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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: The Small Print
September 17, 2009 - 9:42pm

One of the first things I learned upon becoming a mom was that I needed to be much smarter than I am. I needed to become my child’s advocate in many arenas, and some of these were areas that I had no knowledge of. For example, I needed to become, in many ways, my daughter’s primary care physician, looking out for her health as I assembled the information presented by doctors of different specialties. For the job of being my daughter’s advocate, I often found myself relying on sources ranging from books to the internet to my wonderful colleagues.

Working in a college gives one access to some very smart people that are not ordinarily at our disposal. It is like working in a living encyclopedia, with access to advanced knowledge only a short stroll or an e-mail away. Years ago, when someone from Italy contacted me looking for relatives with my last name, I was able to take her e-mail, which was in Italian, to my colleague down the hall in the modern language department, who translated it for me. When I had questions about bringing my daughter to a pediatric dentist, my colleague in the biology department, who had been to dental school, was able to tell me what I needed to do. In return, I offer myself as a source of information on statistics, economics and math in general to anyone who has questions. I recall one instance years ago when I marched into the office of our CFO armed with economics graphs and lecture notes on the concept of “sunk cost”, in an unsuccessful attempt to convince him to let my undersubscribed classes run. Today, my knowledge is usually more welcome and sought out, as I am often called upon as a resource for college and non-college issues.

But it is not just the actual knowledge that my colleagues have that impresses me. I often learn how to approach problems from them. This is the case as I was recently once again reminded of how intelligent my colleagues are when one of my fellow math professors helped to save a relative’s life just by doing what she does best; solve problems.

This professor had a very sick relative in another country. Indeed, at least one doctor had told her to go home and get her affairs in order, since there was nothing more they could do for her. My colleague, however, would not accept that answer, and began asking questions. As she spoke with her relative, she learned that the relative was on some powerful medicines for other condition, one of which a doctor had once told her she should probably get off of as soon as possible. Hearing this, my colleague did some research on the side effects of that medicine, and learned that it could cause the very problems her relative was suffering from. A conversation with her relative convinced the relative to bring this information to her doctor, and the problem that was supposed to kill her will most likely go away soon. This relative went from preparing to die to just having to change the dose of her medicines, and her life was returned to her. Teaching critical thinking is an important goal of our math program, and this interaction highlights why it is so highly valued.


As I work to advocate for my daughter, I find that my colleagues are an important source of information and good models of how to intelligently approach life’s challenges. So, the “take away” lesson from this story is that, we should question and seek out our own answers to problems. And the next time you hear an ad for a new medicine, be sure to listen to the list of dangers and side effects at the end; it could be the difference between life and death for you or for someone you love.


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