like crazy. It will probably always be a mixed bag of feelings for me. Looking forward to sleeping in a king bed alone for a few nights but also tearing up a little on my pillow. That’s my life as a Math Mama. Tell us in the comments about your JMM experience!
Just wanted to say thank you for the whole Math and Motherhood Special Session, I am always looking for places where mathematicians also get to be humans, and this was that in spades. I really appreciated the way that human things (having twins) led to math things (statistical analysis) and vice versa. I loved all the laughter and realness and felt like maybe things are going to be okay. I keep thinking about Karen Saxe’s description of the department she tried to build (a place people and their families want to be) and I hope to be part of such a thing someday. Thank you thank you.