We have a special interview for the beginning of Summer. Also, welcome to the sixth post for the Inspirational Corner. I am very happy to see how many lovely people have taken some time to answer our questions and share their passion for mathematics. Hope you enjoyed our fifth interview with Elias. Today we have a special guest – Susan Silver, the creator of Beauty of Mathematics, a blog full of interesting and creative content. We hope you will be inspired by her journey and all her enthusiasm for mathematics.
Bio: “I’m a writer with a mathematical muse. I love words, numbers, dreaming big & helping others. I believe whatever you can imagine you can become They/Them.”
Favourite Quote: “A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.” – G.H. Hardy, A Mathematician’s Apology
Out of all those great subjects out there, why did you chose Mathematics?
That is a long story. I didn’t start out loving mathematics. I struggled in school until 5th grade. I was unable to do multiplication or inequalities so they held me back a year. I figured out a way to understand multiplication by converting numbers to letters. I used substitution and that launched my love of math because it made it into a game. I didn’t have friends growing up and spent a lot of time in my room making up games. Mathematics became a part of that escape.
What is your opinion about all the stigma against mathematics? Where do you think it starts and how does it affect today’s generation decision regarding a career in math?
It is this notion that you need to be a genius to understand mathematics. This starts very young and society reinforces this. The norm is that the average person doesn’t need mathematics . It is the only subject that I hear people say that they will never use so it is okay not to do well. This prevents a lot of kids from going into math who might be very good at it. What I’ve learned about math anxiety is that it doesn’t impact ability. So you can be quite scared and fearful of math while you are able to do quite well in it. I love this quote from Jo Boaler who works at Stanford on a mission to get people to love mathematics. “Students who work slowly are often left convinced of their own inability, although they may be the deeper kind of thinkers who make the best mathematicians.”
The other stigma is that you need to have a genetic ability to be good at math. When I passed AP Calculus my mother said she must have taken the wrong child home from the hospital. I got upset because I had worked so hard to pass that test. She wiped out all that effort by reducing it to genetic inheritance. I’ve gotten to where I am with hard work and studying.
Towards what part of mathematics do you feel more attracted to and why?
I love algebra and it is the only subject where I show some intuition. I now take pride in the fact that I realized what variables were at a young age. When I took calculus it all felt so natural. My favorite subject that I’ve studied in school is multi-variable calculus. Math is the one thing that I’ve pursued to learn a little bit more.
How would you counteract the negative stigma math has in our younger generation?
Through compassion. People are math traumatized. We need to understand that people who fear math are experiencing pain.
It is easy for me to build rapport with people. I often find they want to confess their trauma when they find out that I love math. By sharing our experiences, the good and the bad, we can reach an understanding. People can see that they need to give it another chance. We can also set more realistic expectations. I’m not that great at mathematics and I use that to bond with others.
The best way to counteract the stigma might be to give people better coping skills. Psychology is a useful tool to help people understand the workings of their own mind. And how to work with it. We can teach people to withstand how uncomfortable math feels. We can give them the skills to overcome it.
Why did you start this blog?
I tell this story in my first post for the blog. It started about seven years ago. I didn’t even realize at that time how I felt about mathematics. I had buried those feelings due to trauma I experienced as a kid. So I hid those feelings so no one could ever hurt me. I ended up in this weird state where I loved math and loathed myself for loving math.
It is in my early thirties, I started watching the Youtube channel Numberphile. I started having these visceral emotional reactions to it. I wrote my feelings down. I ended up in writing 30,000 words about my love of mathematics in one month. It became clear that I needed to express those emotions. It took me time to build up the courage to share my thoughts in public. I received support from family and friends and that is what pushed me to start my blog last year. I’ll be celebrating my one year anniversary in June.
Also, I managed to pick up the url beautyofmathematics.com for a ridiculous price. That also motivated me to want to write. What a great domain name! I felt compelled to make use of it.
Who was the person that influenced you on becoming a mathematical person?
That is easy, Stephen Hawking. The direction of my life changed after reading a Brief History of Time. Further more, the first Mars Rover launched while I was in High School and we got back the first picture of Mars. I wanted to go into Astro-Physics and work with JPL in Pasedena, CA. Unfortunately, I was a very bad physicist. I’m hoping that I’ll make a better mathematician.
Does your psychology degree help you in understanding why pupils/people find mathematics so hard?
It gives me a lot of empathy and compassion. It helps that I remember my own difficulties learning mathematics. I don’t fault anyone who has struggled in their lives with it. There are a lot of emotions to unpack around mathematics. Which is what makes it such a difficult subject to talk about. That is why we need to talk about it even more!
I have experience advocating around these tough conversations as a mental health advocate. I use a lot of those tools to also advocate about mathematics. These conversations are difficult but necessary. We can change someone’s mind around mathematics. When people meet someone they like who also loves mathematics. It changes someone’s perspective. That is why I write. I want to change people’s points of view. I do this by sharing my emotional experiences with mathematics.
Before you go, take a look at some of the blog posts you can find on Susan’s blog:
I had a math dream! I think it was my brain’s way of cheering me up.
I decided that it would be nice to write up about the mathematics that I’m good at. What I really enjoy. In exploring that idea, I realized that I had much more to say. Mostly around the role of creative play and imagination in mathematics.
What turned me on to G.H. Hardy? I didn’t know about him for a long time. Nor had I heard of Ramanujan. I was rather late to the game. In my early thirties, I was re-discovering my love of mathematics. I checked out many books on the topic from the library. I stumbled upon The Music of the Primes by Marcus du Sautoy. And I too fell for the Riemann hypothesis.
I came across a paragraph which incensed me.
I love mathematical themed gifts. I’ve decorated my home in posters, toys, and other elements which reflect my interest in mathematics. In a series of posts, I’m going to chronicle the stores that I frequent to add to my collection.
Today, I am chatting with Nicole Dick of the Etsy store Nausicaa Distribution. I stumbled upon her store looking from some geek themed cross stitch patterns. I found a great one in her “Significantly Not Normal Cross-Stitch Pattern.”
Hope you liked this post. Have a great day. If you would like to participate and share your love for mathematics for our Inspirational Corner, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org now. You can find us on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. We will try to post there as often as possible.
Lots of love and don’t forget that maths is everywhere! Enjoy!