Social Norms and Other Challenges

If you are drawn to a field that people say you can’t do, then keep pushing against those who seek to limit you. They don’t know what you can do. And, I bet, that you don’t know what you can do.

My senior year of high school, I was in a special program where I took all my classes at the junior college. The program was for people who knew what they wanted to do to. And I wanted to do theater. (spoiler, I now have a PhD in math and love it) But, I had taken my math and science classes thus far and I didn’t see any reason to stop. So I wanted to take Physics 101 as I would have done if I had stayed at my high school for senior year. But in this special program we had a special adviser. And my advisor noticed that the physics class had a “recommended” course of physics for non-physics majors. I didn’t want to take that class. I wanted the class with actual math in it.

My advisor and I got in a fight. She told me to “Go think about my options and let her know when I had reached a conclusion.” I came back and said, “I got an A in calculus. My dad is a computer scientist and he can help me with the homework if I get stuck. I know how to use my resources and I want to take the Physics 101 class.” She told me no. In addition she gave me a veiled threat that she would get me kicked out the program if I continued to try to get into the other class. I’ll never understand that decision of hers.

So I had no choice but to take the thought experiment based physics class where we thought about monkeys falling out to trees.

Classic physics problem about shooting a monkey out of a tree. You can complete this problem with or without math… or so they say!

The class was interesting, but not for me. I wanted the rigor. Because although high school me didn’t realize it at the time, I had an aptitude for math. But no one would tell me that. Probably because I couldn’t subtract numbers to save my life. (Luckily that’s not really what math is about.)

No one noticed that I never used to my calculator and said, “Hey, by not using your graphing calculator, you are forcing yourself to really learn how to graph and understand it. Thus making this class harder and not easier. I bet you secretly like math.” In fact it was the opposite. There were people activity pushing me away from the subjects I was interested in. Why had my otherwise nice adviser forced me to take the class she felt was appropriate? Was it because she had me pegged as a theater major and she couldn’t accept that I could do something else? Was it because I was female?

If you have faced challenges, then know that you are in good company. This morning a reader recommended this great clip of Neil deGrasse Tyson (below) which reminded me that acknowledging the struggle is valuable. I always appreciate when people who have “made it” admit to the challenges they faced. No one has succeeded without struggles. Succeeding without challenges is a probability zero event.

PS: If for whatever reason the clip below starts at the beginning then skip to time 1:01:30 to just hear the most relevant portion of the Q&A. Thanks!

About Samantha from SocialMath

Applied Mathematician and writer of
This entry was posted in Learning and Teaching Math, Social Mathematicians and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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