Hire Me

      9 Comments on Hire Me

When I decided I wanted to become a mathematician, I didn’t even know what the word meant. I figured it meant “knowing math.” Nobody had ever told me that math wasn’t finished, that my professors were actually researchers who were currently working on creating new knowledge. By the time I was setting foot in Princeton’s Fine Hall as a first year graduate student, I could not have been more excited or optimistic for my future.

As you know, the happiness quickly faded.

As you know, I have some complaints.

Yet, here I am once more trying to become a mathematician. I want to keep learning math, to keep doing research. I want to communicate what I’ve learned, to make life easier for graduate students. I want to decolonize math and do away with the genius myth. I want to change the culture of math, to bring new people in, to change our values. I want women and other marginalized mathematicians to be valued and supported the same as white cis men are. I want a lot of things.

White men ask me, but what are the solutions?  What can we do?

When a black woman centers herself and demands equal access, it is nothing short of revolutionary.

What you can do to change math?   Make.  Space.  For.  Me.

I am a black woman who has always loved math. I love thinking about things logically and abstractly. I live for analogies. I love communicating and I enjoy working with students. I had no connection to my schooling, whether I did well or just okay. I was not mentored in college. I saw no reason to do arbitrary CV-building activities. I was lost. In grad school, I struggled to justify my continued existence in my program. I failed to learn how to write math. I failed to learn how to talk about math in an impressive way. I was not introduced to a mathematical community. Everything I learned about the job market and grants, I learned from being married to a research mathematician. And he learned from his privileged access to hearsay. I am lucky to have one paper. I have no awards. I have nothing to show for myself but my survival.

Your fancy school’s hiring committee probably does not want to hire me, or wouldn’t if I weren’t “The Liberated Mathematician.”

In a few years, when I have kept with my blogging and have given talks on my journey to liberation, when I’ve done more research, written more lay math, and helped out more students, but don’t have The Right Number of Publications in The Right Journals, your fancy school’s hiring committee will probably not want to hire me. Your grant-issuing entity would not trust to fund my research.

When I describe my dream job, I’m told that it is an impossibility that a top research institution would want me tenured if I wasn’t playing by their rules.

Now, you want me to tell you what needs to change? I don’t know! Whatever it is that makes you look at me and think, well, but do we really know whether she’d be worth it? Is it your sexism? Is it your racism? Is it your math hierarchies? That’s not really for me to say.

All I can say is that I will be on the job market. And many women and people of color and other marginalized people will be on the job market, if they make it that far. The system is biased against us.

Fight it.

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9 thoughts on “Hire Me

  1. Caty Caldwell

    I found you randomly through word-of-mouth. I was attending Princeton CS major as an undergraduate during your tenure there… Needless to say; I was pushed out of the department and my mental and emotional well-being was left in pieces as a result of the abuse I experienced. I would love to have a virtual chat if you ever have time. I am @monacate on Twitter. I relate to this piece SO much and would love to follow-up.

  2. simone

    I do understand the struggle in getting positions in academia, and I’m one of the many that put all that I had into research for a while, before hitting the wall of a hundred rejections.

    I don’t claim to understand the difficulty of being a woman in academia, nor the difficulty of not being white.

    I do have some questions though: considering that the academic job market is made of N positions and 1000*N applicants, how can you rationally ascribe your difficulties to a matter of race and gender, when you are the first to say that you don’t have a CV that stands out? Someone was hired for those positions that you applied for: are you sure that you deserved those positions more than all other candidates?
    We can argue that CVs shouldn’t be the only metre of evaluating a candidate for a position, but in order to rationally claim that racism and sexism are the main reasons of your rejections, you should first make sure that with no doubt you are a scientifically excellent candidate.
    The rules of academia are far from perfect. They might work against you, and against many others, in a very unfair way. I had a taste of that. You might have in mind another set of rules, rules that perhaps fit better your kind of approach to research, and would grant you a position. But are those rules going to improve the quality of science as a whole? Are those rules going to be more fair?

    Let me be clear: I’m not saying that there aren’t racism and sexism in academia, I’m just asking you to be objective in assessing whether you should take at least partial responsibility for the progress of you career before blaming external causes only.
    I don’t deny the hardship and the struggle that you had to go through to keep going with research. I don’t deny that many are privileged and don’t even see it. You are not the only one, and claiming that it’s everybody else’s fault might end up sounding a bit arrogant.

    1. Piper Post author

      You can’t qualify away a sexist and racist argument with “I don’t claim to understand”s and “I don’t deny”s. Riddle me this, why aren’t there more women and people of color in math if not for sexism and racism? Spell it out for me. Your answer will either be “sexism and racism” or your answer will be sexist and racist. Beware of the whiteness and cis het maleness inherent in what passes for “objectivity.”

      1. A

        I might be wrong, but I feel like women and non-white people are underrepresented in academia NOT simply because their job applications get rejected; they are rather being pushed out at an earlier stage, because mathematics is presented to them as an aggressive alpha-male competition (where the most important things are having a “famous” advisor, publishing in “top journals”, working on “hot topics”, and so on), and someone who is genuinely interested in math but doesn’t share the same values is forced to quit the aggressive competition.

        1. Piper Post author

          (Sorry for the late reply!) I agree people are pushed out earlier, yes. If we’re talking about at a college level, though, that problem isn’t separate from hiring. Having more diverse faculty will mean sending diverse messages about what math is and who does it.

  3. nick

    There are *a lot* of Asians in math, so racism can’t be the only reason. Regarding the gender disparity, many women I talk to say, that they want to be able to do something that matters, so that understandably disqualifies pure math as a field of interestfor them.

    1. Piper Post author

      i don’t feel like looking this up right now b/c i’m way behind on deleting spam comments, but math is like i dunno 85% white man. it is true that in certain places you will find a lot of Asians but how many of them are Asian American? being willing to let in certain immigrants doesn’t let you off the hook for not letting in the people you actually oppress at home. at any rate, white supremacy doesn’t simply hope to eradicate all non-whites from all awesome places. white supremacy is happy to put POC into boxes that may seem positive to you. i highly recommend The Love Life of an Asian Guy (i follow on fb, it may also be a blog?) to learn more about white supremacy and how it affects Asians and Asian Americans in ways you may not have realized.

      as for women, i’m sure you do know women who want to be able to do something that matters. do you think that there is something in biology that makes women more likely than men to want to do something that matters? have you considered that when women’s pain is erased, when they are conditioned to feel they have nothing to complain about, when they are oppressed, that perhaps this might have some effect on their understanding of their priorities? when i am made to feel miserable while at an activity that only seemingly serves those who are making me miserable, i do start to wonder if my time wouldn’t be better spent doing something “meaningful.” i further assume that just as many men would give that excuse if they were being pushed out and disrespected and unsupported.

    2. V

      If pure math “does not matter” then how come people get paid to do it?

      If you honestly think that pure math (or academic work) does not and cannot matter (and if such work is what you do to earn your living), then this means the criteria by which you judge people’s work and contributions to your field can only be based on your personal taste. In particular, if the majority of the field feels this way (and since the idea that pure math is useless is so pervasive, i can only conclude the majority of pure mathematicians do feel this way), then all the disparity within the field is a consequence of your community’s subjective hiring preferences and nothing else (because you and your field have disavowed any other criteria by declaring that the work doesn’t really matter). Furthermore, end up (maliciously or not, still harmfully) excluding those who might think pure math does or can matter, because they will upset the con you are running of doing nothing of use, under the guise of advancing human knowledge*, in exchange for money. Of course you don’t actually exclude people based on their beliefs about your field, that would be discrimination. Instead, you’ve just made sure that doing work outside of the few currently fashionable trends will not get you hired (even while you hold conferences on those topics, you hypocrites), and that getting to do work in the fashionable trends requires you to know the right people (because god forbid you write a textbook that people can learn from without participating in your little circus) and it requires you to do the same kind of “useless” work (because otherwise it doesn’t fit with the trend and is judged not job-worthy).

      * which (the advancing of human knowledge) you clearly don’t believe pure math does since pure math “does not matter”.

      All of the above would be all well and good if you didn’t artificially restrict the activity of pure mathematics to the confines of academia by refusing to write quality affordable textbooks and by commensurably heaping derision on those who do not know as much as you but do not know as much as you because they could not learn from the right people and instead had to rely on the system built around the (actively misleading) expository garbage you yourselves produced.

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