Awesome things to know


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She will always be an inspiration…..

“But most of the time, doing mathematics for me is like being on a long hike with no trail and no end in sight.”

“I got involved in Math Olympiads that made me think about harder problems.”

-Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani (2014)

The world lost Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani on July 14th. She was so young and despite her profound achievements to date, she was on a path to contribute significantly more to the fascinating field of mathematics.

I firmly believe that there are many girls and women all over the world, like myself, who feel a deep sense of loss over Dr. Mirzakhani’s death. She was such an inspiration to so many girls who loved math and were looking for a female role model. Dr. Mirzakhani achieved so much at such a young age and defied all the odds on her journey to success.

Dr. Mirzakhani got internationally recognized when she became the first woman to win the Fields Medal in 2014 (which is awarded every four years), a top prize in mathematics. The Fields Medal, also known as the Nobel Prize of Mathematics, was awarded to her at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul, South Korea. This was unprecedented, as the 52 previous recipients had all been men. When I first read about it in 2014, I couldn’t believe it.

Dr. Mirzakhani always credited inspiring teachers and supportive friends during her high school, and college years.  Her middle school teacher discouraged her interests since she wasn’t at the top of her class. But it all changed when she attended an all-girls high school. Dr. Mirzakhani credits her principal who encouraged and permitted her to compete for Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad, even though she was the first girl to do so. Dr. Mirzakhani entered in many mathematical competitions, eventually represented Iran at the International Mathematical Olympiad, and won gold medals in 1994 and 1995, while scoring a perfect score in 1995. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Sharif University in Tehran and then went to Harvard, where she studied under the direction of Curtis McMullen, also a Fields medallist.

This interview gives a lot of insight into Dr. Mirzakhani’s personality, ambition, character, and her journey.

Dr. Mirzakhani joined the faculty of Stanford University in 2009 from Princeton, where she served as a professor in the Department of Mathematics until her death.

I sincerely hope that we do not have to wait for another 52 male recipients before another woman wins the Fields medal. Dr. Mirzakhani’s journey, achievements, persistence, and patience will always be an inspiration for many girls, teachers, and women for decades to come.

Dr. Boaler at Stanford has written a heartfelt note that I highly recommend to read.

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Gender Imbalance in IITs (Indian Institute of Technology)

IITs are considered prestigious institutions in India with very low acceptance rates and have history of producing top technical minds similar to MIT in USA.  Even Fortune magazine covered the network and brand of IIT in this article in year 2000 at peak of the dot com boom.

The gender ratio in IITs continue to be imbalanced as per this article with specific data. Out of approximately 10000 students who get admitted every year based on their scores in Joint Entrance Examinations, only 10% of admitted students are girls from 2011-2015. JEE covers questions from Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry. I have discussed the pattern of girls achieving high scores in AMCs and AIMEs in the past. The similar is true here that the number of girls at top end of the scores in JEE tend to be fewer and there are potentially a variety of reasons for that including cultural reasons where Indian parents don’t tend to send their daughters to expensive coaching camps away from home.

Here is the good news. IITs have decided to admit more women beginning 2018 to buck the trend. The goal of these additional seats just for girls is to get the percentage of females to 20 over the next few years. This is encouraging as there are many cultural and socioeconomic reasons on why the female percentages were so low to begin with. IITs also made a smart decision and decided to add additional seats for girls rather than making it a zero sum game within existing seats. Also, girls have to still score high in the JEEs to get accepted which means the bar of acceptance has not been compromised.

 

 

 

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My maiden experience with USA(J)MO

The United States of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO) is a proof based competition that is held annually in the United States. This competition has served as the final round of the AMC series of contests and the scores are used to determine further qualifications leading up to selection of USA team for the International Math Olympiad.

First, the qualification scores for USAMO were very high this time (relatively) and were split based on A and B exams as well as two AIME exams. Only 500 students qualified across the country for USAMO and USAJMO. The scores imply that one has to score high both on AMCs (120-130) and AIME (10+) to qualify for USA(J)MO exams. It is tough to determine how many girls qualified as gender data is not available, however, historically the number has been 7-10% of the total qualifiers.

AIME I based Qualifications

  • USAMO cutoff: 225(AMC 12A), 235(AMC 12B)
  • USAJMO cutoff: 224.5(AMC 10A), 233(AMC 10B)

AIME II based Qualifications

  • USAMO cutoff: 221(AMC 12A), 230.5(AMC 12B)
  • USAJMO cutoff: 219(AMC 10A), 225(AMC 10B)

This exam was intense for me. It is a  two day, 9 hours exam (split in two individual 4.5 hour sessions) that is organized at a particular time across the country which means you end up missing most of your school classes. You get 3 questions each day and it took me more than two hours to solve the first problem on Day 1 and 3 hours to solve 5th problem on the second day. I had very little experience preparing for such an exam but have heard that taking courses offered by AoPS definitely help out.

Each problem is worth 6 points and maximum score is 42. The average for JMO was 13.3 and for AMO was 11.8 with some students scoring zero.

There are many different ways to prepare for this test. This is a good link for more information. Overall, it was a great experience for me to do proofs which is helpful for some other college math competitions as well.

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Math Day for Middle School Girls at Stanford

I was fortunate enough to witness “Math Day for Middle School Girls,” a workshop for girls that was hosted by Youcubed, a nonprofit center which is part of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. Youcubed’s mission as per their website— “Our main goal is to inspire, educate and empower teachers of mathematics, transforming the latest research on math learning into accessible and practical forms.”

Youcubed was founded by Dr. Jo Boaler with Department of Education at Stanford, who has done a lot of research on mathematical mindset and published many books related to that topic.

 

About 120 girls from local middle schools participated doing fun math activities throughout the day. There were many inspirational speeches by faculty, undergraduate students, and  Dr. Persis Drell who is currently Stanford Provost. Girls who participated definitely enjoyed the day in a fun, non-competitive environment while learning the importance of Math.

More details can be found here.

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Age when girls lose interest in (science and) math

As I have covered in previous entries, there is a lot of research on this topic and various interpretations of when and why girls lose interest in math. Some have argued that girls lose interest as early as elementary school while others have argues that they lose interest in middle school to high school range.  A new study published by Microsoft states that girls get interested in STEM related fields at the age of 11 and lose the interest around 15 because of social pressure, negative stereotypes, and lack of mentors.

According to the World Economic Forum report: “one area in which women continue to remain under-represented is among STEM graduates, for which the global gender gap stands at 47%, with 30% of all male students graduating from STEM subjects, in contrast to 16% of all female students. That gap is commonly attributed to negative stereotypes and lack of role models, lowering girls’ performance and aspirations vis-à-vis science and technology.” Many physical sciences related professions including Computer Science rely on STEM graduates for so called the forth industrial revolution and hence hopefully these gender gaps improve as we move forward.

The oscar nominated film “Hidden Figures” does a nice job of showing contributions of three women at NASA to US winning space race in 1950s.  I recently came across “Gina Davis Institute on Gender in Media” which claims to be “The Institute is the only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence content creators and audiences about the importance of eliminating unconditional bias, highlighting gender balance, challenging stereotypes, creating role models and scripting a wide variety of strong female characters in entertainment and media that targets and influences children ages 11 and under”.

I really admire the issues they are highlighting of gender imbalance in the media and its lasting impressions on females.

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