This Math…

Presidents of the AWM at the banquet (courtesy of the AMS).

“This math is happy/ this math is practical/ from Galois Theory/ to Elliptic PDE/ from Lattice Crypto to Probability/ this math was made for you and me.” These lyrics, sung at the banquet for the AWM 40th Anniversary Conference to the tune of “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land”, convey, pretty accurately, the general atmosphere of the conference: it was fun, mathematically diverse, and a lot about celebrating how far women have come in mathematics. In this post, I will briefly describe my experiences at this conference.

The conference was held at Brown University on September 17 and 18, and hosted by ICERM – the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics. There were about 300 registered participants (not all women, by the way), 4 plenary lectures, 18 special sessions, and 33 graduate student and recent PhD posters. The action-packed schedule was unfortunate in some ways, because I ended up missing many talks I wanted to see. For example, I went to all the plenary lectures and the poster sessions, but then I pretty much parked myself at the Number Theory special session. There was also a Cryptography session and a Combinatorics and Graph Theory session that I was sad to miss.  On the other hand, what a great feeling to know that there is just too much mathematics being done by women right now to fit into a day-and-a-half long conference, right?

I also had the exciting opportunity of being able to present a poster of my research. I am pretty used to giving talks by now, but posters are a recent thing for me. This seems to be a trend in “women in math” conferences these days (although I might be wrong about this). The one other time I presented a poster was at IPAM’s Women in Math Symposium, and every year at the Joint Mathematics Meetings the AWM has a poster session for graduate students. I think this new trend is actually a really good one. This gives us a chance to present a lot of research in a short amount of time, and it is much more interactive than just giving a talk. The people who come up to your poster do so because they are already interested in the topic, and the types of questions asked are usually really interesting (and have even given me new research ideas.) Even though I have zero evidence for this statement, I bet that this is also a great way to minimize stereotype threat, a big concern for anyone trying to get more women and minorities to become mathematicians.

As with all conferences, another huge part of the experience was just being able to interact with people. Every time I go to a conference, I get to reconnect with people I met before, solidify some old connections, and make brand new ones. At this conference, for example, I was able to pin down some ideas for future research projects (with women!) that I’m really excited about. I also got some mentoring (without really expecting it) about balancing research and teaching, planning for an upcoming pre-tenure leave, and preparing tenure materials. Of course, these things could happen at any conference, but there is something to be said about getting guidance from people who understand your situation, both professionally and socially. Much like with the special sessions, however, I felt that there were too many people I knew and wanted to talk to but didn’t really get a chance to (and again, what a great problem to have!).

At a time where t-shirts like this are still being designed, it is good to know that there are plenty of role models out there for young women, that mathematics is as perfectly “womanly” a career as any other, and that this math WAS made for you and me. Here’s hoping there will be many more of these anniversary conferences (although I propose we pick a more interesting number, not a multiple of 10, for the next one), and less stupid t-shirts.

For the youtube video of the AWM 40th anniversary song, as performed by Maria Basterra (UNH), Rebecca Goldin (George Mason), Tara Holm (Cornell), Kristin Lauter (Microsoft Research), Ami Radunskaya (Pomona College), and Sue Tolman (UIUC), go here.

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