Mathematics

Liliana Esquivel

Liliana Esquivel

Born in Toledo, Norte de Santander, Colombia • Birth year 1991 Studied Mathematics at the University of Pamplona in Colombia • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematics • Lives in Cali, Colombia • Occupation non-tenure track Associate Professor at the University of Valle, Colombia

I never really thought I would become a mathematician. Although I enjoyed solving maths problems in my early years of high school, my first love was dance. I wanted to become a dancer. I finished high school when I was 14 years old. At that moment, while deciding what to study in college, a scholarship opportunity for Mathematics came up, and I thought, ‘Why not?’. That ‘why not’ has turned into a career of almost 18 years.

My passion for mathematics truly awakened with mathematical analysis. For me, the concept of approximation is one of the most refined in mathematics. Currently, I am continuing on the path that my undergraduate and graduate advisors helped shape for me. Staying on this professional path is thanks to them and the spark they ignited in me, which makes me want to keep learning every day, as learning is one of the things I enjoy the most.

Although I may have never told her, [my PhD advisor] has always been my role model in this field. My aspiration is to be a source of inspiration and guidance for my students, just as she was for me.

This career has given me the chance to visit unimaginable places, immerse myself in diverse cultures, and have unforgettable experiences. I’ve pushed myself beyond my comfort zone, tackling challenges I once believed were insurmountable, and somehow, I have succeeded each time. Along this journey, I have met incredible, inspiring, and talented individuals who have contributed to my growth both professionally and personally. Resilience and tenacity are two qualities that develop over time in this job.

I was fortunate to have an exceptional PhD advisor—an intelligent, inspiring, strong, and determined woman. Although I may have never told her, she has always been my role model in this field. My aspiration is to be a source of inspiration and guidance for my students, just as she was for me.

Being a mom has put me in the same boat as many others, trying to stay on top of my maths game while being fully present for my kids.

In recent years, my academic perspective has evolved. I wish to remain active in research, but more than teaching, I want to share my passion. My passion is mathematics—its structure, its theorems, and ultimately, its beauty. I believe that by sharing this passion, I can inspire others to appreciate the elegance and depth of mathematics. I aim to create an engaging and stimulating learning environment where students can explore, question, and develop a profound understanding of mathematical concepts. My goal is to ignite their curiosity and foster a lifelong love for the subject, just as my mentors did for me.

One of the most challenging aspects throughout these years has been balancing my professional and personal life. Being a mom has put me in the same boat as many others, trying to stay on top of my maths game while being fully present for my kids. However, being a mother to a child with special needs has illuminated for me the profound societal needs. Specifically, it’s shown me how we need a kinder, more inclusive academic world, one that’s less about labels and more about understanding and support.

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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.

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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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Fulya Kula

Fulya Kula

Born in Turkey • Studied Mathematics at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, TurkeyHighest degree PhD in Mathematics Didactics • Lives in Enschede, The NetherlandsOccupation Lecturer at the University of Twente

I actually did not really like mathematics in primary school. I found it difficult to memorize all multiplication tables for example, as I did not really understand the concept behind them. However, during high school, I had a great teacher, who could explain really well. She introduced us to theorems and proofs, and I found this challenging and rewarding.

What prior knowledge is necessary to fully understand the concept of the derivative? And what happens when some of that knowledge is missing?

After that, I did my BSc in mathematics, but I was also very intrigued by the way my professors were teaching, maybe because of my experience in primary school. All were very talented mathematicians, but some of them were not explaining very well, while others were. This motivated me to do my undergraduate and PhD level in the didactics of mathematics. In my PhD for example, I focused on the concept of the derivative. What prior knowledge is necessary to fully understand the concept of the derivative? And what happens when some of that knowledge is missing?

I am now still working in the field of mathematics and statistics didactics. I investigate how we can improve the teaching and learning of mathematical and statistical concepts. This combines my pedagogical skills and scholarly knowledge. I try to gain a better understanding into how people learn, and how this knowledge can improve teaching.

I find this project particularly exciting because it can make a real difference in students’ academic lives, as I often see them struggling in the first year during my teaching.

I am currently working to make the transition from high school math to college-level math easier for students. This means that students should have a better understanding of several mathematical concepts and skills when they are at university. To achieve this, I investigate best practices in curriculum development. I will also create videos and practice material on topics that many students are struggling with. I find this project particularly exciting because it can make a real difference in students’ academic lives, as I often see them struggling in the first year during my teaching.

During my research, I focus on how we can teach mathematics in such a way that students can understand it more easily. I had very interesting results on teaching statistical inference for example. In statistics, you often make probabilistic statements about an entire population while you only investigate at a small sample of it. This concept is often very difficult to grasp for students. Usually, during a course students are first told about the sample (for example the sample mean), and are then told what this sample statistic tells about the entire population. My research shows that it is actually better to start discussing the population first, and how you create a sample from this entire population. After that, you can teach what this then tells you about the entire population that we started with.

I would really like to investigate the most common statistics textbooks to compare their way of explaining to my proposed model. Doing so will help me to slowly but surely change the way statistics is taught.

My research endorsed that this second way of teaching makes students grasp statistical inference more easily. I would really like to investigate the most common statistics textbooks to compare their way of explaining to my proposed model. Doing so will help me to slowly but surely change the way statistics is taught.

My goal is to make sure that research in the didactics of mathematics is actually applied in mathematical teaching. Despite the fact that there is plenty of research that could be useful, the connection between research and practical teaching is weak. I would love to create a course on didactics for mathematics teachers at universities as well. I feel that most people at the university really like their teaching, and are also interested in my didactical research, but it is difficult and time-consuming for them to get a good overview of the existing knowledge. In such a course, we could go over this together, and discuss how we can implement it in practice. In this way, mathematics education research can really make an impact on the way mathematics is taught.

I really enjoy teaching and find it very motivating. My favorite moments are when a student has an “A-Ha” moment and gains a better understanding of a concept. This is also very rewarding for myself, as I managed to make an impact on the student by teaching them a topic that they did not fully understand. It also shows you the beauty of mathematics: if a student understands all single, small concepts, they can understand a much bigger problem.

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Susan Whitehouse

Susan Whitehouse

Born in London, UK • Birth year 1971 · Studied Maths at University of Warwick in UK • Highest Degree MSc in Maths from Open University • Lives in Potters Bar, UK • Occupation Maths Education Consultant specialising in A-level Maths and Further Maths

I have loved maths since I was a very young child, and from as early as I can remember I always knew that it was the subject that I would pursue. Maths was my refuge from a world that often seemed confusing and difficult; within mathematics I knew that everything would make sense and obey the rules, even if I had not yet understood it!

(…) I struggled to adjust to studying maths at university. It felt very different, both in content and in teaching style, from the maths I had studied at school.

Despite never having had any doubts about my choice of degree, I struggled to adjust to studying maths at university. It felt very different, both in content and in teaching style, from the maths I had studied at school. Women were under-represented at undergraduate level, and even more so at postgraduate level and among the academic staff, and I did not immediately feel I had a place in this new environment. But, despite my doubts, I continued with my course and successfully completed my studies.

After my maths degree I was not sure what path to take, and I did a teacher training year mainly to buy myself some time. But, although I did not enjoy teaching the younger students much, I found that I loved teaching A-level maths and further maths. This was the stage of maths education that I had most enjoyed as a student, and I wanted to convey that enthusiasm to others. I joined the teaching profession as a specialist sixth form maths teacher.

I (…) found that being in the position of a student again made me a better teacher.

I spent 15 years teaching A-level maths and further maths in London sixth form colleges. I loved watching the “Eureka” moments, when a mathematical idea would fall into place for a student, and it was a great privilege to be able to help students access university, particularly when they were the first in their family to do so. I developed clear ideas about mathematical pedagogy and what I believe good maths teaching should look like.

During my second and third years of full-time teaching, I also completed a part-time Master’s degree in mathematics with the Open University. Although I was finding teaching mathematics very fulfilling, I missed the challenge of learning new mathematics for myself. Partly because of the way the course was structured and partly because of my own greater maturity, I enjoyed this course more than my undergraduate degree. I also found that being in the position of a student again made me a better teacher.

I feel incredibly lucky to have a career working in the subject that I love, and to have had the opportunity to convey that passion to others.

Whilst teaching, I designed a lot of resources to help me in my own teaching, and when I shared these more widely in the teaching community, they proved popular with other teachers too. I was also invited to deliver some professional development for other maths teachers. I realised that I could contribute to the mathematical development of more students by working with their teachers than I could ever do through my own classroom teaching.

I started to do less work with students and more with teachers, and eventually I left the classroom altogether to become a mathematics education consultant. I continue to design teaching resources for A-level maths and further maths lessons, and I have delivered professional development on a wide range of teaching courses, ranging from initial teacher training to courses for experienced teachers.

I feel incredibly lucky to have a career working in the subject that I love, and to have had the opportunity to convey that passion to others.

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Juliet Nakakawa Nsumba

Juliet Nakakawa Nsumba

Born in Kayunga district, Uganda • Birth year 1986 • Studied Mathematics and Physics (B.Sc. with Education) at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda • Highest Degree Ph.D. in Mathematics • Lives in Kampala, Uganda • Occupation Lecturer at Makerere University

Currently, I am a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. It is so exciting that today I consider myself one of Uganda’s most successful women in mathematics. At my primary level, I used to struggle with mathematics but was always intrigued by the challenges it would cause me to think about. I finished my primary level with mathematics as my worst subject. My secondary education was a turnaround. I would struggle with math until one time we had a change of teacher and he gave the first test. I got a 20%, and in the second test a 40% and after that my performance drastically improved and my passion for the subject grew so that it became my best subject. My math teacher encouraged me a lot. I had to redefine my friends to have those with similar interests. I would discuss this with my peers irrespective of gender. The reading of mathematics became easier.

Regarding the negative image that mathematics was for men: I guess I refused to believe that. I saw it as a challenge that had to be solved.

After my O’ level, resources were scarce in that my parents couldn’t afford my education at the kind of schools with equipped laboratories to enable me to continue pursuing my math/science career. But they were so determined to see me excel. My mom would always encourage me not to lose hope. At that time, I belonged to a supported program of Compassion International. That is where my help came from at the moment. God used Compassion to fully provide my sponsorship throughout A’ level. Of my A ‘level subjects, mathematics still seemed easy and would still be my best. Of course, I had support from my teachers who always encouraged me. Regarding the negative image that mathematics was for men: I guess I refused to believe that. I saw it as a challenge that had to be solved. I spent most of my time with the boys. Thank God they were quite helpful. When they noted I wasn’t going away, they knew we had to work together. When I completed my Uganda advanced certificate, I was given a Bachelor of Science degree with education (mathematics, physics). To be honest, I had never dreamt of being a teacher. I wanted to do Telcom engineering. My grades couldn’t push me there. Today I am grateful that my passion and desire for mathematics never came to an end. I decided to do my best to get good grades during my Bachelor’s degree. This opened more doors for me.

(…) I decided on mathematical epidemiology. I have seen so much of its application with endemic diseases and the consistent outbreaks of new viral diseases, especially in my country.

Later I joined the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, which provided a platform for me to see how I could use mathematics. I have always loved the application of mathematics. It is not surprising that when I decided to choose the direction for my career, I decided on mathematical epidemiology. I have seen so much of its application with endemic diseases and the consistent outbreaks of new viral diseases, especially in my country. After my Ph.D. which I completed in my home country, I felt equipped to be part of the solution to our health sector. Yes, I am still growing in my career and every day I notice my effort in changing the lives of my people and Africa as a whole.

The limited resources never stopped me from pursuing my dream – instead, I would utilize whatever opportunity I could get to excel.

Being a mathematician has changed my status; by this, I cannot consider myself poor or financially disadvantaged, I have gained respect even among my peers just because I chose mathematics up to the highest academic qualification. As a mentor on several forums, I have got a number of young people who look up to me as their role model, something I lacked as I pursued the mathematics journey. I have inspired many to pursue the subject and STEM fields. I am an advocate for girls in STEM, and sharing my story with those young people struggling and almost giving up on mathematics is my passion. Once in a while, I do outreach programmes where I get to visit schools so that I can encourage young people that they can achieve much more as others before them have achieved. The mathematics journey is always interesting, but only those who choose not to give up can succeed. The limited resources never stopped me from pursuing my dream – instead, I would utilize whatever opportunity I could get to excel. The change of attitude and not dwelling on negativity from those around me enabled me to excel.

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Sophie Huiberts

Sophie Huiberts

Born in The Netherlands • Studied Mathematics at the University of Utrecht • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematics • Lives in the USA • Occupation Postdoctoral Researcher

I definitely did not always want to be a mathematician when I was young. I had a great mathematics teacher in high school, who was very enthusiastic about it. Still, I thought that mathematics was a bit boring, as it did not touch upon any of the subjects that interested me as a teenager. However, I did like programming at that time, which I did as a hobby. At some point I found out that the algorithms I programmed also had inventors. For me, that was a real revelation, and being an ‘inventor of algorithms’ seemed like the best job in the world to me! These people were described as mathematicians and computer scientists, so this made it easy for me to choose my majors at university after high school: mathematics and computer science as a double bachelor program in Utrecht.

At some point I found out that the algorithms I programmed also had inventors. For me, that was a real revelation, and being an ‘inventor of algorithms’ seemed like the best job in the world to me!

In my master program I already chose for mathematics over computer science. I found the theoretical aspects of algorithms more interesting than implementing them in practice, on which the computer science degree put a heavy focus. I really liked my master graduation project, so when my thesis supervisor posted a vacancy for his first PhD student, I applied for this position, and that is how I got into research professionally.

These types of algorithms solve optimization problems that can for example create train schedules, allocate personnel to different tasks or design large sports competitions.

Funnily enough, my research now is still about algorithms, so that interest stuck with me. I now focus on a very particular type of algorithms: the ones used in linear programming and integer linear programming. These types of algorithms solve optimization problems that can for example create train schedules, allocate personnel to different tasks or design large sports competitions. In theory, these algorithms can take a very long time to run. Nevertheless, in practice these algorithms are extremely fast. I  investigate how this difference between theory and practice arises, and try to come up with theoretical models that better explain why these algorithms work so well in practice.

I am most proud of my recently published results on the so-called `diameter of random polytopes’. This was an open problem in my area for quite some time, and I solved it as part of a research team. But I am most proud of the fact that this was the first project where I was really in the lead as a scientist. During the beginning of your PhD, you usually rely on your supervisor for guidance, and they often give you problems to work on, broken up into manageable chunks. This was the first time that I really took the lead in a project, and I ended up being the one to give specific tasks to my coauthors to complete. This experience gave me a lot of confidence and made me certain that I would like to remain in academia.

Most postdocs I knew were often stressed by their uncertain and temporary positions. This was not something I wanted for myself.

Even after this positive experience, I was a bit doubtful about the postdoc phase. Most postdocs I knew were often stressed by their uncertain and temporary positions. This was not something I wanted for myself. I therefore decided to only apply to two positions that seemed great to me. If they both would not work out, I would leave academia. One of the positions was here as a Simons fellow at the University of Columbia. Someone I knew asked if they could nominate me for it, and of course I said yes. In the end, I even got offered both positions I applied for, so that made me more certain that I am welcome in the research environment. As a fellow, I have a three year position with a grant and not many obligations. This makes the postdoc experience much more pleasant.

To me, the best part about being a researcher in mathematics is the fact that I am sometimes the first person who finds the solution to a particular problem, the first person ever to know a particular fact. This is a very special experience, and I can be happy about it for weeks. I also really like the fact that I can sit in my office, and just think about a problem for a while without time pressure.

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Pêdra Andrade

Pêdra Andrade

Born in Pedrinhas – Sergipe, Brazil • Birth year 1989 Studied BSc in Mathematics at the Federal University of Sergipe (UFS) in Aracaju, Brazil • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematics at Pontifical Catholic of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) • Lives in Lisbon, Portugal • Occupation Postdoctoral researcher at IST – University of Lisbon

I decided I wanted to be a math teacher when I was eleven years old. It’s funny to remember that at such a young age, I already knew what I wanted to do with my life. I always had one of my biggest inspirations at home, my mom was a high school teacher and she loves math. I also enjoyed studying math and its accuracy always enchanted me.

Another of my goals was to study math at the Federal University of Sergipe (UFS), the only public university in Sergipe. This was one of the first challenges that I had on this journey. I studied hard to get into university. Fortunately, I got into UFS.

At the beginning of College, everything was amazing, I was living the dream. Even though I had many difficulties with the adaptation process to the university, the new city, and also living far from home, I had the courage and perseverance to tackle each of them. I believe that dealing with our inner selves is one of the biggest challenges we face when studying mathematics. Staying motivated and confident is hard work. This field of science is very beautiful but at the same time very difficult. During this time, I had the pleasure to interact with great professors who inspired me to continue studying mathematics. I’ve always been delighted by the mathematical concepts and the arguments that we use to produce the  beautiful math demonstrations.

Staying motivated and confident is hard work. This field of science is very beautiful but at the same time very difficult.

At this point, I decided to get my Master’s degree in mathematics. At that time, I had no idea what being a researcher was like. Different from my Bachelor’s, I was the only woman in the class. I started to feel like I didn’t belong in that space. I no longer felt comfortable talking and exchanging ideas with my colleagues; it was impossible not to compare myself with the others and I tried to fit in.

Even though I had many difficulties, I got  my Master’s degree. I survived and thanks to my desire to never give up I started my Ph.D. in math at PUC – Rio. As I studied commutative algebra during my Master’s degree, my first thought was to continue studying this subject, but there was no specialist Professor at the time at PUC – Rio. Looking back, I think this was a good thing, as it opened up so many possibilities. Trying to find myself I attended a seminar that focused on partial differential equations (PDEs) with algebra ingredients. I always had this enchantment in studying subjects at the intersection of many fields. I was very glad to see these connections as an example of the magnitude of the study of PDEs and their applications.

Trying to find myself I attended a seminar that focused on partial differential equations (PDEs) with algebra ingredients. I always had this enchantment in studying subjects at the intersection of many fields.

During my doctorate I had the opportunity to attend many scientific events including gender initiatives, give presentations, and I also had the opportunity to study at the University of Central Florida as a Visiting Fellow. After completing my Ph.D., I visited the Centro de Investigación en Matemáticas (CIMAT) in Mexico and held a postdoctoral position at São Paulo University, São Carlos in Brazil. These experiences contributed significantly to my research career, because I learned so much mathematics, but also I got some independence and learned a little bit about how a researcher’s career works. I am extremely grateful for the many special people who supported me throughout this journey.

It is worth mentioning that one of the biggest difficulties I deal with during my journey is the feeling that I have to be strong all the time. I’m not supposed to make mistakes and I do have to know the answers to every question. Nevertheless, the challenges inspire me and arise my curiosity. This is the feeling that moves me to overcome the difficulties that appear to me as a mathematician, such as learning new PDE methods or gender issues. For me, the scientific and human exchange is one of the greatest gifts the profession has given me. 

My research area concerns the study of regularity theory, the existence and the uniqueness of the solutions to elliptic and parabolic equations. Currently, I am a postdoctoral researcher at Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) – University of Lisbon and I am very excited to write this new chapter of my career as a woman in science.

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Rachel Thomas

Rachel Thomas

Born in Perth, Australia • Birth year 1974 Studied Mathematics at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia • Highest Degree MSc (Research) in Pure Mathematics • Lives in London, UK • Occupation Editor of Plus magazine (http://plus.maths.org)

When I started university, I planned to be a physicist or astronomer – I can’t deny I was heavily influenced by a love of scifi! I had a great time working in a gravity wave lab one summer, but the experience also made me realise I didn’t have the patience or practical ingenuity to be an experimental scientist. I found the theory fascinating. But at the lab flanges wouldn’t seal properly and huge niobium bars couldn’t be cooled low enough – I wasn’t as fascinated by the practical experimental problem solving.

I then remembered my other film-influenced career plan of becoming an archaeologist and took courses in Australian archaeology and Greek art and architecture. I had a brilliant time but again, I realised I didn’t have the patience required for the field work and analysis. I spent weeks trying (and not really succeeding) to make sense of tray after tray of very small grubby objects that I had dug up. I loved the ideas behind both of these glamorous careers, but the actual nitty gritty doing of the work just didn’t excite me.

Academia wasn’t appealing to most of the women I had studied with.

In the meantime, I’d been doing maths all along and I loved it. Originally, I took maths because I needed it to study physics. Then I kept studying maths because it turned out to be really fun. I really liked the actual doing of the maths – playing with linear algebra, proving something in group theory – each new area we were taught was so exciting with new concepts and new language or giving familiar ideas an entirely new perspective.

I loved doing research in semigroup theory for my Master’s degree and often couldn’t wait to get back to the desk to move my work forward. Unfortunately though, I didn’t really feel part of the community of my maths department. With hindsight, I’m sure this was partly due to being one of just a few female students when I was at honours and then postgraduate level. Academia wasn’t appealing to most of the women I had studied with. When things didn’t work out with my supervisor I nearly dropped out and left academia to work as a consultant mathematician on projects in government and industry. But fortunately, my generous boss, a brilliant female professor from the department, and my good friends supported me to finish my Master’s dissertation.

(…) it was in this job, and during the writing of my Master’s dissertation, that I discovered how much I loved communicating mathematics.

My work as a consultant was varied, and despite rarely crossing paths with the maths I’d learnt at university my degree had prepared me to learn quickly and to discern the structure of a problem and how I could use available data to answer meaningful questions. My maths training also helped me to communicate with the clients and it was in this job, and during the writing of my Master’s dissertation, that I discovered how much I loved communicating mathematics.

When I moved to the UK, I knew I wanted to write about maths. I was lucky enough to get a job with the Millennium Mathematics Project (MMP), a maths and education outreach initiative based at the University of Cambridge, before I left Australia. I quickly moved into working on Plus magazine, the part of the MMP that enables anyone who is curious about maths and the world to see the maths behind current events and keeping up to date with current maths research.

To see maths so visibly making a difference in the world, and to witness the passion, creativity and dedication of the mathematicians involved has been amazing.

Twenty years later I still love working at Plus, every day learning about new maths and new applications and talking to the mathematicians who make it all happen. My brilliant co-editor of Plus, Marianne Freiberger, and I get to go on all sorts of amazing mathematical adventures. Our work has taken us around the world, we’ve spoken to brilliant mathematicians from academia and industry, we’ve written several popular science books, appeared on TV and radio and worked on documentary series for the Discovery Channel working with our colleagues at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. And over the last two years we’ve been lucky enough to work with epidemiologists working on the mathematical front line of the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to explain and communicate their work. To see maths so visibly making a difference in the world, and to witness the passion, creativity and dedication of the mathematicians involved has been amazing.

Things have changed a lot since I found myself as one of only a few female students at the end of my time at university.

Things have changed a lot since I found myself as one of only a few female students at the end of my time at university. Despite no longer being an academic mathematician, I feel firmly part of the maths community today.  And I’m very happy that nearly half the mathematicians and researchers Plus has collaborated with over the last year are women. A new community spirit seems to be rising in many mathematics departments, heavily influenced by the experience and hard work of the female researchers already there. I hope that these networks, and projects including Her Maths Story, are helping women in mathematics find the support and the supporters they need to follow their own maths stories.

Posted by HMS in Stories
Karem Guzmán Elgueta

Karem Guzmán Elgueta

Born in Los Vilos, Chile • Birth year 1990 • Studied B. Sc. in Mathematics and ​ B. Sc. in Mathematical Engineering at Universidad de Santiago in Santiago, Chile • Highest degree Master in Statistics • Lives in Santiago, Chile • Occupation Financial Advisory Consultant

My relationship with mathematics began when one day in high school a classmate asked me: “Karem, you are very good at mathematics, have you thought about studying it at university?” I will never forget this question because it was this one that made me aware of my love for mathematics. Since I was little, I had a knack for numbers and the subject always entertained me, so I decided to formally continue studying Mathematical Engineering at University.

During college, mathematics opened a new world, a lot of theory and logic work. It was not easy, including many hours of study and frustrations, and not always achieving good exam results. It was a long and hard road, but with resilience I managed to finish successfully.

I liked the time flexibility these jobs gave me, but they didn’t make me happy, as I felt a sense of intellectual emptiness. This is why I decided to go back to university to pursue a Master’s degree in statistics and you can’t imagine how much I liked it!

After graduating, I worked for two years as a high school teacher and as an assistant professor at the university. I liked the time flexibility these jobs gave me, but they didn’t make me happy, as I felt a sense of intellectual emptiness. This is why I decided to go back to university to pursue a Master’s degree in statistics and you can’t imagine how much I liked it! I was fascinated by the subjects associated with models and their theories (data mining, predictive modeling, supervised and unsupervised learning as well as time series, among other models), so today I am a lover of statistics.

Could you imagine what would happen if one day you make a withdrawal from your card and the bank denies it for not having funds? A systemic shock would surely occur, so these models are essential.

I am currently working for a professional services firm and I have experience in credit risk modeling projects, e.g. provision models under local regulations and International Financial Reporting Standards, countercyclical provision models, forward looking models, management models such as admission, behavior and collection, as well as in liquidity risk projects, e.g. construction of flow projection models/methodologies. Credit risk models, in general, aim to mitigate the risk of non-compliance with contracted payments, so provision models estimate an amount of money that a financial institution could eventually lose if all its customers decide not to pay. Management models, such as admission models, aim to estimate a client’s ability to meet their payment obligations, and thus help the financial institution to select its clients. On the other hand, liquidity risk models seek to ensure sufficient cash flow to comply with all normal operations associated with a financial institution: deposits, drafts, transfers, withdrawals of investment funds, etc. Could you imagine what would happen if one day you make a withdrawal from your card and the bank denies it for not having funds? A systemic shock would surely occur, so these models are essential.

My work is dynamic and very demanding, but I love it because I never do the same thing. There are always new projects and clients to care for, so I enjoy my work every day. I invite all women who like mathematics to dare and study it without fear, and if you also have an inclination for finance, then the world is yours!

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Maha Kaouri

Maha Kaouri

From El-Khiam, Lebanon • Birth year 1994 Studied Financial Mathematics at the University of Kent, UK  • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematics from the University of Reading, UK • Lives in Cambridge, UK • Occupation Scientific Knowledge Exchange Coordinator in the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences and part-time as a Study Skills Tutor (STEM) in the University of Cambridge Disability Resource Centre, and Associate Lecturer at the School of Mathematics and Statistics, The Open University

As a part of the Newton Gateway to Mathematics team at the Isaac Newton Institute (INI), I get to be involved in many important projects that bridge the gap between the mathematical sciences and the real world. A particularly exciting part of my job is that I get to work with the V-KEMS partners to develop study groups, where industry stakeholders pose problems to a group of mathematicians who then go on to work on these for a few days. The atmosphere at the INI is something really special and unique – it’s a place that brings together people from across the world to solve all kinds of maths problems, be it in person, or virtually. 

My role at the INI isn’t research-based, nor does it have any form of student interaction, but I find this works perfectly well with my part-time commitments supporting students with disabilities and learning difficulties at the same university, and with working as an Associate Lecturer at The Open University. I love the flexibility that working in academia gives you. 

My PhD journey was a struggle, but isn’t everyone’s? From being told by a professor that I can’t do a Maths PhD (…) to dealing with the uncertainty along the way that my research wasn’t good enough to warrant a PhD. It was until the viva, when I was acknowledged for the quality of my research (…).

My maths journey starts in 2010, when I began my A-levels. During GCSE, I struggled to get a B and so it was my family who pushed me to take Maths at A-level to open up opportunities. Surprisingly, I happened to excel in and enjoy it, so I focused most of my energy on Maths and got an A! I decided to continue into university with the subject that I was doing best at and that paid off as some of my favourite memories come from my time at the University of Kent. Studying Financial Mathematics meant that I was exposed not only to Maths, but also Statistics, Actuarial Science and Operations Research, which is something that broadened my knowledge of the potential applications of maths. 

My PhD journey was a struggle, but isn’t everyone’s? From being told by a professor that I can’t do a Maths PhD because I studied Financial Maths and that even if I did a Maths Masters, it still wouldn’t be possible, to dealing with the uncertainty along the way that my research wasn’t good enough to warrant a PhD. It was until the viva, when I was acknowledged for the quality of my research, that I got some certainty in my abilities. In fact, I’m in the process of collating my second paper from my PhD research on optimisation methods for data assimilation. I do know that my challenges are nothing compared to others who have battled through illnesses and losing loved ones, especially so during the pandemic. So, I consider myself amongst luckiest who only had to deal with personal challenges. I have had a lot of support along the way, but I still felt the need to avoid the dreaded ‘how’s the PhD going?’ question for years out of the fear that I will not make it. I think the way that I got through it is by building up confidence in my work and persevering even though I felt that the outcome might not be what I was hoping for and working towards. 

I guess the unique part of my maths journey is the fact that I am navigating my beliefs in an academic environment.

I guess the unique part of my maths journey is the fact that I am navigating my beliefs in an academic environment. As a Muslim, I need to pray at certain times during the day, so when I go to conferences, I would arrange my travel in such a way that allows me to do so, and I would take time out during lunch – when everyone else is networking – to pray. I would also need to ensure that my dietary requirements are met. In the UK, it’s been very easy to do so both during my studies and now. I am really grateful that when I mentioned that I needed to start praying in the office because the sunset is sooner, my colleagues offered me their offices! They have been really keen to make sure that I’m completely comfortable, which is something that I greatly appreciate. That wasn’t necessarily the case when I travelled abroad – I even visited a university which had removed their once purpose-built prayer room. But overall, it’s not been too much of a struggle wherever I’ve been. 

I think as a woman in maths, the main thing that I’ve noticed is that there are many more men than women participating in conferences and workshops that I’ve been to. I know that this is something that the INI are actively tackling, which is great to see and be a part of. The advice that I would give to a woman who is looking to pursue a career in mathematics is to persevere. There are going to be points where you’re told, either directly or indirectly, that you’re not good enough and that you don’t belong here, and it may come from people that you don’t expect it to, but if you know that it’s your ultimate goal to stay in academia, or to simply complete a PhD then I’d say just keep going with it and stay strong as only good things come through hard work and perseverance. 

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F. Ayça Çetinkaya

F. Ayça Çetinkaya

Born in Ankara, Turkey • Studied Mathematics at Ankara University, Turkey • Highest Degree PhD in Mathematics from Mersin University, Turkey • Lives in Rolla, MO, USA • Occupation Associate Professor of Mathematics at Mersin University Turkey / Visiting Scholar at Missouri University of Science and Technology

“What is behind your decision to undertake a doctorate?” That was the question I was asked during my PhD interview. I remember myself saying “I feel like I’ve got more to offer as a mathematician and I am really passionate about learning more.” This was almost ten years ago. After that interview, I started my PhD, finished it four years later and learned a lot.

Luckily, I was persistent enough to keep going until that magical moment of realization had arrived. It was like finding the missing piece of a puzzle (…).

Not until the end of my second year at college did I become aware of the fact that I was going to be an academic. To be honest, after high school, when I first started studying mathematics, I was feeling insecure about figuring out all those abstract concepts and I found it quite difficult to understand the exact way of conceptualizing. Luckily, I was persistent enough to keep going until that magical moment of realization had arrived. It was like finding the missing piece of a puzzle and feeling relieved when it all came together. 

During my Master’s and PhD, I wasn’t fortunate enough to be surrounded by the most helpful and sympathetic people. I was a young woman who was trying to find her path in a discipline that is not very feminized. However, I had the world’s most encouraging, genuine, and thoughtful family who has always been a great source of support during tiring times. 

Although I do appreciate many things about my job (…) I still try not to define myself by my career.

I am now a visiting scholar at Missouri University of Science & Technology, Department of Mathematics and Statistics. I am enjoying every second of this journey and I am thrilled to be a part of this favorable atmosphere which allows me to develop myself in several important aspects I could not even imagine. My current research is about boundary value problems for differential equations. The study of these types of problems is driven not only by a theoretical interest, but also several phenomena in engineering, physics, and natural sciences can be modeled in this way.

Patience, curiosity, a lot of energy, good manners, courage, and the desire to move forward are the essentials for not only mathematical studies, but also for life itself. Although I do appreciate many things about my job — such as attending national and international conferences, collaborating with other mathematicians, being able to manage my own time, mentoring students, and teaching — I still try not to define myself by my career. I am a true believer of body and mind unity, and as far as I am concerned, exercise is the most crucial part of this agreement. I also have a huge appetite for literature and exploring the world. In the end we all live one life. Why not get the most out of it?

Posted by HMS in Stories