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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Chaos Theory
October 7, 2010 - 7:46pm

I once had someone tell me a story of being on an airplane seated next to someone who was writing a dissertation in either math or economics (I forgot which). They asked their companion what their dissertation was on, and the person responded “chaos.” This person quickly responded by laughing; surely this was a reference to the old “Get Smart” movies of years ago. When they told me this story, I let them know that “chaos” is indeed an area of math that can be studied, and can even be applied to economics. It has to do with apparent randomness that actually has a pattern buried deep within it. The patterns made by a babbling brook or the apparent randomness of the weather or the stock market are examples of randomness that may actually be hiding patterns. What actually occurs depends critically on the starting point, the “initial conditions”. I could not help but think of chaos theory these past few weeks as I prepare to receive “new” furniture that another employee left behind as they moved on.

When I first took my job here at Ursuline, I was given a one year contract with hopes of a tenure track position coming open after about one year. I was stepping into the shoes of the former chair, who, artistic as well as mathematical, was taking a break from teaching to pursue a master’s degree in art therapy. I was shown a desk and told that it would be mine for the next year. However, I didn’t know if I would be back after a year, so I admit that I did little to make that space my own.

As the years went on and my temporary appointment grew into a full professorship, I moved my office to another building. However, I kept that same desk that was handed down to me many years ago. One drawer never had a door handle that worked, and another has since lost a door handle. I therefore cannot completely close the drawers on my desk, if I don’t want to risk never being able to open it again. I am therefore looking forward to having “big people” furniture, and to adding a white board and a small round table to the arrangement. I am even planning to call it the “Mathematics Café.”

I must admit, however, that my office is severely in need of a face lift. In fact, I am surprised that I have not been discovered by one of those shows on cable TV that goes into a house and cleans it up, as neat and organized people watch in horror. Indeed, before starting to pack up my office so I could get my new furniture, I took “before” pictures with the intention of framing them and hanging them in my new office. It was to the point where I hardly had any paths to use to make my way to the desk or the closet. Yes, I am disorganized, but some of this disorganization came from being on first a walker and then a crutch last semester. I was certainly in no shape to pick up piles of paper and organize them until recently.

Since I received so many good hints last week about how to deal with a sick child day, I thought I would ask for more advice. How do you manage to keep your offices functional and neat in the midst of being parents, teaching and doing research (and, as in my case, serving as department chair)? I often have a stream of students coming in and out and occasionally leaving things behind. Any suggestions for a system that will allow me to make sure that the “Mathematics Café” does not end up as a “special presentation” on cable TV would be most welcome!


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