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Women in math advice?

  1. Sep 23, 2009 #1
    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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  3. Sep 23, 2009 #2
    If you switch your major out of the sciences, you contribute to sexual stereotypes.
  4. Sep 23, 2009 #3


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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.
  5. Sep 23, 2009 #4
    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?
  6. Sep 23, 2009 #5
    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.
  7. Sep 23, 2009 #6


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    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.
  8. Sep 23, 2009 #7
    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?
  9. Sep 23, 2009 #8


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    Well, I didn't mean accomplished in the same sense you are using. Almost nobody is cut out for that.
  10. Sep 23, 2009 #9

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    What, in particular, makes you feel unwelcome?
  11. Sep 23, 2009 #10


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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?
  12. Sep 23, 2009 #11


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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.
  13. Sep 24, 2009 #12


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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.
  14. Sep 24, 2009 #13
    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.
  15. Sep 24, 2009 #14
    Problem is you not others.

    Think of something more productive than your gender/color ..
  16. Sep 24, 2009 #15


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    Do you really care for advice from people who would think differently of people because of their race or gender?
  17. Sep 24, 2009 #16
    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.
  18. Sep 24, 2009 #17
    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?)
  19. Sep 24, 2009 #18
    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.
  20. Sep 24, 2009 #19

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    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.
    So, screw 'em. It's YOUR education. It's not your job to teach the class.
    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.
    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.
  21. Sep 24, 2009 #20
    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?
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