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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Defining Success
September 23, 2010 - 7:50pm

The concept of equality or equivalency is central to mathematics, as even the most simple algebra requires a statement of equivalency in order to present a statement that is true and can be solved. Such equality can even be found in non-mathematical arenas, as when mention of one thing immediately brings to mind thoughts of another. For example, it is true that there are certain cities whose names have become almost equivalent to organizations they house. When a character in The Great Gatsby says that someone “went to New Haven”, it is assumed that he went to Yale University. And when we hear of the city of Rochester, Minnesota, we immediately think of the Mao Clinic, one of the best hospitals in the world. Recently, Cleveland, Ohio has sought to market itself as a center for health care, with the hopes that Cleveland, Ohio will soon become universally synonymous with excellent health care, as it already is in some circles. It is in the midst of that city-wide campaign that Ursuline College inaugurated its first doctoral program, the Doctor of Nursing Practice. This degree, a terminal degree in nursing, prepares nurses for positions as researchers, administrators or executives in the health care field. I recently began co-teaching statistics in that program, and it gave me pause to realize that I, an undergraduate teacher at heart, am now teaching in a doctoral program.

I must confess that I bought into the graduate school culture quite completely when I first entered my Ph.D. program. I learned quite quickly which journals were “good” journals (you could find a ranking pretty easily, even in those pre-internet days), and what jobs I should be aiming for after graduate school (for teaching, they should be research oriented, and for non-teaching, there was a short list of “good” jobs, many located in Washington, D.C.) I sometimes suspect that had I not gotten sick, or encountered other detours on my way to my degree, I would still be modeling my career after these values that were handed on to me in those first weeks of graduate school. As it worked out, although I continue to do research, I ended up teaching in a school that is focuses on teaching rather than research. In addition, my desire to have a family led me to choose a school that is much more family-friendly than most.

Once in a while I wonder what my life would have been like had I made a commitment to obtaining and succeeding in the kind of jobs I was told about almost exactly 25 years ago this fall. What would it have been like to teach doctoral students in my field, something that will probably never happen? I am sure it would have been fun to explore the boundaries of my discipline with students who were also dedicating their academic lives to my own subject. I will probably never teach doctoral students in economics, but this new experience of teaching students at the doctoral level will allow me to make a contribution to the academic world at that level.

In some ways, my work with these students may have more of an impact on the world than any economic research I might have done in a life that I thought I would live. Many of our students will probably be hired by one of the world-class hospitals in our city, and they will be, directly or indirectly, caring for people in their most difficult days. In some ways, my influence on the world, through the expert nurses we will graduate, will be much greater than it would have been if I had been more of a “success”, in the traditional sense of the word, in my own field. But then, I long ago learned to revise and re-evaluate my definition of “success” as I (thankfully) move through a rather non-linear life.


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