• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Nonlinearities and a Silver Anniversary

Routes we don't plan.

August 27, 2015

I told my Calculus class recently that when I was in High School, there were (obviously) no graphing calculators. We therefore had to learn to look at an equation and picture it in our minds, a skill that I hope will be reinforced in the course of my class. It was the first day of class, so I then proceeded to review some of the fundamental functions used in my course, from trigonometric functions to power functions to logarithmic functions. Of course, the easiest function to describe was a linear function, a function that I found myself thinking of recently as I realized that I was nearing the 25th anniversary of my initial arrival in Cleveland, Ohio.

I arrived in Cleveland at the end of August in 1990, and when I think of the person I was then, and the plans I had for myself at the time, I have to laugh. I arrived here after a two day trip that included a stay in a convent arranged by my Sister of Notre Dame traveling companion, and I drove to the apartment I had rented not far from the school that would become home for me and where I would start my first job. I had quite a plan mapped out in my mind for what the next few years would look like. Surely I would amaze my new co-workers with my teaching skills and my research productivity. I was single, so I hoped that I would find a partner along the way, a pairing that I was sure would lead to children, at least two, if all went well with my pursuit of tenure. My future was mapped out for me like a great linear function, a vector headed out into the years ahead. Surely this was the start of a grand adventure!

Of course, things did not happen exactly as I had planned. While some details of my plan did unfold, they were not exactly as I had anticipated. I did meet my husband, and, after a long struggle, became a parent through the adoption of my one daughter. I ended up switching schools after I faced the prospect of what would almost surely have been a tenure denial, and only after I began to think “outside the box” and took a job in a related field that was not exactly the one in which I earned my terminal degree.

If you had told the young woman who arrived in Cleveland in late August of 1990 that someday she would be writing a “blog” column for “Inside HigheEd”, she would have given me a very odd look. Not only would she not know what a “blog,” or “Inside  Higher Ed” was, she would laugh at the name she would be writing under; “Math Geek Mom.” For, while I loved math, and was finishing a dissertation that included a mathematical model of an economy including a system of twenty six differential equations and unknowns, I most certainly had no image of myself as a professor of Mathematics. At the time, my future was to be found at a small Jesuit college outside of Cleveland, teaching Economics in a School of Business, even though my research focused on organizations that had other goals than simply earning as much profit as possible and returning a portion of that profit to shareholders. No, I would have laughed loudly if I had described my current life, made possible by the “mommy” station wagon I now drive, to the young woman who drove a hatch-back into Shaker Heights that weekend. And yet, here I am.

And so, I ask my readers, how had your life taken non-linear turns as you have navigated the world of academia?    



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