HMS

Jenna Race

Jenna Race

Born in Würzburg, Germany • Birth year 1986 Studied Mathematics at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, USA • Highest Degree Associates of Science in Business Administration • Lives in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, USA • Occupation Associate Communications Specialist at Metro Transit

From an early age I easily understood patterns that baffled my peers. Because of this I gravitated toward Math. In my early years in school, I was a great student with top marks in all my classes. Things changed in tenth grade when I developed bipolar symptoms. My GPA (US grading scale in high school) plummeted. I eventually failed nine classes including statistics and pre-calculus. After that, Math did not seem like the field for me anymore. Still, my heart’s desire was to pursue math, and I have never given up on that dream.

This class changed everything. It was the spark that re-lit the fire. It brought back the childlike wonder and awe I had for the beauty of mathematics.

I started college shortly after high school. My mental health symptoms continued to get in the way and I did not do well. After years of hard work and dialectical behavioral therapy I learned to manage my symptoms and regain control of my life. I decided to resume higher learning with a new-found confidence. I started at Century College in January 2019 as a first-generation, non-traditional student. However, I did not allow those facts to interfere with my progress. Finally, I was the student I always knew I could be. I dove deep into my classes and actually excelled! I decided to study business, having accumulated ten years of corporate work experience in customer service and answering business correspondence. My first two semesters were filled with general classes, but College Algebra came in fall 2019. This class changed everything. It was the spark that re-lit the fire. It brought back the childlike wonder and awe I had for the beauty of mathematics. I poured my heart and soul into that course and maintained a 99% for most of the semester.

With all my momentum and excitement, surely I would succeed again… until I didn’t.

I have heard many people say that math is so stressful to them that it makes them cry. In contrast, I have wept with wonder when recounting how the universe makes sense when math proofs are worked out. Math is the only subject I see myself pursuing for the rest of my life. This led me to update my college major to Mathematics. I made this change in April 2020: the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In spite of the pandemic, I continued to excel in classes. I eventually earned my first degree in May 2021, an Associates of Science in Business Administration. It was in fall of 2021 when I was done with business that I took the class that I always dreamed of: Calculus I. I was especially excited to take that class with my College Algebra professor. With all my momentum and excitement, surely I would succeed again… until I didn’t. I studied for hours and devoted myself to class but was not as successful as I hoped. By the end of the term, I earned a grade of 70%. Although I was eligible to take Calculus II the next semester, I took my instructor’s advice and retook the class. I am glad I took his advice because I did much better the second time and was more prepared for Calculus II. I took Calculus II in fall of 2022. With lots of preparation I excelled in the course.

For a time, I considered quitting, but I never let my struggles win.

Knowing how alone I felt as a female, minority, non-traditional, first-generation college student navigating mathematics during the pandemic, I wanted to give back to other students in similar situations. I was able to do that by becoming an organizer for OURFA2M2, the Online Undergraduate Resource Fair for the Advancement and Alliance of Marginalized Mathematicians. This is one of my proudest achievements since starting my math journey.

I wish that I could say that it was all downhill from there, but it was not. My last 3 semesters have been the most challenging of my math journey. That’s when I took Calculus 3 and Differential Equations. At the same time, I changed jobs and experienced significant changes in my personal life. For a time, I considered quitting, but I never let my struggles win. After 5 years, I am about to graduate from Century College and continue my mathematical journey at a four-year university. I know I will struggle in the future, but my experience so far has shown that I am tenacious and can tackle any challenges that come my way.


Elements of the first three paragraphs of this text are based on a book chapter by Jenna Race in “Read and Rectify: Advocacy Stories from Students of Color in Mathematics”, edited by Pamela E. Harris, Ph.D., and Aris Winger, Ph.D., whose permission has been obtained before publication.

Posted by HMS in Stories
A Grandmother’s Lasting Gift

A Grandmother’s Lasting Gift

by Anna Konstorum

When the team at Her Math Story reached out to me to share my story, I was honored for the opportunity. I wrote about my non-linear path through biology, biomathematics, and data science. I also wrote about my early inspiration to do mathematics, which came in part from the time I spent solving mathematical problems with my grandmother during my childhood. After I submitted my story, I thought more about the purpose of Her Maths Story, and about my grandmother. The stories shared by the participants of Her Maths Story are meant to inspire, and to show women the many paths taken by those that came before them, and to also give voice to stories that may not have been told otherwise. And, I thought, the woman who most inspired me to do math has a story herself worth sharing, which I am once again honored to do in these spaces.

My grandmother was a high-school mathematics teacher and eventually vice principal for the majority of her career. She was a kind, warm woman, who shared her love of math with me through fun mathematics games and activities, creating a space where math was something to look forward to and enjoy in good company. Yet, her kind and gentle nature belied an incredibly difficult life, her family lived through Stalin’s Great Purge and the Holocaust, and had to grapple with rising anti-semitism in Stalin’s post-war Soviet Union. Through all this, she was able to pass on to her children and grandchildren a gratitude and appreciation for the many beautiful things life has to offer, and part of that inheritance that I am incredibly grateful for was the love of mathematics that she shared with me. I share her story here in hope to inspire readers to see the beauty of what they are working towards, whether in mathematics or elsewhere, in spite of the difficulties we all face. I want to share the richness of the inheritance she left me.

My grandmother, Innessa (Inna) Bashneva, was born in 1923 in Minsk, Belarus, or what was then the ‘Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic’, only recently born itself after the Russian Revolution and ensuing civil war. She came from a Jewish family, indeed, her father’s original last name has been Rutgauz, but as a young revolutionary, his codename had been ‘Bashnev’, which means turret in Russian. He eventually changed his last name to this, a not uncommon practice at the time. By the time Inna was born, her family had managed to find stability in the new regime, with her father working for the local government and her mother staying at home to raise her.

Everything changed during what became known as Stalin’s Great Purge in 1937-1938, where in his quest to consolidate power, Stalin ordered the deportation, imprisonment, or execution of real or suspected rivals. One night in 1937, with only the children at home, the secret police came to take my great-grandfather away, the family found out later that he had been shot. Immediately after, her mother Esther went to stay with friends for her safety, and 14 year-old Inna had to care for her brother for several months while her mother was in hiding. When Esther returned, she went back to work as a nurse to support herself and her children.  The family was branded as ‘vragi naroda’ (enemy of the people), which would make it more difficult to obtain a good education, jobs, or healthcare.  Such families were shunned out of fear of association, Inna had many friends in school who had also been branded as such, and they had to rely on each other for comfort and friendship.

My grandmother at age 18, just before the war broke out.

I will pause my story to explain that she never spoke about these, and ensuing, events with me, they were shared with me by my father. But if I calculate correctly, it must have been during this tumultuous time, at the very latest, that her love for math must have been born, for in a few years time, and under very difficult circumstances, she would make the choice that would lead her to spend the rest of her life doing and teaching mathematics.

In late spring of 1941, my grandmother attended her high school dance with other students to celebrate the end of the school year, and of their high school education. The next day, the Germans invaded, and the family had to flee. Her younger brother was in a summer camp at the time, and they did not see him, or know of his whereabouts until after the war. They fled first by foot, then by train, and ended up in the town of Biysk in central Russia, located 4,500 kilometers east of Minsk.

Although my grandmother was now a refugee from the war, she was also still a young, ambitious, and intelligent woman who had just finished high school. She and her mother would spend the next four years in Biysk, and Inna enrolled in the Biysk Teachers Institute (which is now a University) to study mathematics education. When the war ended in 1945, the family returned to Minsk, where my great-grandmother and her sisters, whose husbands had also fallen victim to the Great Purge, pooled their resources together to build a house for themselves and all their children. Inna, upon her return, enrolled in the Belarusian State University to continue her education in mathematical pedagogy.  Gregory Konstorum, a friend who had been at their high school dance, had made it back from the front only in 1946 as he had been recovering from injuries he had sustained during the war. When he returned, he found that he had lost most of his family to the German occupation. He and my grandmother were reacquainted, and married shortly thereafter.

A school trip to Moscow with teachers and students. My grandmother is center bottom. My father, who also attended the same school, is just behind her.

After Inna graduated from University, she became a high school mathematics teacher, eventually rising to the role of vice principal. In addition to teaching classes in algebra, geometry, and calculus, she also taught more advanced students elements of probability theory and programming, as well as helped to prepare them for mathematics competitions and to take entry exams for some of the top technical universities in the U.S.S.R.  I once asked my father if she ever considered furthering her own education or doing research in mathematics. I remember a pause, and then a reminder that her family were still ‘vragi naroda’, that she was lucky to have had such a good education and a good job, especially as my grandfather struggled to find work after studying for a law degree due to another Stalinist clampdown, this time on Jewish intellectuals. I understood.

She was beloved as a teacher and a vice principal. Long after her retirement, she would correspond regularly with several former students by mail. She was known for her kindness, her generosity, and her goodwill. Upon her retirement after almost 40 years of teaching mathematics, she focused all her energy on helping her sons with their young families (I had been born just a year earlier).

In the early 1990s, my parents and I immigrated to the United States. It was a difficult and risky process, and yet almost immediately after we arrived, my father started laying the groundwork for Inna and Esther, who were still in Minsk, to join us in our new home. In the meantime, I was struggling. The long immigration process left me feeling uprooted and confused by all the changes, which slowed down my progress in learning English, and in making new friends. I didn’t fully comprehend the geopolitical forces that led my family to make this great leap in order to give me the chance for a better future in the U.S.  My parents at the time were working hard to get a foothold themselves into this new world, and while I didn’t want to make things harder for them by acting out, seeing their challenges may also have prevented me from reaching out to them for more support. 

About three years after we moved, Esther and Inna were finally able to join us, and they moved in with us. I watched in amazement as my grandmother, approaching her 70th birthday, leaned into her new surroundings, and began to learn everything she could about her new world, taking me with her in the process. She would listen to the radio for hours working to pick up the nuances of the English language. Whenever we went to the store, she would talk with the cashier, practicing her newly learned language skills.  She embraced with open arms what I was so determined to reject.

My junior high school ‘graduation’, with my grandmother standing proudly by as I display my Honor roll ribbons.

And then, there was the math. Possibly readers will think of a stereotype of an Eastern European mathematics teacher, drilling her sole pupil to the pinnacle of mathematical achievement. That was not her though, she understood that was not what I needed. Instead we would pick out math games and puzzles at specialized stores that we could work on together at home. Back at the house, we would sit on the floor, unpack our new purchases, and play. I recall that she would only converse with me in English while we worked through the problems in order to also strengthen my language skills, even though it was more difficult for her. While I no longer remember the specific problems we worked through, I do remember the feeling of joy, peace, and challenge as we made our way through the puzzles.  I remember my anxiety falling away in those sessions, replaced by a focus and engagement with the problems.

My grandmother passed away when I was 14 years old, after a long battle with a cancer that returned after a first diagnosis in the former U.S.S.R. As per her character, throughout this time, she maintained a kind and graceful disposition. As if the cancer, just like the Germans and the Soviets, was unable to change or quench her generous and good spirit. In the four years that she had lived with us, I had transformed from a cynical young girl to an Honors student with many prospects and dreams for the future.  Her role in that transformation was vital.

Recently, I have begun to think anew about the time Inna spent studying mathematics in Byisk, as war was raging all over Europe and in her home country. I wonder if during those unimaginably dark times, she found respite in the beauty and joy of studying mathematics. That she found something that she could do, enjoy and share, and that would help guide her way forward. And then many, many years later, when she found her own granddaughter in need of a ballast, she gave her the gift she had so much needed and received in those times.

Although my career in applied mathematics is a journey that has had many highs and lows, I find that seeking out the joy in my work helps to center and focus my thoughts and priorities – it is as if my grandmother is still reminding me to stay with the beauty and challenge, that it can help to guide my way forward.  And for that gift, I am forever grateful.

Posted by HMS in Blog
Marta Pittavino

Marta Pittavino

Born in Cuneo, Italy • Birth year 1987 Studied Mathematics at the University of Turin, Italy • Highest Degree PhD in Biostatistics from the University of Zurich, Switzerland • Lives in Venice, Italy • Occupation Assistant Professor with Tenure-Track in Statistics at the University Ca’ Foscari Venice

I have always been passionate about exploring the world of numbers and graphs, finding their intricate patterns and relationships fascinating.

Thanks to my scientific high school education at “Liceo Scientifico Giuseppe Peano”, I was exposed to all the historical and classical branches of mathematics, including Algebra, Geometry, Analysis, and more, with a high degree of knowledge and depth. I was taught important methods for solving equations and performed well in these subjects.

Mathematics was like a game to me: MatheMagics, a sort of puzzle where connecting different pieces represented solving equations, revealing the solutions behind them and the underlying functions.

My Master’s thesis involved developing an epidemiological model to represent a disease in goats.

I pursued Mathematics for both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. My Master’s thesis involved developing an epidemiological model to represent a disease in goats. It was particularly brilliant, receiving two academic recognitions: the Best Master Thesis in Mathematics of the current Academic Year and the Caligara Prize, awarded to Interdisciplinary Master Works with an applied focus. These two awards gave me the ‘wings’ to fly toward the beginning of my academic path.

Therefore, I moved to Switzerland to pursue a Ph.D. in Applied Statistics at the University of Zurich, focusing on the study of Additive Bayesian Networks (ABN) for System Epidemiology. ABN is an innovative methodology that deals with multivariate data, analysing the interconnected and hidden relationships between variables. This marked my first step in transitioning from applied mathematics to statistics.

Mathematics and Statistics are two sides of the same coin, each indispensable and valuable.

Mathematics and Statistics are two sides of the same coin, each indispensable and valuable. On one side, there is the rigour and elegance of formulas, accompanied by foundational knowledge and methodology. On the other side, there is evolution through the modernity of digitalization and concrete applications. Statistics, particularly when applied, is a subject primarily developed using statistical software for data analysis. Additionally, data visualisation is a crucial initial step in comprehending the context. When conducted directly with a tool, it is the outcome of digitalization.

I have always compared my PhD journey to a hike. The peak of the mountain represents the completion of the thesis, or equivalently, the submission and even better, the publication of a scientific paper. I often had the impression that reaching the highest point of the mountain was not possible. This feeling was often demotivating. Overcoming this required strength, determination, and a bit of ambition to finish the task and not give up on the goal. However, the immense satisfaction of completing the PhD ultimately rewarded all the previous effort.

I continued this journey with a PostDoc in Applied Statistics for Nutritional Epidemiology at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Lyon, France. The project focused on studying the relationship between two types of cancer and B-Vitamins intake, involving the development of a Bayesian hierarchical model that accounts for the complexity of the data, including measurement error, disease models, and their intake distribution.

As I began sharing my knowledge, passion, and experiences with them, the joy and gratitude reached their zenith when I observed the students understanding new topics and expressing profound appreciation.

Postdoctoral positions are particularly delicate as they involve a transitional phase in one’s career. At the conclusion of the contract, there may not be a conferred title or a guaranteed position. Therefore, the qualities of strength, determination, and ambition mentioned earlier become even more critical. These attributes are essential for persisting with the research project and not succumbing to challenges, thereby maintaining the original objectives.

After spending a couple of years in France amidst the challenges of academic life, I returned to Switzerland and took on the role of a Scientific Collaborator. This position swiftly evolved into a Senior Lecturer role. Over the course of 6 years, I was affiliated with the University of Geneva, where I taught various courses in Statistics and Mathematics at both the Bachelor and Master levels, delivering lectures in both English and French. Additionally, I served as the Scientific Coordinator of the Master program in Business Analytics. 

The first time I embarked on teaching, I felt utterly lost during the preparation phase, a mix of thrill, excitement, and emotion engulfing me afterward. The moment before entering the classroom consistently brought a sense of forgetting my own knowledge, a feeling that dissipated upon seeing the students in front of me. As I began sharing my knowledge, passion, and experiences with them, the joy and gratitude reached their zenith when I observed the students understanding new topics and expressing profound appreciation. These moments stand out as the happiest and most rewarding aspects of my day, constituting a meaningful part of my teaching career.

In this current position, my focus has been on investigating statistical techniques and analyses for demographic studies, particularly on the ageing of the European and Italian population.

During the period in Geneva, my research interests transitioned from biostatistics to philanthropy, exploring specific statistical methodologies highly relevant to that discipline. My shift in research interests expanded further during my role as an Assistant Professor at the University of Florence, a position I held for 10 months just before transitioning to my current role as Assistant Professor with Tenure-Track at the University Ca’ Foscari Venice. In this current position, my focus has been on investigating statistical techniques and analyses for demographic studies, particularly on the ageing of the European and Italian population.

From epidemiology to philanthropy and demography, these are just a few examples of the myriad applications of mathematical and statistical methods. As Galileo Galilei once aptly stated, ‘The Book of Nature is written in the language of Mathematics‘. This encapsulates the secret and magic of this wonderful discipline.

Posted by HMS in Stories
Top 10 Tips for Applying for PhDs

Top 10 Tips for Applying for PhDs

by Kaitlyn Louth

Applying for a PhD can be a very daunting process. But worry not because if you’re considering applying for one and don’t know where to start, here are my top 10 tips to help you prepare and increase your chances of securing the right position for you:

1. Research different types of PhD programmes: There are a few different types of PhD programmes, e.g. applying for a specific advertised project, a programme with integrated study where you continue to take modules, or applying by submitting your own research proposal. So it’s important to research the differences and which type of programme would suit you best! For example, if you know that PhD study is for you, but are unsure on the exact area of research, then consider applying for a programme with integrated study, where you have the opportunity to ‘test out’ rotation projects in the first year before deciding on your thesis.

2. Identify potential supervisors: Talking to your current supervisor, mentor or professor is a great starting point for finding potential PhD supervisors or projects. With their expertise, they should be able to offer suggestions for people who are working in your areas of interest, or forward open PhD position opportunities to you. Checking websites such as findaphd.com, where you can subscribe to a mailing list about positions, or europeanwomeninmaths.org that have a newsletter with open positions, are good ways to hear about what is available out there. You can also directly look for professors who are conducting research in areas that interest you, read their publications and familiarise yourself with some of their research. Reach out to them to see if they are accepting new students. Be sure to mention why you’re interested in working with them and ask what their application process looks like. European Women in Maths also have a mentorship scheme which is very supportive if things can become a bit overwhelming; it is becoming more and more common to have mentorship schemes within universities too. 

3. Polish your application materials: When applying for a PhD, it’s important to submit polished and professional materials. Your CV should be up to date and tailored to each programme you’re applying to. Equate Scotland provide women in STEM with a free CV review service, and STEM Graduates have some great tips on how to structure CVs such as what headings to include. Be sure to include any relevant experience, especially research experiences such as internships, placements and any publications (although remember publications are definitely NOT necessary to secure a PhD position). Your personal statement should explain your research interests, why you’re interested in pursuing a PhD in mathematics/statistics, and how your background and experience make you a good candidate for the programme. Remember that your final year research project at university is of course research experience. Reach out to your local student career service too, they can provide advice on application materials for higher education opportunities, not just for industry jobs!

4. Request letters of recommendation: You’ll likely be asked for a couple of references from those who can speak to your academic abilities, research experience, and potential as a mathematician or statistician. Choose recommenders who know you well and can provide specific examples of your strengths, these will typically be your academic supervisor or academic tutor. Be sure to give your recommenders plenty of time to write their letters because there are often strict deadlines, and provide them with any information they might need to write a strong letter, such as your CV and personal statement. Also it can be useful for them to know details of the programme, such as the types of candidates they’re looking for, so they can tailor their reference letters. 

5. Take additional maths courses or undertake extracurricular research: Consider taking additional courses online or take the time to do independent study on any areas which interest you research-wise, and which fill knowledge gaps from your undergraduate course. In particular, learning how to code in a new language is extremely beneficial to strengthen any application. You can also consider looking out for opportunities to do research experience. This could be an extended summer project at your home institution, or a research internship elsewhere, for example. This will give you a taster of whether you would enjoy research, and is a great addition to your application and an interview conversation point. These things are definitely optional and dependent on time constraints, so even wider reading around your areas of interest will strengthen your application.

6. Attend information events and open days: Things such as information fairs, university open days and insight events for PhDs are really great to hear directly from current PhD students and their experiences, as well as network with other mathematicians in the same position as you. For example, The Piscopia Initiative holds an annual forum every year that discusses the experiences of women and non-binary students doing PhDs, as well as providing invaluable advice on the application process. They provide travel funding for this too! Open days are really useful to obtain a feel for the university, its people and the city itself. The people you work with and the environment you work in are super important to consider. Also, PhD Your Way is an annual, online event aimed at people from underrepresented groups in mathematics who want to understand all there is to know on applying for a mathematics PhD, with opportunities to speak to current students from various universities.

7. Be prepared for interviews: If you are invited for an interview, be prepared to discuss your research interests, relevant coursework, and any relevant experience you have. Be sure to research the programme and faculty ahead of time so you can ask informed questions. You might also be asked about your future goals and how you see yourself contributing to the research team and department. Sometimes interviewers may ask you to prepare a presentation on a previous research topic, so it is a good idea to get feedback on this beforehand from your current academic supervisor, for example. Be prepared to answer questions on the presentation afterwards. 

8. Consider the culture and community: It’s important to consider the culture and community of the programme you’re applying to. Look for programmes that prioritise collaboration and support for their students. You should reach out to current graduate students in the programme, especially students of the supervisors you’re interested in working with. This will give you a sense of the community and what it’s like to be a student there, and an idea as to whether the supervisor is a good working match for you. Consider factors such as location, cost of living, and the availability of resources such as libraries, research facilities, and funding opportunities.

9. Be aware of application deadlines and requirements: Make sure you are aware of the application deadlines and requirements for each programme you are applying to. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to gather materials and submit your application on time, and give your references plenty of time to write their letters of recommendation. Some programmes may require additional materials such as academic transcripts and graduate certificates, so be sure to read the application requirements carefully and follow them closely.

10. Be persistent and flexible: Applying for a PhD can be a competitive process, so it’s important to be persistent and flexible. I would recommend applying to 3-4 programmes, however if you are not accepted into your top choices, taking a gap year to gain more experience and strengthen your application is a great option too, rather than accepting a programme which may not be 100% for you. Remember there is no ‘right’ time to do a PhD, everyone is different. 

By following these tips and taking the time to research potential programmes, polish your application materials, and build relationships with potential advisors and peers, you can increase your chances of being accepted into a programme that will help you achieve your academic and professional goals. Remember to stay persistent, flexible, and open to new opportunities along the way. Good luck!

Note that these tips are based on my personal experience and are not exhaustive, so use them at your own discretion!

About the author

Kaitlyn Louth

Kaitlyn Louth is a second year PhD student joint between The University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University. Her research is in Bayesian Modelling and Statistical Machine Learning for Critical Illness Morbidity Prediction. In particular, using Bayesian hierarchical modelling in a neural network setting to identify changes in morbidity rates for different diseases over time, including regional or socioeconomic differences, and characterising rates for specific cancers and conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. When she is not PhD-ing, she will typically be singing karaoke, dog walking around Holyrood Park or having a little boogie (ballet, tap and very recently aerial)!

Posted by HMS in Blog
Anastasia Molchanova

Anastasia Molchanova

Born in Siberia, Russia • Birth year 1989 Studied Mathematics at Novosibirsk State University in Novosibirsk, Russia • Highest Degree PhD (Candidate of Science) in Mathematics • Lives in Vienna, Austria • Occupation REWIRE Research Fellow (Postdoc) at the University of Vienna

My path in mathematics was both easy and challenging at the same time. Coming from the distant town of Oljokminsk in Yakutia (it is a north-eastern part of Siberia), with a population of less than 10,000 and no neighboring cities within a 500 km radius, I was fortunate to have a supportive family, teachers, and colleagues who guided me along the way.

(…) An unexpected phone call brought a life-changing invitation — an opportunity to attend a summer school 600 km away from my home (…)

My love story with mathematics began in primary school when a wise teacher recognized my hidden potential and offered me additional classes designed for the brightest students, even though I was not among them. Then, during middle school, my math teacher encouraged me and other talented students to participate in numerous math competitions, where we submitted our solutions by post. Thanks to this, at the age of twelve, an unexpected phone call brought a life-changing invitation — an opportunity to attend a summer school 600 km away from my home in the regional center, Yakutsk. The journey from Oljokminsk to Yakutsk is usually far from being easy. You need a plane ride, a 12-hour ship journey in the summer, or a more than 12-hour car ride during winter (once such a winter trip took me three days due to harsh weather conditions!). Nonetheless, my parents didn’t hesitate for an instant and supported me wholeheartedly.

(…) Mathematics was never a subject that came effortlessly to me; it constantly pushed me beyond my comfort zone

Arriving at the summer school, reality fell short of my grand expectations. I discovered that I was not the top student among my peers, and my vulnerabilities as a teenager made me an easy target for bullies. However, amidst these trials, a remarkable teacher from St. Petersburg entered my life, seeing a glimmer of potential within me. And so, I got invited to join another summer school in St. Petersburg. At that moment, my obsession with mathematics was ignited, and I knew without a doubt that I wanted to pursue a math program at the university.

In my research field, Applied Analysis and Modelling, I have been fortunate to collaborate with passionate individuals who foster a culture of friendship and support. And this unwavering support continues to inspire me, though I encountered numerous obstacles throughout my academic journey. Indeed, mathematics was never a subject that came effortlessly to me; it constantly pushed me beyond my comfort zone. While I excelled in my university studies, the research realm presented its own challenges during my PhD and postdoc. Thus, I have to admit that I often made “easy choices” to maintain a straightforward career path, which makes me sometimes wonder if I was truly choosing mathematics or was simply afraid of change.

(…) I believe that with our collective efforts, we can inspire a generation of aspiring mathematicians, cultivating a system that celebrates the brilliance and potential in every individual

Reflecting on my experiences, I have realized that my struggles lay not only within myself but also within the academic system. The unrelenting pressure to prove one’s worth affects your mental well-being. Receiving numerous rejections makes you question your abilities and leaves you feeling inadequate. Moreover, the “bottleneck” effect in academia — a surplus of opportunities for pursuing PhD and postdoc positions but limited permanent positions available — creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability in your life. And my hope here is that we, people in academia, can unite and strive for positive change to cultivate an academic environment that nurtures creativity, inclusivity, and fulfillment.

My journey through mathematics has taught me invaluable lessons in resilience, perseverance, and the power of a strong support network. I can proudly say that each challenge of my path has shaped me into the person and mathematician I am today. I maintain an unwavering optimism about the future of academia. And I believe that with our collective efforts, we can inspire a generation of aspiring mathematicians, cultivating a system that celebrates the brilliance and potential in every individual.

Posted by HMS in Stories
Kira Wetzel

Kira Wetzel

Born in South Korea • Studied Data Management/Information Systems (Master of Science), Education (Master of Arts), and Behavioral Science (Bachelor of Arts) at three different universities in the United States. • Highest Degree Master of Science • Lives in San Jose, CA USA • Occupation Data and Analytics Management and Lecturer at UC Berkeley

Chapter 1: A Love for Math

I have always been fascinated by numbers. From the moment I learned how to count, I was hooked. Math quickly became my favorite subject in elementary school, and I eagerly awaited the Math Minutes exercise every day. There was something thrilling about solving equations, finding patterns, and unlocking the secrets hidden within the numbers, and quickly.

As I progressed through school, my passion for math only grew. I found solace in the logic and structure it provided. While other kids dreaded math class, I relished the opportunity to dive into complex problems and unravel their mysteries. My brain seemed to have a natural affinity for the subject, and I loved the feeling of accomplishment when I arrived at the right answer.

When it came time to choose a major in college, however, I made a somewhat unexpected decision. Instead of studying pure mathematics, I opted for math education. I wanted to make math more accessible and easier to understand for others. I believed that by becoming a math teacher, I could help students overcome their fears and discover the beauty of numbers, just as I had.

Chapter 2: Thinking in Algebra

Teaching high school math was both challenging and rewarding. I loved seeing the light bulbs go off in my students’ minds when they finally grasped a difficult concept. However, as an introvert, the constant demand for live interaction every day was beginning to take its toll. I realized that if I continued down that path, I would eventually burn out.

After a few years of teaching, I decided to make a transition into data management. It allowed me to utilize my analytical skills in a different way while still working with numbers. What surprised me was how well my brain adapted to this new role. I found that my problem-solving abilities translated seamlessly into the world of data.

As I analyzed and processed information, it felt like I was working through an algebra problem. I approached each task as a system of inputs and outputs, seeking patterns and connections. This way of thinking became an incredible framework for tackling unknowns and finding innovative solutions. My love for math had given me a unique perspective that served me well in my new field.

Chapter 3: A New Direction

To further solidify my expertise in data management, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in information management and analytics. The additional knowledge and skills I gained opened up new opportunities for me. I had no regrets about my career path. In fact, my background in math education turned out to be an asset in influencing and teaching at work.

The scariest thing about transitioning was actually the change in working environments. Office environments are incredibly different than classrooms and the dynamics between people are different. There is no option to go to your classroom and hide. The agendas and goals are different. In the office, highly cross functional teams of people are responsible for the success of the project.

Currently, I lead a team of analytics engineers, analysts, and industry strategists. Our main focus is developing data foundations and curating information that aligns with our company’s business strategies. Alongside this responsibility, I am also dedicated to developing leaders within my team. I firmly believe that investing in others and fostering their growth is crucial for long-term success. I’ve learned that this isn’t always the case for others, but it will be for me.

Chapter 4: Battling Gender Bias

Throughout my career, I have encountered the harsh reality of gender bias. It is pervasive, and the intersections of gender further compound the disadvantages faced by marginalized individuals. Closing the gap requires us to be intentional in our efforts. We must take our seat at the table while saving a seat for others. It means having the difficult conversations and addressing the unspoken career setbacks that are often less concrete but nonetheless hinder progress. 

I have experienced oppression and setbacks, even from other women, in the workplace. It has been disheartening, but I have used these experiences as lessons to shape my behavior and align myself with my North Star. If we cannot support one another, how can we possibly advance as a collective? I have made a conscious choice to accept slower advancement if it means providing greater opportunities to others. My decisions are guided by what is best for our community, not just for myself.

Chapter 5: Surrounding Myself with Allies

Looking back, I realize that the one thing that would have greatly helped me on my career path is self-confidence and strong women allies. It took time and experience to develop the belief in my abilities, some of that came from not having sponsors or mentors that were truly invested in me. Additionally, surrounding myself with strong women allies has made a tremendous difference in my agency and resiliency. The support and camaraderie we share have empowered me to navigate the challenges of the workplace with greater strength. I don’t feel alone and I can call upon a strong network to help me.

As I continue my journey, I am committed to making room for others at the table. I strive to foster an inclusive environment that encourages growth and amplifies diverse voices. By doing so, I hope to contribute to a pipeline of growth that uplifts individuals and propels our collective success.

Epilogue

My love for math has shaped my life in ways I never could have imagined. It has taught me to think critically, approach problems systematically, and find joy in unraveling the mysteries of the world. Through my career as a math teacher, data manager, and leader, I have found fulfillment in both sharing my knowledge and empowering others.

As I move forward, I will continue to champion gender equality and work towards dismantling the barriers that hold us back. I will strive to be the mentor and ally I wish I had when I was starting out. By embracing our unique strengths and fostering a supportive community, I believe we can create a more inclusive and equitable world for all.

Posted by HMS in Stories
Robyn Shuttleworth

Robyn Shuttleworth

Born in Melrose, Scotland • Birth year 1993 Studied Mathematics at University of Dundee, Scotland • Highest Degree Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics • Lives in Redwood City, California • Occupation Scientist II, Altos Labs

I wasn’t very sure what I wanted to study at university when I was in high school, I just knew for sure that I wasn’t finished with education. I really loved mathematics and biology, so it turned into a battle of the sciences. I went to one university visit (the one I happened to attend!) and toured both departments. The head of the math department started his presentation with “…mathematics graduates earn on average 10% more than any other graduate”. This one statement sealed it for me, and I decided to pursue a degree in Applied Mathematics. My reasons for pursuing mathematics came from quite a shallow and impulsive place, but I’ve grown to learn that that’s okay and you can’t always choose what motivates you. Assuming studying mathematics meant I would be working with numbers for the rest of my life, I imagined myself being an accountant or an actuary and I decided to take courses in business and accountancy in my first few years at university. Whilst this was okay, it didn’t enthrall me the way I had hoped. Fortunately, towards the final year of my bachelor’s degree, I joined a team of scientists in developing genetically engineered detection strategies for cystic fibrosis patients (very different from the classes in accountancy I had previously envisioned being my future). I was excited by the ways I could contribute as a mathematician, and it brought me back to my love of biology. Soon after, in my final year of undergrad, I chose my honors project in glioblastoma modeling. I learned so much about tumor growth and treatment strategies, and I knew this was only the beginning of my journey in mathematical biology. So, when the opportunity arose to pursue a Ph.D. in cancer research, I pushed hard for funding, and one month after graduating, I started reading papers for my Ph.D. in multiscale modeling of cancer progression. I developed mathematical models to describe how tumor cells interact with their microenvironment and explored the mechanisms used to invade the surrounding tissue. Throughout my Ph.D. I attended lots of conferences which gave me plenty of opportunity to present my work and I made lots of great connections. Networking with other scientists was one of the best parts of my graduate studies and I still maintain many of these relationships today.

I was excited by the ways I could contribute as a mathematician, and it brought me back to my love of biology.

I found my Ph.D., for the most part, very enjoyable. I loved the challenges that came with researching a new area and the undeniable feeling of success when you got some exciting new results, or you finally managed to debug your code! Alongside this elation, I did find some of my time difficult, but I must admit that those grievances have been mostly forgotten and feel like a distant memory. It was so important to me to have a strong support system, and I cherished my evenings and weekends with family and friends. Taking time for myself and detaching from the research helped keep me sane and motivated throughout my studies.

After three and a half years in my Ph.D., I was ready to move onto the next stage of my career. I set my sights on finding a Postdoc position, with only two stipulations; it had to be in the field of mathematical biology, and it had to be outside of the UK (another example of my unconventional motivation). With this in mind, I found a position at the University of Saskatchewan in the field of Cryobiology. I loved learning new math modeling techniques to apply to cryopreservation processes and I found that I was able to use a lot of my previous knowledge in this field. Although this switch in fields presented me with the challenge of effectively starting over and requiring a ton of reading (and auditing undergrad biology classes!), it was extremely fulfilling to use math models to predict the optimal experimental conditions for successful cryopreservation.

Fast forward three years, and I found myself in a familiar position: loving what I currently do, but ready to explore a new field and further develop my knowledge and skills. I had always envisioned myself in academia, however, through a chance encounter on social media, I came into a position within industry in the field of cellular rejuvenation. I now build mathematical models of cellular reprogramming and rejuvenation processes to help us understand what makes us, and our cells, “healthy”.

I had always envisioned myself in academia, however, through a chance encounter on social media, I came into a position within industry in the field of cellular rejuvenation.

I’ve consistently changed fields throughout my career, and I have learned something different from each of them that I carry with me to the next. The opportunities I have had are some of the most worthwhile and rewarding roles and ones I have immensely enjoyed. Whether I am investigating how tumors grow, finding the optimal way to freeze and store an organ, or helping us age gracefully, I would not wish to be anywhere else but at this forefront of scientific discovery and advancement.

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Gitta Kutyniok

Gitta Kutyniok

Born in Bielefeld, Germany • Birth year 1972 · Studied Mathematics and Computer Science at University of Paderborn in Germany • Highest Degree Habilitation in Mathematics • Lives in Munich, Germany • Occupation Professor for Mathematical Foundations of Artificial Intelligence

I had never planned to become a professor of mathematics, and if someone had told me when I was young, I would have said: This is impossible. Due to my excitement for mathematics in school and the fact that my mother and my grandfather were both teachers, I first wanted to become a high school teacher myself. And this is how I then started my studies, choosing computer science as a minor. Although the change from high school mathematics to university mathematics was difficult and required a lot of hard work, I enjoyed my studies very much. I however could not get excited about didactics for high school teaching, hence I switched to diploma studies in mathematics. And since at the University of Paderborn, it was quite easy to pursue a diploma in computer science at the same time, I enrolled in this as well.

(…) In retrospect, this period trained me to follow my own path and be very independent.

In my last year, a professor working in abstract harmonic analysis approached me with an offer for a Ph.D. position. I was hesitant about whether this was the right career path for me. Eventually, I accepted the offer but quickly realized that not pure mathematics was my passion but applied mathematics. Hence, in agreement with my supervisor, I chose a more applied topic and got assigned a second supervisor in Munich. This arrangement was not optimal. However, in retrospect, this period trained me to follow my own path and be very independent.

One of the reviewers of my Ph.D. thesis then offered me a position as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Since I was hesitant about what to do next, I embraced this opportunity, taking it as a chance to see whether I am good enough for continuing as a post-doc. My time as a Visiting Assistant Professor was again hard, since I had never taught a course before, and I now even needed to teach in English. But research-wise a whole new world opened to me; having now collaborators with similar interests as myself, namely the area of applied and computational harmonic analysis. I then spent another year in the US with a research fellowship at both Washington University in St. Louis and again at the Georgia Institute of Technology. It was a very productive time for me, leading to a Habilitation in Mathematics at the University of Giessen in Germany.

I overcame my shyness and approached [some professors in the US whose work I had always admired] for an invitation (…).

Due to the uncertainty of obtaining a professor position in Germany, I applied for a Heisenberg Fellowship from the German Research Foundation to visit some professors in the US, whose work I had always admired. I overcame my shyness and approached them for an invitation and eventually got the amazing chance to visit first Princeton University, then Stanford University, and finally, Yale University, learning about new research areas such as compressed sensing.

Returning to Germany, I started as a full professor at the University of Osnabrück. This was a very fulfilling experience, and I loved building up my own research group. However, it was a very small department, and finding good students was hard, and I soon started looking for other positions.

I was again lucky and was offered an Einstein Chair at the Technical University of Berlin. Soon after, the advent of deep learning started and affected my research area significantly. I decided to embrace this paradigm shift and delve research-wise into artificial intelligence. Looking back, this was one of the best decisions in my life.

For the first time, I am now not the only female professor in my department.

This might have also led to a personal offer from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München for a Bavarian AI Chair for Mathematical Foundations of Artificial Intelligence, which I was surprised and delighted to receive. Due to the excellent conditions for AI research in Munich and Bavaria, I accepted the offer and moved to Munich. For the first time, I am now not the only female professor in my department. In fact, I have several wonderful female colleagues, which is an entirely new experience for me.

In general, I learned in my career that one should be open to opportunities, as they often arise unexpectedly, and also not be shy to approach colleagues for advice and help. If you ask whether being a woman has impacted me in my career, I have to say that the first time I realized that one is treated differently was when I became a professor. As committee meetings increased, I learned the hard way that men do not behave better or worse, but just differently. Looking back, a course on gender-specific behaviors in professional environments, as it is, in fact, custom for higher positions in industry, would have helped significantly.  On the other hand, I also had and still have several amazing male colleagues who support me tremendously, also with advice, and I am deeply grateful to them.

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Ricki Rosendahl

Ricki Rosendahl

Born in Germany • Birth year 1975 · Studied Maths at University of Hamburg • Highest Degree PhD in Optimal Control • Lives in Hamburg, Germany • Occupation Senior Business Consultant

I am sitting on the train. The ICE drives from Cologne to Hamburg. In this dark evening. My head is spinning after four days of learning about actuarial subjects in a seminar. I use my time to reflect. Thinking a little about the past, a little more about the future and a lot about this moment right now. I am happy. Grateful.

I like being here and in this moment. I am thankful for my talent for mathematics my mom and dad gave me. Thankful for meeting other people in my life, so I could learn and grow and become the person I am right now. Thankful for all the nice people who believe in me and support me. One of my mottos: you are what you have made of yourself. I will never be finished. This would result in stagnation.

The solution of any mathematical problem seemed so easy and elegant to me when I was young: true or false. Nothing else.

Like a central theme, my interest and my ability in mathematics affect my whole life. I love mathematics! The solution of any mathematical problem seemed so easy and elegant to me when I was young: true or false. Nothing else. I wanted to immerse myself in this subject. It was not easy to continue with this wish in a male-dominated world: unmotivated teachers, incompetent advisors at the job center, traditionally-thinking professors at the technical college. Thus, my central theme evolved in a different direction. One constant in my life stayed: me reflecting on my current situation – Who am I? What have I made of myself?

I grew up in a family where natural sciences and logic discussions were welcome. My parents met at the university, later becoming a math high school teacher and a physicist. In highschool, I have always been interested in math and natural sciences. I once asked my math teacher about the mathematical olympiad but I felt completely left alone by him when he didn’t show much interest and asked me to contact the organizers instead of telling me about it. It was frustrating that the lessons in math neither prepared me for the kind of exercises solved at mathematical olympiads nor showed me the possible career paths in science. The job center employee I talked to did not recommend studying math either. Thus, I chose a different path at first. While preparing for my engineering studies, I worked at a locksmithery. In this men’s world, the break room was decorated with a calendar with “aesthetic” images of women. Some old-established professors at the technical college weren’t pleased about women studying engineering.

Remember: if you love something, you will get great at it. I am grateful for being able to realize what I love. I love mathematics.

Finally – I just couldn’t get enough of math – I switched to studying mathematics at the university and went my way to diploma, PhD, being a mother, a teacher, a developer of final exams in math, to leadership in the climate and sustainability working group. I left the “typical” career path of mathematicians again. And came back to my profession: Now I have developed my skills in actuarial subjects working in insurances. And I will continue looking for new challenges.

Right now, I am sitting on the train. Driving from Cologne to Hamburg. And I am happy living in this moment. Happy with my talent for mathematics. It helps me developing, being curious and following interesting new paths. My path leads me further to being an actuarial consultant. I am sure I will encounter interesting tasks, opportunities and people in my future. And I want to show my beloved children: it is worthwhile to look deep within yourself. Be true to yourself. Find a subject that interests you and follow your ambition. Yes, there will always be drawbacks. Fortunately, the world is not as men-dominated anymore as it has been. Remember: if you love something, you will get great at it. I am grateful for being able to realize what I love. I love mathematics.

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Zoe Nieraeth (she/her)

Zoe Nieraeth (she/her)

Born in Maarssen, The Netherlands • Birth year 1992 • Studied Mathematical Sciences at Utrecht University, The Netherlands • Highest degree PhD from the Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands • Lives in Bilbao, Spain • Occupation Postdoctoral Researcher at BCAM

Many of my career choices were made within a context that differs from my cis peers: for one, I entered academia not knowing that I was a woman. Women, or rather those labeled as such, have to seek out their inspiration by themselves, first having to unlearn the twisted traditions of our patriarchy, whereas those labeled as men are told that the sky is the limit. I cannot say that I enjoyed that privilege, though. It only made me deeply ashamed about exploring my identity, wanting to avoid it at all costs.

What I wanted above all else was to feel normal, but having to deal with being a trans woman in math did not feel normal at all.

My first puberty was rough, and I coped with it by indulging this avoidant nature. Doing math kept me in a state of hyperfocus, and so, distracting myself from the bleak outlook the real world had offered me, I took a deep dive into the abstract realm of pure mathematics. I wanted to keep this flow going, and decided to pursue a PhD. However, eventually research took its toll on me. I struggled through my PhD and at a certain point I realized that I was incapable of upholding my facade, forcing me to resurface. What I wanted above all else was to feel normal, but having to deal with being a trans woman in math did not feel normal at all. It did not feel like an environment where people would know how to respect me. Even now as a postdoc I can count my trans contemporaries that are out on one hand.

In recent years, many of the institutes I have worked at have been trying to strive for gender equity. However, to be perfectly blunt, I feel like the way inclusion is handled in academia is laughable. What is claimed to be gender inclusivity has very little to do with being inclusive. While they are patting themselves on the back for having made a breakthrough in the discovery of a gender that is not male, I am weeping for my gender diverse siblings. Their gender inclusivity” is binary and tokenistic. The people in power are middle aged white men who have neither the experience, nor the will, nor the knowledge to deal with the kind of feminism that requires an understanding of intersecting identities. How can you claim to be inclusive if your institute isn’t fully accessible, isn’t accepting of relationship forms other than those fitting within heteronormativity, others neurodivergent people even when they are the ones that propel our field, perpetuates racist stereotypes, upholds a class system that the poor cannot enter, or makes you feel like some women will not even be considered to be women at all?

I have been made to feel that the new possibilities provided for women are not for me. Ironically, there is the fear that hiring a trans woman will not count towards the quota of women.

The discrimination I have faced after coming out in academia has been astounding. I have been made to feel that the new possibilities provided for women are not for me. Ironically, there is the fear that hiring a trans woman will not count towards the quota of women. Transphobia is the norm, after all. To add to this, there are journals, databases, former colleagues, refusing to even acknowledge something as simple as my name, preferring to perpetuate a lie. I have seen my savings and then some dwindle into nothingness as this capitalist nightmare sucks me dry for daring to transition into a life where I can look at myself in the mirror without feeling disdain. Or fearing retribution. Many countries where my job wants to take me are simply not safe for me to exist in. Academia truly offers me the worst of both worlds. 

Despite all of this, I have come to a point where I can proudly announce that I am a woman and a mathematician. The fact that I am a woman is an act of defiance. My existence is political. As we are striving for equity in mathematics, ironically, the work yet again falls on our shoulders. We are the ones who have to labor to be seen. Who have to fight to be heard. Who have to tell our stories. In prose such as this, but even in my mathematical research papers, I strive to write with a lot of character and personal opinion, expressing my authentic self. I feel like showing ourselves like this is what is truly important. No matter how we are treated, the simple fact of the matter remains: our diversity is beautiful. Projects like Her Maths Story allow us to take control back in a setting where we are made to feel like we have very little control, and for that reason I truly commend initiatives like this. While we undoubtedly will continue to face oppression, our resistance will grow stronger. Progress is inevitable.

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Divyanshi Mehrotra

Divyanshi Mehrotra

Born in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh, India • Birth year 1994 • Studied Mathematics at the University of Lucknow, India • Highest degree Master in Mathematics • Lives in Lucknow, India • Occupation Content Developer of Creative Mathematics at UnMath School pvt. Ltd

When I failed one of my Math exams in 9th Grade, my mother got worried and searched for a home tutor for me. He was around 70 years old, passionate about Math and was hardly concerned about my syllabus. I still remember that he wrote in my notebook the heading “Sridharacharya Formula” – also known as quadratic formula and started deriving it and explaining the concept to me. When I tried mentioning to him that this was not part of my syllabus he told me, ‘If you want to explore Math, you have to forget about your syllabus and enjoy mathematics beyond textbooks.’ Those words deeply touched me.

‘If you want to explore Math, you have to forget about your syllabus and enjoy mathematics beyond textbooks.’

I started cultivating a voracious interest in Mathematics and subsequently it became the central focus of my studies as I scored exceptionally good marks in all the exams. Not satiated by the theories taught in school, I can vividly recollect all the reminiscences where I had the keen urge to delve into the subject. I managed to top the entire district in 10th Grade, with distinction in 5 subjects. I decided thence forth to pursue the subject in higher grade and I started a Bachelor of Sciences in Math at one of the most proficient universities of my native region in India.

I graduated from university with excellent marks and better proficiency than before which also served as an impetus for my further undertaking of a post-graduate program in Mathematics. As Mathematics is more of a practical subject, I paid much attention on the improvement of my mental ability through practice of quantitative reasoning and data interpretation and Experiential learning. I even earned a Baccalaureate in physical education in my bachelor course.

After completing my post-graduate studies in Mathematics, I decided to pursue my double masters in Actuarial Science. With hard work and luck by my side, I got accepted at the University college Dublin in Ireland.

This inspired me to explore ways to bridge this gap and make math more engaging and accessible for the students aged 4-14 years through the use of gamification and hands-on activities.

During my teaching career, I was surprised by the gap between the students’ enthusiasm for games and for hands-on activities and by their lack of interest in math. This inspired me to explore ways to bridge this gap and make math more engaging and accessible for the students aged 4-14 years through the use of gamification and hands-on activities. I dropped the plan of going abroad to pursue my double masters and I choose to educate young minds and have an impact on the educational system in my country.

In order for the students and the teachers to become interested in math, it is important to engage them in a manner that makes them part of the learning process.

In the year 2020, I joined a private organization as a Creative content developer of Mathematics where I create creative lesson plans with resources such as UNO and Lego to transmit mathematical concepts. Ancient India was very rich in STEM, however, in modern day India, it is difficult for the parents to appreciate the importance of these subjects and hence the students are not opting for science and more so for mathematics. In order for the students and the teachers to become interested in math, it is important to engage them in a manner that makes them part of the learning process. In this regard, I started working on pedagogy on how to make Math fun and interesting for the students. As of now my work has had an impact on the syllabus and methods taught in classes for almost 10000 students and 1000 teachers across the Middle East and Asia. The work of my colleagues and me has now revolutionized the way math is taught in these schools, changing from the conventional chalk and talk way of teaching to a more unconventional way of teaching math through hands-on activities. Referring to the feedback we received, the students are taking keen interest in mathematics. I started from the small town Sitapur where I topped the district in 10th grade and today I am supporting teachers and students across the globe.

With luck on my side and with the passion for Math, I even participated in the online competition last year on the occasion of International Mathematics Day, planned by IDM (International Day of Mathematics) with the challenge to click a picture with the theme Mathematics for everyone. Out of 3200 photographs received from 90 countries, roughly 600 photographs were selected out of which 66 were from India with one of my clicked picture as well. 

I believe that lending a hand to children through effective and gentle communication and listening patiently to their concerns and thoughts assures them. This provides them with emotional and mental security which is essential during childhood as it is the basis on which their conduct depends in the future. Hence, I have now decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Creative Mathematics to contribute to the ongoing research in math education and pedagogy. My vision is to become a leading researcher in the field of math education, with a focus on the use of gamification and hands-on activities as a means of enhancing math learning and engagement along with making Math fun and engaging not only for the students but also for the teachers.

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Juliana Fernandes da Silva

Juliana Fernandes da Silva

Born in Goiânia, Brazil • Birth year 1986 • Studied Mathematics at Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal • Highest degree PhD in Mathematics • Lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil • Occupation Assistant Professor at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Through all my school years I have always felt that the more logical reasoning the subject involved, the more attention it would capture from me. I remember being the one helping out my colleagues preparing for math exams and being supported by others with the subjects of social studies. Although as a child I enjoyed very much pretending I was a teacher, assigning the seats to the dolls, I grew up hearing that it was an underappreciated profession in my country, with which people usually feel overworked and underpaid. Even after finishing high school I was very resistant to choose mathematics and teaching as a career, but I finally decided not to walk away from my dream role. The only (probably naive) argument for that was that I have always enjoyed studying mathematics.

While adjusting myself to the new life in a very large city and struggling with the exams, this period was one of the toughest in my academic career but also the first step towards professional maturity in research/academia.

Only when I got to the university for my bachelor in mathematics, I realized that I could perform poorly in a math exam, which was unfamiliar to me. I accepted the challenge and worked hard to finally achieve good results, especially in the more abstract courses. Algebra was particularly demanding, with a very tough and inspiring female professor. She often provided us with a lot of extra reading materials and required us to attend extra lectures, jointly with her graduate students. But since she was always willing to provide us with assistance, I felt very challenged and also wanted to get along with her. That pushed me to put a lot more effort into my studies. As a result, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in a different city, at one of the best universities in the country. While adjusting myself to the new life in a very large city and struggling with the exams, this period was one of the toughest in my academic career but also the first step towards professional maturity in research/academia.

The math-life balance also comes as a challenge, while trying to fulfill the pressure to be productive and achieve personal goals outside work at the same time.

My years of PhD and postdoctoral studies were used as an opportunity to perform my research under different scientific atmospheres, in some different centers in Brazil and abroad. The interaction with different research members and visiting fellows provided me with an enriching scientific experience, giving me the opportunity to engage in collaborations within my field of research. As luck would have it, I ended up having a very kind and talented professor working in nonlinear dynamical systems as my PhD supervisor. That period was, however, one of the hardest and exhausting periods of my academic life. Not only for the strong gender imbalance in mathematics but also for recurrently having no sense of belonging. The hard side of leaving the comfort zone, especially coming from humble backgrounds, is the general feeling that you are not as capable as your peers. At that point, one is also confronted with the fact that besides the technical scientific abilities, it is also necessary to manage other required skills of your career. Critical thinking, presentation and communication abilities, self-discipline, leadership and advising skills, among others, also came in handy. The math-life balance also comes as a challenge, while trying to fulfill the pressure to be productive and achieve personal goals outside work at the same time. All of that requires time, maturity and, more importantly, a great support in order to overcome the challenge.

In this journey, I realized that besides the urgency of creating an equitable world in the near future, where underrepresented groups don’t have to deal with biases in and outside the workplace, it is also crucial to find a stimulating and safe environment to work in. To do so, it is very important to be surrounded by like-minded peers and colleagues you can trust to talk about the work and insecurities inside academia. Taking advantage of all professional and personal opportunities and resources is also essential.

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