In this contributed blog post Alvaro Cornejo and Kayla Harrison reflect on the experience having attended MathFest 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Was it worth attending the conference?
Alvaro: Definitely. I got to see so many different perspectives on mathematics and as an undergraduate, I think that is important. I was even able to see how people are making mathematics more inclusive by becoming advocates and mathematicians. I enjoyed that there were so many topics on mathematics and that everyone there wanted mathematics to be open for anyone and everyone. As I want to go into academia, it was very cool to see how people gave these talks and were all very passionate about their topics. It was nice to see the world of mathematics outside of the lecture hall and was reinvigorating to my dreams. For instance, the last performative piece in the jubilee that was a dance about being told that you “were not smart enough” for math and it really touched me. It made me realize that I can push through and that I am good enough for mathematics despite being told that I was not by people along the way. MAA Mathfest has really solidified my passion for mathematics.
Kayla: Yes MathFest was totally worth attending. Being an undergraduate math major, many of my mentors and professors only know the career path of becoming a professor, however, I am not interested in working in academia. Because of this, I have not really known what sorts of opportunities are available to math majors other than those in academia. At MathFest, I really liked how there were many groups, organizations, and companies with job opportunities in math (other than academia), that were in the exhibition hall. This was really cool for me because I can not only network and put myself out there, but I was also made aware of the many career paths math majors can have other than going into academia. Not only were these organizations/companies in the exhibition hall, but I really enjoyed that there were talks and panels about career paths in Business, Industry, and Government (BIG) for math majors. These talks and panels were really helpful for me, because as a rising senior in college, this is the kind of information that I have wanted to know for a while but did not have the connections with people who have these experiences.
What was your experience presenting your mathematical work?
Alvaro: It was nerve-racking, but rewarding. As this summer was the first time that I had done math research and given a talk on mathematics, I had no idea what to expect. When we tried to put everything into a presentation I was surprised by the amount of information my group and I had learned over the summer. My sense of imposter syndrome subsided as I realized that we all know the background of our research since we all put the work into knowing the material. I was very proud of all the work we put into the planning of the talk, which really helped me feel less anxious when presenting.
Of course I still was nervous when practicing the presentation. I found that practice made me talk and feel better about it. While practicing our group mentor Professor Barrios reminded us to keep in mind the audience and to remember when we were first learning all the material. From then on it became clear to me that the main goal of this talk is to teach. This is something incredibly powerful and helped remind me why I want to go into graduate school. I want to keep learning to teach others, and to be a role model for minority students like me that they too can continue to learn and teach mathematics. After giving the talk, it felt very rewarding. I had a glimpse of what I want to continue to do in my life and felt very included in the process. It left me very hopeful on my future and made it clear that this is a goal I have.
Kayla: When doing the research, sometimes you get stuck on something and think that you have not really made any progress in you work. However, when it came to presenting, I think that really helped me and my group realize that we really have accomplished and understood a lot in such a small time.
Presenting my work was such an amazing experience. I learned a lot about how to be as detailed and concise as possible so that our audience understands enough and remains engaged in our talk. I also learned that presenting my work is really not as intimidating as I thought it would be. Going into my talk, I was pretty nervous that people would ask a bunch of questions about my research and I would not know how to answer them. After giving my talk, I came to realize that I have learned a lot this summer and I really know what I am doing/talking about.
Presenting my work really was a confidence booster, because I feel like I have experienced the ‘imposter syndrome’ and have been really insecure about my place in the math community. So, when I presented my research, I finally felt a sense of inclusion.
What do you wish you had known before attending MathFest?
Alvaro: Don’t forget a notebook and pencil, and make a schedule before hand if you can. There are so many cool talks, and many happening at the same time. So plan out a few that you would like to go to get the most out of each time section of the conference. Also, a pencil and notebook were very helpful for jotting down notes of the talks, book references, emails, links. I tried to use my phone but I always remember things better writing things down. I also wish that I had known of this conference earlier in my undergrad. There are so many cool topics and I had no idea about this conference, and I hope that maybe more undergraduates can come to this.
Kayla: I wish I had known that each day is so jammed packed with events that you have to make a schedule of talks and things you want to go to. This was a bit overwhelming, but pretty cool because you always have something to do and there is always a cool talk to attend.
Any last thoughts?
Alvaro: I enjoyed MAA Mathfest, I got to see different perspectives and topics on mathematics. As an undergraduate, I forget that the world of mathematics is so vast and there is still so much to discuss within this community. Seeing mathematicians be great presenters and advocates was really inspiring and as something I want to become. I feel like I learned about the opportunities and got the chance to connect with other people. I am very glad I got a chance to attend this conference.
Kayla: This was such a great experience for me, and I recommend that all undergraduate math majors try to attend. There are so many cool talks and panels to go to, which could really get students interested in different areas of mathematics. There are also many opportunities to meet other math majors and math professors from around the country which gives you a chance to make new friends and network. I felt like I learned a lot about the endless opportunities math majors have and that really excites me about my future in mathematics!