In math, a central role is played in the process of classifying numbers and objects to form groups, as when numbers are classified as whole numbers, integers, or complex numbers. I found myself thinking of this recently, and about my own journey into different academic self-classifications, as I watched the arrival of photographs of a celestial body formerly known as a planet, but always called “Pluto.”
My academic background is in Economics, with both my undergraduate degree and my Ph.D. in the subject. When things started to fall apart in my first job as an Economist, I found myself having to choose what direction my life would take. Some options open to me included moving far from where I lived, into a state where my husband could not practice law or perhaps taking a job that just might perhaps present an even more risky future than would be found at the job I held at the time. Another option included taking a job in a department teaching something other than Economics. While fellow Economists told me to stay away from the last option, even as I listened to them and their well-meaning advice, an offer for a position at Ursuline College came through. It provided me with an opportunity to stay in Ohio, where my husband is a member of the bar, and teach at a school that seemed to share many of my values.
It, however, asked me to teach in a Math department, rather than in Economics. I recall that, when the list of courses I would teach was shown to me, consisting mainly of Calculus and Statistics courses, I hardly recognized that I would no longer be in an Economics department. From the beginning, I promised myself that I would continue my research and writing as an Economist. Therefore, despite the issue of what my new department would be called, this position seemed to be the best combination of qualities that I could hope for. Despite what the fellow Economists suggested, I jumped at the position. As was the case with Pluto, the definition of what I was perceived to be had changed, even though I was the same person and same professor. This was something that was both scary and exciting at the time. That was seventeen years ago, and in today’s labor market, I would probably not have wasted even the small amount of time I spent making the decision.
Moving to a Mathematics department was a positive experience for me, and one that re-connected me with the part of me that had once wanted to be a scientist. After a few years, my office was moved to the Science building on campus, which we began calling the “Math and Science” building.
I loved the time with my science colleagues, and lunches with them soon involved time spent with Biologists over discussions of evolution and conversations of how Linear Algebra is applied to Chemistry. That was until, two years ago this weekend, when a tornado cut through our campus and destroyed our gym while damaging the building in which my office was held. The damage on campus was extensive, and once again, my office needed to be moved, so repairs could be made to our building. I therefore spent the last year “in exile,” in a temporary office in the basement of the library. It has been a nice year in a nice office, an office that my daughter particularly liked, since it was near a lounge with vending machines. However, I am now ready to return to the Science building, where I believe that the math department belongs. In a few weeks, it will soon be my turn to move home.
Will Pluto ever regain its status as a planet? There is some discussion of the possibility. All I know is that, for now, I am returning to my office down the hall from the Biology department and upstairs from the Chemistry department. I will once again be seen as the person I had become before July of 2013.