26 Nov 2021

Her Maths Story: portraying women mathematicians in all walks of life

Article by Joana Grah, Tamara Grossmann and Julia Kroos

Introduction

Historically, representation of women in STEM and particularly mathematics has been quite poor, recently more so due to the lack of a multitude of role models. We – Joana Grah, Tamara Grossmann and Julia Kroos, three mathematicians – created Her Maths Story to showcase the variety of careers, non-linear paths and individual decision-making processes to inspire women in different stages of their lives. By sharing stories of other women mathematicians, we want to encourage and empower women to pursue studies and careers in maths, spark their curiosity and transmit enthusiasm for technical subjects.

Motivation

The idea to create a platform like Her Maths Story developed steadily by exchanging ideas among a group of friends and colleagues working in the field of applied mathematics. We studied together in Germany and spread all over Europe to continue research and pursue PhDs in different areas of mathematics. And despite having very individual personalities and making our own unique experiences, we found that we faced common challenges and identified similar problems and opportunities. What united us was the struggle. Be it feeling like you have to hide that you don’t know or understand everything (classic imposter syndrome), always being the odd one out and not feeling quite comfortable with that, working in a men-dominated environment, and always feeling like you’re the only one struggling. However, we were all fortunate in that we had great mentors, were able to attend inspiring and encouraging talks by more senior mathematicians and often had someone in our corner. In increasingly honest conversations we realised that (mostly women) colleagues felt and still feel the same as us. Knowing you are not alone in your experience can be very empowering and liberating. And understanding that just because you feel inferior or like you are not “good enough” while others seem so confident and knowledgeable, does not mean that it is true! To some extent, there will always be new challenges and struggles to overcome, but we have learned that having people to look up to and not feeling alone can make a huge difference. We want to pass on this support we experienced and give others the opportunity to learn the same. How much more empowering would it be to learn from an even wider and more diverse community of women than the ones around us? This is exactly what we want to realise with Her Maths Story: We want to provide a multitude of stories about different career paths that women who studied mathematics pursue and learn from their journeys.

Method & Results

Starting from our own personal experiences and conversations with colleagues and friends that influenced and inspired us, we want to go further and share these thoughts in the form of short, personal stories and longer blog posts with a broader audience. In January 2021, we launched our website hermathsstory.eu. On a regular basis, we publish stories of women mathematicians featuring different types and aspects of mathematical careers: be it mathematicians working in neuroscience, as software developers, shaping the automotive industry as consultants, teaching the next generation or modelling the climate (check out the existing stories). Tapping into the online mathematical community, we are also present on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

Outlook

To better understand the variety of jobs in mathematics or with a mathematical background we are about to launch our blog series “One day in the life of …“. Different women will give an in-depth view of their daily routines and show what it means to work in their area of expertise. Besides, there are still so many other stories to share and insights to gain. We’re always looking for new contributions, so if you want to share your journey or know someone with an inspiring, encouraging or unique maths story – send us an email via hermathsstory@gmail.com. If you are a senior researcher and you like our idea, please feel free to spread the word widely among your colleagues and students.hms

We are looking forward to many more women mathematicians to come! ✨ – Joana Grah, Tamara Grossmann and Julia Kroos

 

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