MathFest 2018

This is a somewhat belated round up of this year’s MathFest. I got home from Denver and immediately left on vacation, and then the pre-semester meetings started, and now classes have begun, so I’d better get this out before I forget everything that happened entirely.

I wasn’t presenting or bringing students this year, just helping out with a couple of committees and attending talks, so it was a very low-key meeting for me. I saw some great talks and got to see some old friends, but I’d like to emphasize a couple highlights.

Through my chair I got tapped to help with the MAA minicourse committee. Which was probably the most entertaining bit of service I’ll do all year, because I got to sit in on the first half of “Card” Colm Mulcahy’s course on Mathematical Card Magic.

If you’ve never looked at the minicourses at the JMM or MathFest before, they’re four hour courses, split into two sessions over two days. They span a variety of topics, usually related to either pedagogy or recreational mathematics. I’ve taken a couple before: Carolyn K. Cuff’s lifesaving minicourse on teaching statistics, and the one that introduced me to the TIMES inquiry oriented curriculum. Both were full of practical, actionable ways to immediately improve my teaching, and they were well worth the sticker price. But I never felt like I would sign up for one of the courses that seemed more just for fun. Not like they’re that expensive compared to the cost of a conference, but I always thought I had to make sure my time and dollars were spent in as utilitarian a way as possible.

“Card Colm’s” Minicourse

So I probably wouldn’t have signed up for this minicourse, which meant I would have missed out on a lot. Even with a bad wrist, Colm showed a lot of neat card tricks and the math behind them. And moreover they were ones I could see bringing into my classes, or inspiring new colloquium topics, or even short student research projects. I’ve been browsing through his column archive ever since. I didn’t stumble across any of the legends of recreational mathematics until well after I left school; I think if I’d gotten some earlier exposure it might have given me a different impression of the mathematical community.

As for the other highlight, I should lead by saying I looked like this at MathFest.

The first and only bump photo I’ve taken.

For the standard pregnancy FAQ:

  • I’m due in the second half of November
  • We’re not finding out the sex ahead of time
  • I feel pretty good all things considered
  • Yes we’re very excited, thank you for asking.

So even though I couldn’t stay the whole time, I had to swing by the Mathematical Mamas: Being Both Beautifully town hall meeting, organized by Jacqueline Jensen-Vallin, Emille Davie Lawrence, and Erin Militzer.

Some of the topics discussed were ones I’ve thought a lot about, like how do you handle having a more flexible schedule than your partner, when flexible doesn’t mean dissolvable? On paper it might be easier for you to stay home with a sick kid, or bring everyone to the dentist, but you still have work to get done just like your partner with a traditional work schedule. Others I hadn’t even thought about, but really should: like how do you pump when you’re on an interview?

I think the most miraculous thing to me was that this discussion was taking place at a math conference at all. I had one female lecturer as an undergraduate, and knew of one female graduate student. There were a couple other women majoring in math, but it was never unusual for me to be the only woman in a room. The situation got better in graduate school, but nowhere near parity, especially when it came to tenure-track faculty. Now I’m in a department that’s not only majority female, but half mothers (if you include me, at least). The slow normalization of not just female mathematicians, but female mathematicians being successful parents, hasn’t stopped being kinda mind-blowing every time I stop to think about it.

I’d like to thank the organizers and panel participants and everyone who attended that town hall meeting. I can’t wait for the next one. I’ll definitely have some more questions by then.

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