I Don’t Have Enough Words

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I don’t have enough words to describe how I feel right now.

I don’t have enough words to talk about the hopelessness that comes with doing math research, the joy that comes with having a breakthrough, and the inspiration that comes when my advisor says “Good job. Keep going.”

I don’t have enough words to explain how my College Algebra kids inspire me every day, how their struggles to understand, their triumph in a passing grade, and their defeat in missing yet another opportunity to show me that they understand makes me realize that I’m just like them.

I don’t have enough words to describe the heartbreak when I realize that, while I’m here in my graduate school bubble, people are dying in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas and across the world and there’s nothing that I can do about it.

I don’t have enough words, but when I get on my knees and pray and beg my Heavenly Father to save us all, He understands.

That’s at least a start.

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Hodgepodge – An Attempt to End Procrastination

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Greetings, all!

As usual, I’m having difficulties focusing on my studies. Thus, I’m doing this; maybe expressing my feelings and words will help start my brain up!

One of my professors from undergrad, Dr. Huggins, regularly posts his thoughts on Wednesdays (ish) in response to a prompt from From This Side of the Pond. Since I’m no where near a regular blogger, I need some prompting to help me develop the habit! Hence my taking a leaf out of his book and trying it out myself. Let’s see if it sticks…

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  1. February ended with an extra 24 hours in 2016. What did you do with your bonus day?

    I wouldn’t call it a “bonus” day; it was just like any other day in grad school for me. I taught College Algebra, had four hours of class, dealt with inter-departamental drama, and worked in the math lab for three hours.

  2. What’s something in your life that’s grown by leaps and bounds in recent days, weeks, months, or years? I’m giving you lots of room to come up with an answer here, so no fair passing on this one.

    In recent years, my self confidence and willingness to be myself has grown by leaps and bounds. While I still suffer somewhat from social anxiety, for the most part I’m okay (even excited!) to be my crazy self when around new people.

  3. Do you read reviews about a film before deciding if you’ll see it? Did you watch The Oscars this year, and if so your thoughts on the program? How many of the Best Picture nominees had you seen prior to the broadcast? (Spotlight, The Martian, The Big Short, The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, Room, and Brooklyn) If you watched The Oscars who gets your award for ‘best dressed’?

    Not usually, no. Generally, when I go to see a movie, it’s because someone else wants a buddy to go with them. Otherwise, it’s something I’m obsessed with and will go to regardless of the reviews, such as The Force Awakens or the remake of Annie that came out a few years ago. To that end, I haven’t seen any of the “Best Picture” nominees, nor did I watch the Oscars.

  4. When did you last have overnight houseguests? Give us your top three tips on being a good houseguest.

    Hmm… the last time I had an overnight houseguest was when my mom visited me in Iowa last August. To be a good houseguest, generally I try to clean up after myself, not interfere with the general running of a household, and always always always say thank you as you leave.

  5. March 2nd is Peanut Butter Lover’s Day. Will you be celebrating? If so, would you prefer a home made peanut butter cookie, a Reese’s peanut butter cup, an old fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or shall I just hand you a jar and a tablespoon?

    Well, I totally missed this. Give me a PB&J any day; it’s basically my favorite snack that I eat on a regular basis.

  6. Why is failure important? Or isn’t it?

    Failure is totally important because that is how you learn. We’re trained from a young age to expect perfection, settle for nothing less than an A, and be as perfect as humanly possible. That’s poppycock; while it’s important to try your best, it’s even more important to fail and learn from your mistakes. That’s where the real growth takes place; if you’re too afraid to fail, you’ll never break out of the mould and try something new.

    These past couple weeks, my advisor has been really pushing me to learn how to write clearer. If you know me, you know I pride myself on my writing and grammar skills, so this has been an exceptionally difficult challenge, especially since I don’t completely understand the material I’m taking notes on. It’s a frustrating experience, but it’s also been wicked enlightening to see that I really do have room for dramatic growth in this area. It’s almost like my advisor knows what he’s doing… crazy.

  7. Share with us one fun thing on your March calendar.

    Spring break!!! Nothing crazy will happen, but I cannot wait until next week when I get the chance to relax and catch up on all of my work, taxes, and leisure reading that I have on backlog. It’s going to be magical.

  8. Insert your own random thought here.

    Grad school has been tough these last few weeks. I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of work that I have to do that I, quite honestly, don’t understand to the point where I can’t seem to get started on anything. It’s a really frustrating experience, especially because I gave up coffee for Lent. Coffee has been my go-to beverage since my senior year of undergrad, comforting in its warmth and invigorating in its caffeine content. However, that comfort turned into an unhealthy obsession; I was drinking between four and six cups a day! So, I’ve given it up for the period of Lent, meaning I have to rely on Christ to comfort and fuel me through these stressful experiences. I know through Him, I can accomplish anything if it is His will, but man. The struggle bus is real. 

Quals are Over! Time to Celebrate!

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You know, I really do not understand how people get through life, or even graduate school, without God.

I spent this summer studying for qualifying exams. For those of you who’ve avoided academia, qualifying exams are the first step towards being a PhD candidate. I had to sit three 3-hour exams in each algebra, analysis, and topology; if I passed them sufficiently well, I’m considered an official PhD candidate. Great success, hopefully.

Since so much rides on these exams, my cohort and I spent literally three months studying for these tests in an effort not to embarrass ourselves. This was a long, stressful process that ultimately led me to a mild mental breakdown. Thankfully, my friends supported me as I sought psychiatric care and I’m doing much better now that I have medicine to regulate my mental stability. I’m not super thrilled to be dependent on medication to function like a normal human being, but hey – a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

What’s truly made a difference in my life, though, is my new roommate. Melanie is literally one of the most inspirational Christ followers that I know, and she’s totally responsible for keeping me on track when stress got to be too much. I remember one of the first few days after she had moved in, we were studying in the living room and I was freaking out because I didn’t understand something. Mel just turned to me and said the following:

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Those words really resonated with me – why was I so worried about my exams? Yes, they are important, but my worth as a person, my success, isn’t rooted in how much I study or how well I do on a math test; rather, everything is rooted in Christ. It’s only through Him that I am capable of doing anything, whether it be study, teach, or live. If He wants me to get my PhD, it’s going to happen. I still have to work for it, but if God’s there to support me in my mission, nothing can ever stop me.

Believing that takes so much pressure off of me as a student. The Lord knows I’m going to screw up; I’m imperfect, sinful, human. Yet, He loves me anyway. He sees the potential in me that I don’t see myself. He saved me, and put me here in an effort to use me for His will.

That’s pretty rockin’. 🙂

A bunch of people from the math department went out last night to celebrate the end of quals (for 2nd years), the successful completion of the first week of school (for 1st years), and the general awesomeness of all of us being back in the same place again. As somehow always happens, the topic of religion came up, and someone asked me what exactly I believe. I realized that I didn’t actually have an eloquent answer for that, so I thought and prayed about it and decided to include a brief description here, in case I ever need to reference it again.

I identify as an Evangelical Christian. Wikipedia has a decent description of the history and general beliefs of evangelicals, but let me break it down for you:

  1. The Bible is the absolute authority. It’s the divinely inspired Word of God, the way that we learn about His character and desires for us, everything.
  2. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The Bible says that whoever believes that Chirst became man on Earth, died for our sins, and rose from the dead will have everlasting life. Belief is the essential component of salvation. While good works, baptism, etc should follow from the life changing experience of being saved, they are not a requirement for salvation. Some people refer to this as being “born again”.
  3. I dedicate myself to being as Christ-like as humanly possible. This involves reading from the Bible daily to better understand what that means, spending time in prayer to build my relationship with God, consciously turning away from temptation and sin, and spreading God’s message to anyone who will hear it.

That doesn’t mean that I’m perfect at it in the slightest – there are days I sleep in instead of reading the Bible, choose to indulge in a sin rather than abstain, and ignore that which God is calling me to do. I’m a sinner, just like everyone else. That’s why I need Christ in my life – to save me from my sin. This life we live on Earth isn’t the end; it’s just a blip in the radar of eternity.

Now that we’ve gotten that straightened out, here’s to another semester of life, of walking with God, and of awesome math. I know I’m ready for it; are you?

Tea and math shirt

Let the Lord Be Your Pillow

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The important parts of life are not those that are readily apparent. God, family, and friends should rank high up there, but what do the majority of us prioritize? Things. Work. Getting that next big promotion or the new iPhone 26q. The internet, including Netflix and Facebook. Rocking out to music. Being liked/loved by your Twitter followers. Getting the perfect angle for that selfie.

When’s the last time you just… were?

I know it’s been a while for me. Time to fix that.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;

Psalm 23:1-3a (NKJV)

Shatterglass

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Today, in therapy, my therapist suggested something that I had never considered before yet, in retrospect, seems to fit so well into my life that I can’t believe that I never thought about it.

She told me that she thinks I have ADHD.

Now, as a 23 year old woman, this sounded a tad ridiculous at first. I’m generally successful in life, given that I have made a decent start into my graduate school career and currently live alone approximately 22 hours away from my parents. ADHD is something that small children are diagnosed with when they can’t sit still in class and run around the room during arts and crafts time with scissors and give the room monitor a heart attack.

And then I remembered…

  • I have trouble sitting still, always have.
  • I’m more hyper if I skip my morning coffee than if I have my usual 2 cups.
  • I forget almost everything that I don’t write down.
  • If I don’t make a detailed, hour by hour schedule of my day, I get essentially nothing done.
  • I can’t concentrate on my homework for more than an hour at a time before I get distracted by the internet or stray thoughts in my head.
  • Two hour classes were the bane of my existence in college because I couldn’t pay attention for that long.
  • Chores get half started and then abandoned in my apartment on a regular basis until they absolutely have to get done.
  • My babysitter when I was a kid called me “rambunctious” before I even knew what the word meant.

And then I think, maybe she has a point.

I feel relieved. I’m not a huge “label” person; I don’t like being put in a box or told that I’m a specific thing. Yet, having an explanation for my brain that’s not that I’m lazy, have a horrible work ethic, or am not trying hard enough to focus is an amazing feeling. It’s not my fault; at least, not completely.

This isn’t a firm diagnosis, other than reading through the criterion and recognizing that I identify with all but 2 of them. Since I seem to be functioning fine with my detailed schedules and coffee intake, we’re putting off in depth testing until after this semester is over so I can focus on school for the moment. So, for right now, we just have this idea.

Regardless, I feel relieved, because finally, I have an idea why I’m me.

Antici – PATION

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Some of you who know me know that I’ve been working on a plan to read through the bible in a year, chronologically. I get up each morning at about 6, make a cup (or two) of coffee, and watch the sun come up while spending some time in God’s Word. It’s been great for starting my crazy, hectic, first-year-of-grad-school days in a place of calm and reflection that reminds myself of the big picture: that God has helped me to this point in my life to accomplish something great, and with His help and guidance, I can get through anything that He puts in my way.

While this is all well and dandy, that doesn’t mean I always gleefully embark upon this quest in the morning. There are days when I really would rather stay in bed, days when I spill my coffee and just want to cry, and, most recently, days when I wonder why on Earth something was explained in so much detail. Those lists of genealogies? Yeah, no idea.

One bit of clarity came this morning, though, as I finished Exodus. The past couple of days, I’ve been reading about the construction of the tabernacle. If you haven’t read it recently, here’s a brief overview:

  1. God tells them to build this tabernacle in exactly this particular detailed way.
  2. The Israelites build the tabernacle in exactly this particular detailed way.
  3. Moses and God review their work in excruciating detail and are pleased.

While it’s a great feat that this happened, in my head, I’ve been having the following internal monologue: “Why on Earth are you telling me about the robes Aaron & Co. will be wearing as priests *again*? I already know what they look like. You’ve told me twice. Can’t we just have a Dora moment or something that says ‘Yay, they did it!’ and move on?”

Then, I came to the end of Chapter 39:

33 And they brought the entire Tabernacle to Moses:

the sacred tent with all its furnishings, clasps, frames, crossbars, posts, and bases;
34 the tent coverings of tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather;
the inner curtain to shield the Ark;
35 the Ark of the Covenant and its carrying poles;
the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement;
36 the table and all its utensils;
the Bread of the Presence;
37 the pure gold lampstand with its symmetrical lamp cups, all its accessories, and the olive oil for lighting;
38 the gold altar;
the anointing oil and fragrant incense;
the curtain for the entrance of the sacred tent;
39 the bronze altar;
the bronze grating and its carrying poles and utensils;
the washbasin with its stand;
40 the curtains for the walls of the courtyard;
the posts and their bases;
the curtain for the entrance to the courtyard;
the ropes and tent pegs;
all the furnishings to be used in worship at the Tabernacle;
41 the beautifully stitched garments for the priests to wear while ministering in the Holy Place—the sacred garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments for his sons to wear as they minister as priests.

42 So the people of Israel followed all of the Lord’s instructions to Moses. 43 Then Moses inspected all their work. When he found it had been done just as the Lord had commanded him, he blessed them.

Exodus 39:33-43 (NLT)

And I was like “…wow.” I realized how much work this tabernacle creation actually took the Israelites and what an amazing feat they accomplished with God’s guidance. It’s even more so considering the fact that shortly before this, the Israelites had created a golden calf to worship because they didn’t know if Moses was coming back down the mountain. It’s a great moment of redemption for the Israelites and makes it much more logical that God backed them throughout the rest of history. Without the long buildup and excruciating detail to show how much work it took to carry out this task exactly as God had commanded, I would have had far less appreciation for the achievement and how God worked through these people.

That got me to thinking, though – why did the Israelites so epically fail with respect to the golden calf incident yet achieve such greatness with the tabernacle construction? Yes, it could be because they were petrified about defying God after He got upset about the golden calf, but at the same time, fear can only be a motivator for a certain amount of time. This construction took a very, very long time to complete. So, there must be some other underlying reason for their success.

Upon further examination, I think that the difference is in the very nature of the tasks. Waiting for Moses to come down the mountain is a very passive task – it’s not well defined, it doesn’t involve any specific action, and it doesn’t necessarily have a visible end, whereas building the tabernacle is a task – the Israelites were the one constructing the temple, they had very specific parameters, and it would clearly be done when it was done.

Last night, a friend of mine mentioned that she hated waiting to hear back from summer job applications because she cannot do anything other than wait. “I like having an action plan and getting things done.”

This is a common theme for most people. If there’s a problem, many want to do something to fix it rather than sit around and wait for God to take it in His hands when He clearly has said “Wait. I got this.”

What does this mean? I’m not entirely sure. But, in general, it’s much easier to be faithful to God when He’s given you a plan, action steps to take to accomplish a specific goal. What’s much harder is to wait, to be content in the moment and secure in the knowledge that He has us in His hands and won’t let us down. In that area, I’m pretty sure everyone, myself included, could use a little guidance.

Make it a challenge this week: be content with where you are, with what God is working in the background of your life, and ready to act when He says it’s time, but not a moment before.

Reasons to Stop Talking About STEM Stereotypes

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A topic that has appeared more and more in the news over the last few years is the role of women in STEM fields. A lot of the news is troubling – girls’ test scores take a nose dive around puberty, women make up significantly less of the workplace in STEM than men, and when they do exist the pay gap is noticeable.

As a woman pursuing her graduate degree in mathematics, I find all of these news stories troubling. Not because the statistics are alarming, but more because I believe that they are doing more harm than good.

Why would I be against writing about discrimination against my gender in the field I work in, you ask? Well, I’ve compiled a list of reasons.

  1. Until the news started writing stories about how there was a stereotype about women doing worse in math than boys, I had never heard it. Maybe I just had awesome parents who never let the idea that anything could stop me from achieving my dreams enter my brain. However, my high school environment also enforced the idea that many women were good at math. There were more women than men in our advanced calculus classes, the girls often outperformed the boys on the whole  and there was nothing to indicate that this was abnormal. And before you get any ideas about what kind of school I went to, let me tell you: it was a public high school in the suburbs of Boston that was almost taken over by the state for failing standards and inadequate funding at least twice in my four years. Until I saw news stories about it, I had no idea that it was a stereotype for women to be bad at math; I never questioned my role in the field until the news questioned it for me first.
  2. By constantly discussing the issue in the news, it’s exposing more and more girls to the fact that many people don’t think they can be as successful as boys in STEM careers. “Honey, people think you can’t do math well. But that’s okay, they’re just silly.” What do you think the effect of someone saying something like this to a girl who’s never heard the stereotype before? It’s preparing them to hear people tell them that they are not good enough. Had they heard it from strangers first, they more than likely would have reacted indignantly, saying “How can you say that?! You’re cray cray!” rather than having the time to wonder if their parents were just telling them that to make them feel better, if it really was true.
  3. Society isn’t going to change overnight. No matter how many studies are run about the topic, people who hold this stereotype aren’t going to change their mind about it. Most of the time, people who believe in stereotypes about one group of people believe them about many other groups as well. It’s not that people who believe that girls are bad at math hold negative views about just women; in fact, it’s significantly more likely that they also hold stereotypes about everyone, including themselves. Showing them statistics will not change their mind, but rather disregard these people as an anomaly. People don’t change their minds about something as automatic as a stereotype unless they want to. These news stories do little to reach new people who haven’t heard the statistics but rather validate those who believe that this is a trend and are already working to fix the problem.

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I don’t say these things to be mean or disparaging. I greatly respect many of the men and women who are supporting these initiatives and admire their tenacity in attempting to fix a problem that’s so engrained in society that those who perpetuate it don’t even notice.

That’s what worries me, though: by raising awareness, are we actually working on stopping this phenomenon, or are we perpetuating a rumor that would have eventually died out with the passage of time?

I don’t know the answer. Again, I’m a math major, not a psychologist or anyone who is an authority on how society works. I’m just a girl who never would have known that there was a stereotype against me had the news not told me.