The future Sheldon Coopers of America. Personal photo from 2014.
Historically, mathematicians never dealt with any students who were not legal adults. While now there has been an increase of math circles and (summer) math camps and math competitions (epsilon is greater than zero…), mathematicians working with and for those entities is NOT acknowledged in a meaningful way. Those activities, despite the significant amount of time they can take, are grouped under “service”: a miscellaneous category for anything that isn’t obviously teaching—specifically at your one and current employer—or research. These activities aren’t even preferred forms of service, deemed inferior to service to the department or the university.
You get more credit toward tenure volunteering to serve on a 10-person curriculum committee that spends 2 years identifying five new calculus textbooks than you do volunteering to spend two years worth of Saturdays leading middle-schoolers through non-traditional math activities.
Saturday morning in grad school with a study buddy. We were math people.
We as mathematicians seem practically hell-bent on removing the phrase “I’m just not a math person” from students’ vocabularies. Maybe that’s why they scream it so loudly and defiantly?
Math has so many tactical advantages over sports and the arts. Math is cheaper—you don’t really need special equipment or a whole lot of space or, unless a pandemic necessitates it, technology in the classroom. And politicians and administrators alike are convinced we need more STEM—our programs, unlike sports and arts, will not get cut any time soon. Yet while getting students to want to continue in math is like pulling teeth, they all would love to play a sport or dance.
It makes you wonder what they’re doing that we’re not.
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