What Is Math Communications? an Existential Question
Last updated on August 5th, 2023
I was recently interviewed by Fancy Comma on their YouTube channel. We covered many topics in mathematics including marginalization in STEM. The one that I struggled with was the question, What is math communications?
What you have to understand is that I still don’t know what my place is as a math communicator. Is it as simple as talking about math with people?
The math communicators that I look up to and admire are mathematicians. They have degrees. Much more qualified to discuss mathematics with the public.
In this way, I did return to school to get an undergraduate degree in math. I completed one quarter at Portland State. I struggled with my proofs course. Getting stuck on mathematical logic and the basics of set theory. After the final, my professor said:
“Susan, you don’t need to get a degree.”
This was devastating to hear from someone that was like a mentor to me. What people misunderstand about my interest in math is that I find it compelling. This love endured under the worst circumstances of my childhood. It is a subject that inspires my creativity giving me a sense of freedom.
I follow many of the presenters from Numberphile. From their activities online, I learned about more people in the UK who do math communication. It feels like the community there is tight-knit where people are familiar with each other.
The UK has a math communication conference called Talking Maths in Public. It started when the main four organizers met at Matrix. They wanted a conference that would meet more often. (Matrix happens in a different city and country every two years. The last one was in Paris.)
The community all works with each other. They have a wealth of knowledge to draw on for talks and workshops. What I like most is the following exchange from email.
“Mainly, we think about things we’d like to see and try to make them happen”
This is a philosophy that I understand. It is one of the guiding principles of my life. If there is something you want to see in this world, you should put forth every effort to make it happen. You are bound to do something interesting even if you don’t meet your goal.
This is how I ended up founding NAKED for Mental Health at Humboldt State in the early aughts. And why I want to start a US math communications Conference.
There is still time to purchase tickets for Talking Maths in Public. Including remote tickets for those who can’t travel in person. I’m attending from the US in this way. For more info, read this post from Max Hughes discussing his experiences.
Starting a US Based Math Communications Conference
Well, there are math communication conferences out there.
- The Matrix conference meets internationally and is more about museums and community work.
- Talking Maths in Public is UK based.
I don’t believe at this moment that there is a US based equivalent.
Why does this matter? It is cost prohibitive for many to travel overseas. Heck, it is hard enough to travel in the US. At least, we have a chance to bring people together locally.
I want to keep it affordable. This way students studying math in college or graduate school can attend. I would like to funnel more people into math communications who might have a curiosity about it.
For updates, please visit mathcommunications.com.
Interview with Fancy Comma on Math Communications
I wanted to add this for anyone interested in what I had to say about the topic. We talk about Alan Turing, how to make STEM inclusive, mental health, math anxiety, and some more bits.
These links will take you to YouTube
- Introduction - 40s
- How did you get into science communication? - 48s
- What are your thoughts on making STEM more relatable? - 2:46
- What are your thoughts on Alan Turing and marginalized scientists? - 4:11
- How does that relate to math education? - 5:29
- What is math comms? - 9:18
- Do you want to tell us about the math comm Conference you are organizing? - 12:55
- What are some challenges you see in math comms? - 14:33
- Do you have any ideas on making marginalized identities feel like they belong in sci comm? - 20:40
- Some more thoughts on Alan Turing and discussion of Bob Moses from the Algebra Project - 22:45
I will find an answer to what math communication is at Talking Maths in Public. It is an opportunity to meet with the international math community. Interact with a few folks that I know from Numberphile. See you there!
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