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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Moving Forward
January 5, 2012 - 9:58pm

When my daughter was first learning geometry, she came home one day to proclaim "I know what a ray is, mom. It is a line pointing in only one direction." She then went on to tell me that math was becoming her favorite subject. Of course, this was music to my ears.

I thought of this recently as we moved into a new year. 2011 is over, and we are now in 2012. Like a ray, we can only move in one direction, forward, and so I took a few minutes to think of what good things 2012 might hold.

I once heard that you can tell who is a teacher by asking them when the year begins. Most people will say "January," since that is the start of the calendar year. Teachers, however, think of September as the beginning of the year. For those of us on a semester system, January is both the beginning of a new year and also the beginning of a new semester, when we have a chance to correct anything that went wrong last semester. These new beginnings allow us to have another chance to do our best.

And so, as the semester begins, I think of what lies ahead, always looking in one direction like the ray that so intrigued my daughter. As I look ahead, I know that I want to once again try to bring more organization to my work, so much so that I asked for help from students who can help me achieve this, even calling one of them my “organizational engineer.” They are helping me to find ways to avoid piling my desk with random papers as the semester unfolds.

I look forward to continuing to work with my dean to develop an interdisciplinary major in “sustainability and social justice.” I am thrilled because at the last iteration, the proposed major included a subset of classes in economics, including public sector economics, where issues of externalities and market failure can be studied in terms of the problems facing the world in the 21st century.

I look forward to working on new research with my co-author. I am especially excited to work with him on a paper in his area of specialization, health economics, after years of writing in my own, nonprofit economics. I am also excited to have a graduating math major working with us as a research assistant this semester. It will be her first introduction to the research process, and I hope she enjoys it.

I look forward to once again teaching a course in nonprofit economics in a Master’s program at a university near me. I enjoyed doing so last year, and, while I hope the students learned something from me, I have to admit that I learned just as much from the fascinating students I taught.

I look forward to watching my daughter continue to fall in love with math, as she was just moved up to the “enrichment” math group. They will soon be studying that mysterious subject her mom teaches- statistics.

I look forward to welcoming back my math major who was participating in an internship at Disney World last semester. She will be graduating soon, and I am excited to once again watch more students march across the stage to earn a degree in math. I recall how scarce math majors were only a few years ago, and, while still scarce, their numbers have increased to the level where we have to believe that we no longer need to worry about the viability of the major. Or maybe we do- one can never be sure about such things, especially in an economic downturn.

However, even in an economic downturn, students who major in math are doing well finding post-college employment. As the semester unfolds and they finalize their plans, I wish them well.

I also send out good wishes to my colleagues who are looking for jobs of their own. I hope that the academic labor market proves to be a "leading indicator" for a general economic recovery that we all hope for.

Most importantly, I look forward to continuing to watch the shrinkage of the tumors in my sister’s liver. Being a math geek, I continue to monitor their relative size, and rejoice over shrinkage of 23% in the first cycle and then 25% in the second. Of course, I know that what is really needed is for all cancer cells to be gone, but such shrinkage gives hope in the face of statistics that say that chemotherapy has little positive effect on curing the rare “bile duct” cancer that she battles. As her doctor says that he has never seen such a good response to chemotherapy, I have to believe that it is the prayers and support of many people that have led to such results.

As the new year and new semester unfolds, I wish everyone the best as they take on new creative endeavors. And, as I do, I recall a Theology professor from college who used to love using the phrase “new possibilities.” May 2012 be filled with many new possibilities for everyone!

Wishing a Happy New Year and a happy "twelfth day of Christmas" to all my readers!


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