• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Names and License Plates

... and identities.


January 21, 2016

At least one undergraduate text book in “Abstract Algebra” uses the word “cubbyholes” to describe the process of sorting sets of numbers (and other things!) into mathematical “groups” so as to better understand them. I found myself thinking of this recently when I read something from a fellow blogger discussing the name by which her students call her. While she has grown to prefer being called by her first name, here at Ursuline we tend to use the professor’s last name. Doing so helps students distinguish between the professor and fellow students (therefore putting them into the correct “cubbyhole”), as some of the students are the same age as many professors. I found myself relating this issue to mathematical groups because it seems that, no matter where I teach, I am called by the same abbreviation of my name; “Doctor E.” It is a name that I have slowly adopted for myself, now often signing notes to my class on our Learning Management System with it.

Years ago, when I finally traded my series of hatchbacks and a coup for a true “mom car” that has room for both a car seat and a collapsible stroller system, I followed the advice of my husband and got a vanity plate that told the world who the driver is; “DOCTOR E.” Now, should I ever want to remain anonymous on campus, it is impossible.

It was once the case that the gear system in my car had a problem that was put on recall before my dealer could reach me to fix it. Not knowing about the problem, I innocently parked the car one morning and headed off to class. Before I could get to my classroom, I heard some of my student talking among themselves about a car that had run into a ditch. I saw a group of students that were gathered around a ditch near where I had parked my car. With a sick feeling in my stomach, I walked over to the excitement, only to see my car face down in a drainage ditch, looking like the Titanic with the front down in the ditch and the back up in the air. My immediate assumption was that I had forgotten to put it into “park”, and that this car had therefore rolled into the ditch because of my mistake. Not wanting to admit that I had made such a blunder, I walked over to the site, pretending to be just another passer-by. It was then that I realized I could not pretend that this was not my car, as, there for all the world to see, and now at eye level, was my license plate, “DOCTOR E.” I was rather surprised that the folks from Security climbed into the ditch to read the number on my parking permit before knowing whom to contact.  Only later did I learn that this problem was the result of a manufacturing error, and, to make things more interesting, I was the only car east of the Mississippi River that had actually experienced difficulty with this.

My husband was able to convince me to get a vanity plate because he also has a vanity plate of his own. A lawyer who spends most of his days in court, his well-recognized plate reads “I LITIG8.” I remember once having to explain to my young daughter that not all license plates read as words, since the two she was used to seeing were ones that did. As a very young child just learning to read, she had difficulty trying to sound out the random letters and numbers on the license plates she often saw.

Last weekend, I found myself behind a car with a license plate that read “MS MATH” and, for a moment, was jealous. I have always wondered about ways to create a plate that somehow reads “demand equals supply” but have not been able to find a way. Of course, any of these are frivolous when compared to the plate I once saw that read (like the dimensions of a room) “SVD X GRAC”

Do any of my readers have vanity plates that relate to what you do, and if so, what are they?


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