Thursday, May 10, 2007

From Feminist theory to mathematics

I need to preface this with stating that I have been to a plethora of colleges, the majority of which were art and design schools with one liberal arts school before I came to my current university. I was admitted to the hippie college because I wanted to create a concentration in Media, Women's, and Labour studies, which was my life for the years that passed between colleges. I had no idea I would throw off my intended concentration for mathematics, but one person made me dream of a future filled with equations.

When I took the Science of Sound with Nancy Swanson, I was reintroduced to a favourite high school subject of mine. Not only did I need the science credit, but I love physics. I ended up tutoring a couple of students with their homework, and Nancy started pulling me aside and asking why I was taking the other classes if I didn't enjoy them (at the time I was also enrolled in We're Not For Sale: Asian Women in America and frustrated with the lack of dialogue in the class.) She kept telling me that I was a scientist. In the evaluation at the end of the course, (I go to a college that does written evaluations instead of grades for their courses. Obviously now that I'm on main campus I get grades) Nancy wrote:

“It was great to have you in this class. It is a pleasure to teach someone who really
wants to understand the derivation of the equations. Unfortunately, you are in the minority.
As you found, you learn more by trying to teach others than you do by working on
your own. You REALLY have to understand a concept in order to explain it in English to someone else. Bravo!

You turned in all of the homework (one assignment late) and you had the correct answers for most of the
problems. You obviously understand the material and the mathematics. You actively participated in class
and asked questions. You were obviously interested and engaged.”

We had many discussions about me going into a scientific field; I was still concerned about leaving a possible career in women's studies for one in science, she told me about how I could work for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and work to enact policies that ensure that girls and women were getting the same access to mathematics and science that boys and men have, and ones that could encourage girls to go into the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She talked to me about ways in which I could incorporate my work in feminism with science. I found a group Association of Women in Science and talked to many women who were in physics related fields. The idea of mentoring college women and high school girls was also appealing to me.

That quarter brought my hippie college writing portfolio review and transition conference. I had submitted the piece that had gotten published in off our backs for my portfolio and received the highest marks on it. At my transition conference my advisor, who had read the paper, and Nancy were there. We discussed my future as a women studies professor, and also my future, should I choose to accept it, in physics. We discussed how theory and physics were just two different languages, and that having learned one and learning the other was just expanding the way that I could see and interact with the world. Both my advisor and Nancy strongly pushed me towards physics, with my advisor pointing out that I had all ready been published, something that they look for in women's studies departments, and the hard part of becoming a theorist. I knew how to get published, which was half the battle. I had done the hard part of feminist theory, and I should study something that I had a natural capability in. I struggled with the idea of studying physics, a field that is dominated by men (with a big old boys club to go with it). I thought that maybe I could do it.

While I am still taking physics classes I fell in love with my mathematics classes. I still dream of doing mathematics in conjunction with physics. Whatever I end up doing, I am only doing because Nancy made me confident that I could pursue a science career over all my thoughts about being horrible at mathematics and better suited to study within the Liberal and Fine Arts. (I am however finishing my BFA in printmaking to go along with my BS in mathematics.)

I am forever grateful to Nancy for pushing me into a field that I completely adore, and that I am faring pretty well in.


Terry said...

My admiration for you never stops growing. I'm so thankful you found a mentor who could lead you to your true path and show you your strengths. You can do this, and you will. I'm so proud of you!

lost clown said...

*awww* I'm blushing right now. That means so much to me. Thank you so much. *mwah*

Rebecca said...

Wow, it is really interesting to hear about the path you took to get where you are now! I know that you will be an inspiration to young women following you into the math/science field.