One of the big challenges we face as a society is the under-representation of women in Maths and STEM subjects. One of the people changing this narrative is the Mathematician, presenter and all round badass (according to her website), Hannah Fry. On this International Women’s Day, here are her top 5 tips for your students to think about if they are considering a career in Maths.
Treat maths as a skill that needs practicing
Here in the UK, people often talk about maths ability as a ‘natural talent’ that some people are born with, and others are not. But the countries where individuals consistently come top of the table in maths have a completely different attitude. They treat maths as a skill that anyone can learn with enough practice. If you don’t speak Russian, then a book in Russian will be impenetrable when you first pick it up. But with time, effort, and practice it starts to make sense. Maths is the same. The idea of natural talent is a myth. The people who succeed are those that recognise it as a skill that they must practice.
Keep yourself on a positive path
People seem to either love maths or hate it. They way you feel about it can easily spiral. One day of not paying attention means you struggle with the lesson. You start to get frustrated and find it difficult. Someone says something that makes you think you’re “just not good at maths” and before you know it you simply give up. Don’t let the balance tip this way. Recognise small setbacks for what they are and don’t allow yourself to spiral. Find the positive reminders and things you enjoy that can nudge you back on track and keep you going in the right direction.
Accept (and enjoy) the difficulty
Mathematics is not easy. And that is fine. Don’t allow yourself to form expectations that you must always understand it all straight away. You will only set yourself up for disappointment and frustration. The mathematicians that succeed are not necessarily the ones who find it easy. They are the ones that expect it to be difficult but are driven to put the work in to understand it. Embrace the challenge and be comfortable in the feeling of not knowing. Remind yourself that it isn’t something you can’t understand – it’s something you don’t understand, yet. And enjoy how exciting that can be.
Focus on what you love
Once you start to think of maths as a language that you learn to ‘speak’ you realise that it underpins basically everything in our lives. You can take virtually anything and find mathematical patterns in it. Everything from psychology to dentistry is supported by maths. So don’t let a career in maths feel limited. The options are quite literally endless. Find what you are passionate about and let that drive you.
Pay attention to what motivates you
Some people really like the puzzle challenge about doing a bit of algebra – but that’s not for everybody. Some people find beauty in a sleek and elegant proof – but that’s not for everybody. Think about the aspects of maths you love the most and really hone in on what motivates you. Building an understanding about what ignites the drive within you personally and allowing that to be your guide will build a foundation for a long and enjoyable career for years to come.
[Hannah Fry has given her permission for this to be included in this newsletter]