I spent last weekend in Nebraska. Why Nebraska you ask? I was there for the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics (NCUWM) and it was fabulous!
There were plenary talks by female professors and panels about careers in math and graduate school. There were breakout sessions about graduate school, research, math clubs, being confident, and many other things. There were undergraduate talks and posters about their research experiences and I gave a talk about my research as did a couple of my friends.
I met women doing research in anything from graph theory to applied math, and I got to meet other undergraduates who have the same troubles about not knowing what research or careers they want to do.
I met women who had no female faculty when they went to school. I met women who were the first to be pregnant at their graduate school. I met professors doing research in mathematical biology just like I want to do. I met women from the graduate schools I am applying to. I met women excelling in life in all the ways I want to, and I met women who told me I could, too.
I know that women are just as good at math as men, but I don't think I believed that my career options were as broad or as bright as men's until now. Why? I simply hadn't seen it. There's only a couple of female math professors in my department, and I really haven't had much interaction with them. But meeting women who have built careers in math, who have balanced family and work, and who absolutely love their work and are so excited to help me build my career has been amazing. Now I have no doubt that I can accomplish whatever program or research that I set my mind to.
The conference wasn't about moaning about how men dominate everything or complaining that we aren't given the same opportunities. That didn't happen at all. It was about bringing women together and giving us the courage and confidence to pursue the careers we want.
The quote to best sum it up is this: "Men can be great mentors, but there is something powerful about seeing someone do what you want to do who looks like you." I might not have remembered it right, but Dr. Maria Klawe, the one who said it, is my new hero along with many of the other women I met this weekend. For the first time I feel like I have role models who share my dreams and face my same challenges. And for the first time I really feel like I can succeed in graduate school and beyond