Math Is Personal: The Individual Journey Through Numbers and Patterns

Math Is Personal: Exploring the Unique Connection Between Individuals and Mathematics in Personal Growth” The mathematician Federico A. Ardila-Mantilla was brought in Colombia as an uninterested student but a math genius. 

He was struggling with the majority of his classes at secondary school in Bogota when a friend suggested that he take a look at MIT. He had never heard of the college. Surprised, the school accepted him and was granted a an award. 

Mathematically speaking, he performed well. One of his professors, an acid-tongued mathematician who compared his students to a group of cows–often put “open” math-related questions into homework assignments without notifying the students. 

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They had never been completed by anybody. Ardila came up with a solution. He was later awarded his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in mathematics from MIT.

However, his academic life was not the only one that involved being isolated. A large part of this was been due to his personal introversion. (An extrovert mathematician, as the joke says, is a person who glances at your shoes when speaking to you rather than the shoes they are wearing.)

 A large part of the problem was cultural. Being an Latino He was at a disadvantage in the department and was not comfortable with American mathematical spaces. Nobody had attempted to exclude him in any way however he felt isolated. 

In maths, collaborating with others can lead to new ways of thinking and learning. In the nine years he was in MIT MIT, Ardila worked with his colleagues only once.

In the beginning, he did not be able to see the issue. Later, when he became professor, he saw an underlying pattern. The Ardila’s Black, Latino, and female students who went into Ph.D. programmes also shared stories of exclusion and isolation and of attempting to be a part of an academic group, only to find that there was no desire to join them. 

Research has proven that, STEM students from ethnic and racial minorities are often marginalized on campuses while women STEM students are often marginalized and criticized even when they are outperforming men.

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The field of mathematics as an academic discipline is notoriously homogenous, mostly White and Asian and male. Even though mathematicians may not be seen as the perfect example of masculinity however, the culture is masculine and combative. “Abusive speech,” Ardila told me, “is completely normalized.

” Even though the senior professors of the field have set the standard, the culture is carried forward by the younger professors. 

Andres Vindas-Melendez, one of Ardila’s former students in the grad program told me about the experience he went through while a student studying at UC Berkeley when he asked an adviser to sign on the forms required to declare his mathematics major. 

“You’re likely to not become mathematicians,” the adviser had advised him. When Vindas-Melendez walked out his door to go home, the advisor told him, “Don’t embarrass yourself. And don’t be embarrassed by the department.”


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