Anecdotally, when I struggled with a maths concept in primary school, I was told by my teacher “It’s okay because you’re a girl and girls don’t really need to do maths.” I can’t recall the number of times I heard things like “Boys are naturally better at maths”…
As a girl who grew up in the early 2000s China, I was influenced by the historical male-dominated social norms that pushes women away from maths. The prejudice assumption that as a girl your career is more of a hobby than a career, and you’re only going to do it until you find a husband or have a family.
Things changed when I was 15, I was fortunate to attend Wilderness School in Adelaide, where the all-girls environment inspired me to believe that I could do anything I wanted. This supportive environment was crucial when first started to appreciate the beauty of logical thinking in mathematics. My high school math teacher Ms. Douvartzidis – one of the most amazing women I have ever met. I still vividly remembered she said to our maths class “You should all be engineers and mathematicians! We are girls and we can do maths!” With her support, I finally overcome the prejudice against women’s mathematical ability. Not long after, I began to excel in mathematics and started to enjoy solving hard maths problem.
By the time I started university, I still hadn’t made up my mind. I took the Bachelor of Computer Science and Commerce at the University of New South Wales just because I wanted to find a decent job after I graduate. However, undergoing my first year in university, I realised I thoroughly enjoyed maths courses much more than computer science. In my discrete maths course (I described it as “the ultimate fun maths course”), I met the most inspiring maths lecture Thomas Britz who is also my supervisor for the VRS program. I found the course enchanting and couldn’t stop registering for more mathematics courses and then suddenly I was nervously asking the student centre to sign the change of degree paperwork so I could transfer to maths.
During this summer, I discovered more fun areas in graph theory and feel so satisfying when I finally grasp the concept and can apply it. It really feels like an all you can eat buffet of interesting new ideas to play with! And it’s such a blast to see the connections between the various areas.
I guess that’s the most exciting part of mathematics research, we thought the answer might be there, and we went and proved it. That is the essence of maths as well as being humans. Just as Descartes might put it, “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am).
The University of New South Wales