February 23, 2021, by Agnes
Why I AM a Mathematician
A few days ago I attended an event titled Women in TEC hosted by Bright Network. It was an incredible opportunity and I’m really thankful for being selected as one of the attendees. You can view my professional expression of gratitude here, on my LinkedIn profile. (Yes, shameless, but relevant – just bare with me.) I made a lot of new connections through this event both with representatives of big companies and talented STEM students across the country.
However, while scanning the list of participants to look for other women in Maths or other University of Nottingham students – something struck me. It seemed like I was the only one whose headline (lifted from LinkedIn) wasn’t “xth year [insert subject here] student at [insert university name here]” or some variation of that.
If you clicked on the link above, you would see that my LinkedIn headline is “Mathematician and Environmentalist”. This is how I choose to present myself professionally. In fact, the use of “Mathematician” was a very conscious and deliberate decision.
The line between the people who can and can’t use the title “Mathematician” is different depending on the cultural context. Compare this to “Artist” – what differentiates an artist and someone who just likes to draw? Some may say it’s a matter of expertise; if you’re a talented and experienced artist if you have relevant qualifications if you’re able to sell your art… Similarly in Maths; you become a Mathematician maybe when you have a BSc, maybe an MSc, definitely a PhD, but also you have to work in the field. There is no definite stage you can ‘pass’ where you will become a “Mathematician”. To the layman, however, anybody related to Mathematics is a Mathematician. Whereas The Cambridge Dictionary defines “Mathematician” as ‘someone who studies, teaches, or is an expert in Mathematics’.
In my personal opinion, it’s a matter of identity – I think I’m a Mathematician so I am one.
I study Maths so I am a Mathematician. Maths is a big part of my daily life so I am a Mathematician. I am learning and will constantly be learning no matter what stage of my education or career I am in – so I am already a Mathematician.
But why am I so insistent on using that word; why is “Maths student” not enough? Well, I refuse to be a victim of Imposter Syndrome. I read an article entitled “Who is allowed to call themselves a scientist?” which explained, amongst other things, the internalised stigma that comes with self-proclaiming as a scientist. People who are, by definition, scientists avoid referring to themselves as such because of Imposter Syndrome – “I’m not a real scientist” or “I’m not a scientist I’m an Xyz-ologist”. This is known as “professional humility” amongst peers.
However, women’s achievements and expertise are already discounted; we are already expected to show humility and modesty. If I’m visible or heard, I’m already not humble enough – so I might as well be proud of my achievements.
I am a Mathematician because I’m confident in my abilities and achievements.
As for “and Environmentalist” – that’s a topic for another blog post.