A mathematician’s mission statement

By Pamela E. Harris and Julianne Vega

Companies and organizations are driven by their mission statements. These mission statements provide a concrete summary of what they value and what they work to achieve. Take for example the following mission statements:

American Mathematical Society
The AMS, founded in 1888 to further the interests of mathematical research and scholarship, serves the national and international community through its publications, meetings, advocacy and other programs, which

  • promote mathematical research, its communication and uses,
  • encourage and promote the transmission of mathematical understanding and skills,
  • support mathematical education at all levels,
  • advance the status of the profession of mathematics, encouraging and facilitating full participation of all individuals,
  • foster an awareness and appreciation of mathematics and its connections to other disciplines and everyday life.

Mathematical Association of America
The mission of the MAA is to advance the understanding of mathematics and its impact on our world.

Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science
SACNAS is an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in STEM.

It appears that the use of mission statements in the mathematical sciences is primarily used by organizations. Yet mission statements provide a strong way for mathematics students (at all levels) and, maybe more importantly, for academics to center their work and their efforts.

Why do we do what we do?

If the “doing” refers to mathematics, we may answer that we love mathematics. Of course, why else would one become a mathematician? But truly there is more a career in mathematics than just mathematics. (Gasp!) For many of us this work involves teaching, mentoring, and building community and opportunities (broadly defined as service). In fact, answering this question is the start of an individual mission statement. Being able to precisely say why we take on certain work and lines of study and how it aligns with what we value helps in a multitude of ways. Let’s look at some of the benefits of having an individual mission statement.

Centering the work you (currently) do
It happens often that we are asked to get involved with some program/project that sounds like a great idea and is valuable. We quickly jump on board, potentially not even taking the time to think about how it aligns with our current and future goals. This seems common within many academic settings, especially as we begin to explore what work we want to achieve in our careers. A mission statement allows us to center the work we do and allows us to concretely state the goals we are working toward.

Connecting with a greater sense of purpose
Think about a typical day. How often do you go home and think, “Wow, I really made a difference today” or “I did meaningful work today”? We would venture that the answer is not often yet that won’t change what a typical day looks or feels like because there is a greater sense of purpose that continues to motivate daily routines. Creating a personal mission statement provides grounding in that sense of purpose. Continually reflecting on and modifying a personal mission statement highlights the greater purpose behind our daily actions.

Clarifying your intentions and goals
There are a handful of mathematicians whose mission statements evidently guide their work. Whether implicitly or explicitly stated, their intentions are clear. For example, Dr. Candice Price has her service mission statement listed on her website, and her many outreach and service activities clearly support her statement:

“My service mission statement is to create and contribute to programs that broaden the participation of underrepresented groups by focusing on strong mentoring and research networks. Thus, I am interested and participate in programs that promote broadening participation in the mathematical sciences and I am on the organizing committee for Underrepresented Students in Topology and Algebra Research Symposium (USTARS).” – Candice Price

Another mathematician who provides his mission statement is Dr. Mohamed Omar, who has dedicated substantial time to disseminating mathematical content via his YouTube channel and more recently via TikTok @profomarmath:

“Dr. Omar’s mission is to change the world from math phobic to math loving, fiercely devoting his life to inclusion in mathematics.” – Mohamed Omar

Another example that comes to mind is Dr. Francis Su, whose mission statement is not explicitly stated but feels ever-present. His recent work with Mathematics for Human Flourishing and “The Lesson of Grace in Teaching” evidences a desire to present mathematics for all and to help others see that math is for them.

All of these mathematicians provide strong examples of the benefits of having a personal mission statement which guides their actions. When you think about their reputation alongside their accomplishments everything aligns towards their personal mission statement. One question still remains:

How do you write a personal mission statement?

When an individual’s mission statement is clear and present in the work that they do, they attract like-minded individuals and begin to build a network that strengthens and supports their own goals. Boiling down your life’s purpose into a few sentences may sound quite overwhelming. And it certainly is overwhelming. Nevertheless, an individual’s experiences, involvements, and personal strengths provide great insight into what their personal mission statement is. Writing a personal mission statement is less about creating it from scratch and more about discovering what it is. One way to discover yours is by thinking about your motivation, your personal strengths and your accomplishments. To get you started think about the following guiding questions:

  • What are you most proud of in your life?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What are your personal strengths?
  • What goes into the decision making for the work you take on?
  • Is there a common theme in your work?

Self-reflection is paramount in creating an individual mission statement. Although the process of creating a personal mission statement requires introspection and time, it will pay dividends for your future endeavors. We hope that this post, along with the sample mission statements presented, inspire you to draft your own mission statement as you reflect and think deeply about the work you are doing, why you are doing it, and how that may change at different points in your career.

If you have a mission statement feel free to add it as a comment below.


References

  • https://www.inc.com/rhett-power/4-reasons-why-you-need-a-personal-mission-statement.html
  • https://www.fastcompany.com/3026791/personal-mission-statements-of-5-famous-ceos-and-why-you-should-write-one-too
  • https://drjulieconnor.com/write-a-personal-purpose-statement/



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