Women in math advice?

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Hello, I'm just wondering if anyone has any advice to a women in such a male dominated field. I'm a sophomore-almost-junior math major, physics minor and as much as i try not to i can't help but feel somewhat inferior compared to my classmates, even when i KNOW i am doing just as well or better than my classmates.

So does anyone know of any good books, programs, anything that might be able to help me? I LOVE math but if i keep feeling so unwelcome, I'm thinking of changing my major out of science...
 

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  • #2
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If you switch your major out of the sciences, you contribute to sexual stereotypes.
 
  • #3
DavidSnider
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A book called "Athena Unbound" written in 2001 deals with this topic specifically.

Other than that, you might try writing an email to other accomplished female scientists.

Perhaps Carolyn Porco, Danica McKellar, or maybe even Ayn Druyan who is not a scientist, but who is deeply interested in the topic.
 
  • #4
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It is difficult not to contribute to such stereotypes for most stereotypes are exaggerated truths. As a Caribbean American female who am I to look up to for guidance in my chosen field? It seems much easier to switch to an English major simply so I won't be alone.
I go to school in Oregon, all of my professors so far have been white Russian men.
Despite my desire to do math I can't help but feel out of place.

should I just try not to think about it? And assume no one else is thinking of it either?
For any professors out there, do you honestly think differently of your female and minority students?
 
  • #5
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A book called "Athena Unbound" written in 2001 deals with this topic specifically.

Other than that, you might try writing an email to other accomplished female scientists.

Perhaps Carolyn Porco, Danica McKellar, or maybe even Ayn Druyan who is not a scientist, but who is deeply interested in the topic.
lol danica mckellar is not an accomplished anything let alone scientist. if publishing 1 paper makes one an accomplished scientist then there'd be a lot more accomplished scientists. or maybe you were implying that for a woman to be an accomplished scientist the bar is set much lower.
 
  • #6
lisab
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It is difficult not to contribute to such stereotypes for most stereotypes are exaggerated truths. As a Caribbean American female who am I to look up to for guidance in my chosen field? It seems much easier to switch to an English major simply so I won't be alone.
I go to school in Oregon, all of my professors so far have been white Russian men.
Despite my desire to do math I can't help but feel out of place.

should I just try not to think about it? And assume no one else is thinking of it either?
For any professors out there, do you honestly think differently of your female and minority students?
I wish I had a really good answer, but all I can say is, hang in there. I was a physics major, I know the feeling of being the odd one out...but I came from a large family of mostly boys, so I was used to being in a room with a lot of testosterone.

If you want a mentor, your profs may not be the best place to look. Other departments may have female profs (statistics, chemistry, etc....not sure how big your school is).

And as foo-foo as this my sound, maybe if your school has a Women's Studies program, you could ask one of the profs there for guidance. I bet they would know of several autobiographies of women who were in your situation, which may be inspiring.

Good luck, keep us posted.
 
  • #7
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Unwelcome how? If someone is actively being a prick to you, then that's grounds for reprimand. If it's loneliness, I completely understand but you don't need girls in your field to feel like a mathematician or physicist. I have guy friends in both subjects, mostly, and the conversations we have aren't really gender-specific. If you're just lonely, you don't need to make friends only with people in your field.

I completely understand the sentiment but I do think that if other people are enough to convince you to change your major, you're really not in your major for the right reasons. I love physics far too much to get turned off by stereotypes or being the only girl in a class of 60. When I want friends I can talk shop with, I go to my guy friends and we stay up late into the night debating about scientific tangents. When I want to be around other girls and talk about other stuff, I just go to my regular friends. They can't do an integral to save their lives, but I'm not friends with them because they're scientists. Am I making any sense?
 
  • #8
DavidSnider
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lol danica mckellar is not an accomplished anything let alone scientist. if publishing 1 paper makes one an accomplished scientist then there'd be a lot more accomplished scientists. or maybe you were implying that for a woman to be an accomplished scientist the bar is set much lower.
Well, I didn't mean accomplished in the same sense you are using. Almost nobody is cut out for that.
 
  • #9
Math Is Hard
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Hello, I'm just wondering if anyone has any advice to a women in such a male dominated field. I'm a sophomore-almost-junior math major, physics minor and as much as i try not to i can't help but feel somewhat inferior compared to my classmates, even when i KNOW i am doing just as well or better than my classmates.

So does anyone know of any good books, programs, anything that might be able to help me? I LOVE math but if i keep feeling so unwelcome, I'm thinking of changing my major out of science...
What, in particular, makes you feel unwelcome?
 
  • #10
Moonbear
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I'm also wondering why you're feeling unwelcome. Is it your professors or the other students? If it's some actions on the part of your professors, you should report it to your university's social justice department. If it's your classmates, just ignore them back and build your social circles somewhere else while just going to class to focus on academics. If it's something more internal and not something others are doing specifically to make you feel unwelcome, then I'd have to ask why are you focusing so much on sex as an issue?
 
  • #11
eri
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You could always transfer to a womens college - I graduated from one, and we had more women graduating in physics each year than the nearby co-ed school had total graduates in physics. I'm really glad I went that way for my education; I was pretty shy and withdrawn in high school, but I became a lot more confident in myself and my abilities thanks to that college. And now I'm finishing my PhD. Hang on there - for some reason, there are more women in grad school than there are in many undergrad physics programs. Or at least the ratio is better.
 
  • #12
Pengwuino
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If you're doing better or at least equal, why do you feel inferior? An A in a class is better then a B whether or not you're a boy or a girl. Hell, if you dont like the people around you, hang out with other people. If you're smarter than them, you wont lose out with them not being around. Remember, you're in a certain field because you want to do that for a living ,for the rest of your life, don't abandon it because you feel lonely or whatever in the moment.
 
  • #13
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I go to school in Oregon, all of my professors so far have been white Russian men.
Despite my desire to do math I can't help but feel out of place.
I work as a computer engineer. It's me, another white guy from New Jersey, and roughly 100 assorted Indians and Asians. Should I give up because of my skin color?

Do the work, and do it well. There might be a few idiots who give you grief because of your race or gender, but if you don't try, we'll never get past this as a society.
 
  • #14
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It is difficult not to contribute to such stereotypes for most stereotypes are exaggerated truths. As a Caribbean American female who am I to look up to for guidance in my chosen field? It seems much easier to switch to an English major simply so I won't be alone.
I go to school in Oregon, all of my professors so far have been white Russian men.
Despite my desire to do math I can't help but feel out of place.

should I just try not to think about it? And assume no one else is thinking of it either?
For any professors out there, do you honestly think differently of your female and minority students?
Problem is you not others.

Women in math advice?
Think of something more productive than your gender/color ..
 
  • #15
Pengwuino
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should I just try not to think about it? And assume no one else is thinking of it either?
For any professors out there, do you honestly think differently of your female and minority students?
Do you really care for advice from people who would think differently of people because of their race or gender?
 
  • #16
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what makes me feel unwelcome?
I ask a question and I get looked at like an idiot. a male classmate asks something similar and suddenly everyone wants to know the same thing.
if I correct something in a discussion or point something out others seemed to overlook I get ignored.
granted this is with other students, and not all. but professors don't care because they can't do anything about it.

MissSilvy- a change in my major would not equal a change in my interests. but if I feel this way getting my BS I doubt things will become more diverse later. maybe I'm wrong.


I'm only saying I do not feel accepted despite what I know. And the only differences I see are my gender and race.


I just wanted confirmation I am not as inferior as I feel. I wanted someone like me to look up to. Apparently I'm asking for too much.
 
  • #17
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I just wanted confirmation I am not as inferior as I feel. I wanted someone like me to look up to. Apparently I'm asking for too much.
You are almost certainly not as inferior as you feel. I doubt if you are inferior at all. This is probably not the thread in which to make sexist generalizations... but women *do* seem to have more of a problem with self-esteem than men.

As for asking for too much... yes, probably. I honestly believe the world is better now than it was 100 years ago, and it will be better than it is now in 100 years. You'll have to do without a role model so future generations can have one in you.

(Nothing like piling on a little pressure, huh?)
 
  • #18
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There's a book called "Complexities: Women in Mathematics" by Bettye Anne Case and Anne M. Leggett that has lots of biographies of women mathematicians. It might be worth having a look at for inspiration. Also, the Association for Women in Mathematics:
http://www.awm-math.org/ has a mentoring program that you could try out. They'll match you with a female mathematician to ask advice from.

It's your life and your happiness, so I think you should try not to let concerns about perpetuating gender stereotypes affect your decisions about your major! It's hard enough as it is to figure out what will make us happy.
 
  • #19
Math Is Hard
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what makes me feel unwelcome?
I ask a question and I get looked at like an idiot. a male classmate asks something similar and suddenly everyone wants to know the same thing.
Be careful not to be swayed by your own bias. Does the teacher understand and answer your question? How do you know that "everyone wants to know" when the other person asks? Maybe the loud dumb guy asks the question in the really loud dumb way that all the other loud dummies can relate to, even though you've already asked in a succinct, intelligent (perhaps quiet) way and all the other serious students quietly took notice, while the class baboons were nodding off and scratching their fleas.
if I correct something in a discussion or point something out others seemed to overlook I get ignored.
granted this is with other students, and not all. but professors don't care because they can't do anything about it.
So, screw 'em. It's YOUR education. It's not your job to teach the class.
I'm only saying I do not feel accepted despite what I know. And the only differences I see are my gender and race.
When you enter your professional life, you will encounter jerks of all races and genders, who will make you feel unaccepted for all kinds of reasons. As you mature, you learn to deal with this.
I just wanted confirmation I am not as inferior as I feel. I wanted someone like me to look up to. Apparently I'm asking for too much.
Inferior? I'm sorry, but what logic could you possibly use to think that you are inferior if you are doing better than average in your classes?

I worked in software development in a time when there weren't many women around. I didn't give a rat's patoot because I liked what I did. I also liked the people I worked with - so what if they were men - they were cool, smart people I could learn from. Be your own role model.
 
  • #20
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Maybe it is just my experience, but I have encountered a number of female professors and even the current department chair of the physics and astronomy department, and in mathematics, et cetera.

The only time I really remember a professor making any kind of biased remark was in a lab where we had to set up this apparatus that included a motor with a drill head, and he remarked that he would not have to worry too much about mistakes because there were no females in the lab.

Bias does exist, but often times it is as much in our heads as it is real, and if it is just a feeling rather than a series of concrete instances of biases, why even worry about it?
 
  • #21
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You can certainly change majors to one where there is more women. But you'd still be a minority with regards to race. So you could end up changing majors, but still feel out of place because of race.

While there are a lot of women who are English majors, you might want to check the professors - I think most of them are still going to be old white males, although not as much as in science. Things have changed, so that when that old generation retires, females will be represented better in professorships.

Oregon is a pretty liberal state, and natural science majors are amongst the most liberal, and I'm not saying that liberals can't be racist or sexist, but there's probably a reason why most minorities and females support liberal causes more. So yes choosing a major where there is more women will probably ensure that you won't face sexism, but natural science men ought not be that far behind.
 
  • #22
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The only time I really remember a professor making any kind of biased remark was in a lab where we had to set up this apparatus that included a motor with a drill head, and he remarked that he would not have to worry too much about mistakes because there were no females in the lab.
That is not bias though, having long hair is hazardous when you work with drills since it can get stuck in it. Sure, there are men with long hair and women with short, but usually it is the other way around.
 
  • #23
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Act like a male and the problems will mostly go away. It is no different from adopted black people are totally accepted, it have more to do with how you act than who you are.

I'm a sophomore-almost-junior math major, physics minor and as much as i try not to i can't help but feel somewhat inferior compared to my classmates, even when i KNOW i am doing just as well or better than my classmates.
About this, everyone feels like this. When you are having a tough time with something you feel like the dumbest person in the world and you never really feel the pain of others when they have to work so it always feels like you are dumber than you are.

You should take the focus off that, think that for every piece of sweat you get most others needs more. You are winning on this, you are the stronger one. This is how you need to think to succeed anywhere, if you think that you are awesome people will respect you more. Just don't overdo it like some losers do.

I think that this is the biggest problem for women, they are really bad at boosting their ego. And no, you shouldn't have any problems fitting in. These guys are mostly nerds, many nerds worship females. Sure not everyone will accept you outright, but that is how it is for everyone. None gets accepted by everyone wherever he goes, but here is were the winning spirit comes in. You don't need their acceptance, it is their loss, just go with the people who do care about you and be happy with that.

Jerks are everywhere, the question is just if you allow them get to you or not.

There are also other females in maths, seek them out and talk, it should help a lot. You will realize that these thoughts are not something unique to you and just realizing that many others go through the same thing will make the whole ordeal a lot easier to handle. Many have done it before you, there is no need to give up now.
 
  • #24
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That is not bias though, having long hair is hazardous when you work with drills since it can get stuck in it. Sure, there are men with long hair and women with short, but usually it is the other way around.

Well, he meant that men would know how to use the drill bit key to properly tighten the bit-holder to secure the apparatus.
 
  • #25
Moonbear
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what makes me feel unwelcome?
I ask a question and I get looked at like an idiot. a male classmate asks something similar and suddenly everyone wants to know the same thing.
if I correct something in a discussion or point something out others seemed to overlook I get ignored.
Along the lines of MIH's comments, how do you know you are being ignored? Perhaps you just make such good points that they just clam up out of embarrassment that they didn't know it, or have nothing to say because you just stated the key point and everything they were going to say is irrelevant after that. And often, weaker students are intimidated by the smarter students, regardless of gender. So, what you are experiencing might be because you simply are better than the rest of the class at the subject you're learning.

MissSilvy- a change in my major would not equal a change in my interests. but if I feel this way getting my BS I doubt things will become more diverse later. maybe I'm wrong.
It does get better. Those immature classmates eventually grow up and respect knowledge (or don't get very far), regardless of who is holding that knowledge.

I'm only saying I do not feel accepted despite what I know. And the only differences I see are my gender and race.
That may very well be your own biases in your self-perceptions. It's really easy to blame sex and race, because they are outwardly obvious, but be careful that it's not something more subtle that's really leading to the distinctions, if not simply a self-esteem problem rather than something your classmates are doing intentionally.

I just wanted confirmation I am not as inferior as I feel. I wanted someone like me to look up to. Apparently I'm asking for too much.
How about aspiring to be the person the next generation of young mathematicians will look up to, who will serve as a role model for women of color as well as awe the other young men.

When you enter your professional life, you will encounter jerks of all races and genders, who will make you feel unaccepted for all kinds of reasons. As you mature, you learn to deal with this.
I agree! I have a plaque in my office, right behind my desk so people walking in see it when talking to me. It says, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism." All you can do is decide to let it roll off your back and keep going.

Well, he meant that men would know how to use the drill bit key to properly tighten the bit-holder to secure the apparatus.
When there are overt comments made like that, it would really be helpful if students reported it. Or I could teach him how to secure the bit without a chuck.

Darius, when you're feeling down sometime, look up the term "elastrator." I got my Ph.D. in Animal Sciences (also a field where sexism is still rampant, not so much in the academic circles, but very much when people head out to the field and have to deal with farmers and ranchers), and used to keep one of those on my desk while I was in grad school. If I ran headlong into an example of sexism, it was a nice "toy" to fiddle with while talking to the offensive man. I was also just recently voted onto one of the faculties that is composed predominantly of ag school faculty (I'm over at the med school now) for training grad students. As I looked over the list of other faculty, I realized that I'm the only female member. Part of that is that there just aren't a lot of women who work with livestock and who do research in my field. But, instead of letting it get me down, I consider it something to be proud of, that I can do something well enough that men who tend to be biased against women in the field stand up and take notice. It also helps that I work with a wonderful technician who is very close to retirement. When I show the students or post-docs ways to work with the animals that are gentle, and don't require a lot of strength, especially upper-arm strength that fewer females have (you do get pretty strong over time, in general), the technician really helps reinforce the point even to the young men we work with. He tells them about all his back problems, and shoulder problems, and hernia operations, etc., reminding them that even though they might be able to use their strength to get the animals to do what they want while they are young, it takes a toll on their bodies long term. He tells them that the women may not be as strong as they are, but the women work smarter than they do (he doesn't have to explain this as often to the youngest students...they are coming in seeing the gentler ways we are doing things and haven't learned any other way...and right now, we have more women than men working at the farm, which is a complete switch from when I started here).

Oddly enough, I encounter the opposite problem in my classes. I teach nursing students. The classes are mostly female and just a handful of men. There are a lot of reports in nursing newsletters and such about sexism against male nursing students. Apparently, they encounter a lot of bias of people thinking they must be nursing students because they weren't good enough to be pre-med, or maybe they are only in nursing school to apply to med school later, etc. The same biases that hinder women entering med school tend to hinder men in nursing school. I do my best to maintain a gender-neutral classroom environment.

I had a wonderful advantage in college, though. I attended a women's college, that was part of a co-ed university. So, that meant I took co-ed classes, but lived in all-women's dorms. Our dorm required an application, and it was limited to math, science and engineering majors. There were several math majors, only 2 physics majors, and a lot of bio and chem majors along with about a dozen engineering majors. Everyone living in that dorm was serious about academics, so even if someone was the only female math major in their class year, they were surrounded by women who were also more math-oriented than those living in other dorms. We had 10 grad students who lived in our dorm too (when I went to grad school, I became one of those grad students...it just seemed right to give back to the next generation what I gained while an undergrad there). There was always one math grad student among them. The grad students served as mentors, ran study groups, developed skills workshops (leadership, study skills, time management, public speaking, etc.), and hosted invited speakers to talk about research, career options, and so on. At a time when students still didn't have their own computers for college and had to use shared computer labs, we were spoiled to have a computer lab in our dorm along with a few computer science majors who helped keep it running smoothly. I actually still use some of the skills I learned then to help teach my students now. I'm really trying to encourage them to develop study groups, because I've seen first-hand how much they can improve learning if they are done right.

Oh, by the way, all of my calculus professors were Russian too. I never figured that had anything to do with me, other than that I used to struggle to understand their accents when they lectured. Interestingly, when I think of math majors, it's women that come to my mind. That's because the only math majors I knew in college, other than my professors, who of course didn't count in my mind because they were old :rofl:, were the women I lived with in the dorms. None of them fit the stereotype of geeky math majors either.

Anyway, hang tough and stay strong. Maybe you're stuck with a class of especially obnoxious people, or maybe you're just reading them wrong. Who knows...they might be all quiet because they all think you're "hot" and can't screw up the courage to ask you out! (Just visit the General Discussion forum to see how many young men seem completely flustered and intimidated around women.) Regardless of the reasons, it shouldn't stop you from pursuing your dreams, or becoming the role model for the next generation that you so much crave having now.
 

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