Mathochism: In college at last!

One womanโ€™s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Calculus started today, and it’s official: I’m no longer a high school student.

Wow, that only took 23 years!

True, high schools offer calculus. They even did in my day. But most universities don’t require calculus from applicants, and offer it as their baby math class, demanding it both from prospective majors (you can opt out with AP) and everyone else.

So here I am.

My newest professor — I may just call him the Calc Professor, unless inspiration strikes — won my heart right away by announcing that he was accepting no crashers. No, not even if they were in the waiting pools set up this semester by the math department to avoid classes and corridors crammed with hopefuls. (I wonder if the Fire Department got on their case. They certainly should have.)

Thank the math gods. In both geometry and pre-calculus, the crashers sucked up an inordinate amount of time. And some got threatening. Yes, catering to these individuals did nothing but open a vortex to hell.

The Calc Professor also impressed me by taking command of the classroom, being very firm about what he will and will not do, and what he does and does not expect. He has a set exam schedule, and even schedules class time, dividing it between lectures, a break and question time.

He does, alas, expect us to solve even homework problems, which gives me Brofessor flashbacks. And speaking of the Brofessor — he is teaching Intermediate Algebra again. Why, Math Chair? Whyyyyyy? Those poor students! Happily, the Dapper Professor is also teaching the subject, which kind of evens up the karma. But still.

We spent most of today reviewing functions. We move to trig next class. Set notation is finally starting to gel, which is good, because it looks like it will be a big part of the course. I will never be a fan of functions, or at least, not of root functions.

Logarithms will not be part of the course. Yessss!

I am a little anxious about the book. I wound up buying a used copy on Amazon, but it is being handled through an outside seller, and I worry that this individual will take their sweet time and actually get it to me in 14 business days, or just in time for our first test.

That would be terrible, because the first test is the one we can’t drop even if we want to. Will I pay for my cheapness in this case? I guess I’ll have to wait and see. The Calc Professor mentioned that the book is available in the library. I may go there before the next class, check it out for a few hours, and either photocopy or hand copy the homework problems.

I hope that won’t be necessary. I really do.

At any rate, this final mathochism chapter is beginning pretty well. And, for any readers out there wondering, I DO plan to turn this into a book.

I’m sorting my interview list, and am still looking to speak to cis women and trans men undergrad and grad math and STEM students, in the United States and elsewhere. You don’t have to have English as your first language — I would be happy to interview you in Swedish, Spanish, Italian or French.

Also, I will protect your identity if you wish. I just need to know personally (and my editor too, but that’s it) who you are, and whether you really are who you say you are. Blame the Gay Girl in Damascus, or that LezBiGay editor. For that matter, blame that woman on “Catfish.” The Internet is a crucible for fraud, and I would like this book to be based on fact. Why bother otherwise?

Also, why am I so specific on the cis woman/trans man issue? Well, I grew up learning math (and learning to fear it, then embrace it) as an individual coded female by society. One thesis I’m looking to explore is how such coding affected society’s expectations of me, and my peers, whether they continue to live as women or not.

Finally, confidential to reader Katie R., should you ever read this blog again: Any chance you’d talk to me about the art of word problem writing? I am planning to interview several text book writers, but an editor who specializes in word problems would be amazing to talk to.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.



  • Welcome to Calculus, the class where math actually starts to make sense. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m currently teaching it, and there’s lots of great stuff ahead of you. Enjoy!

  • I’m still reading, and would still be happy to talk to you. ๐Ÿ™‚ It might be too strong to say I specialize in word problem writing, but I do have lots of experience writing word problems for books that range from fourth grade to precalculus. How exciting to get a personal mention on your blog!

  • Visiting from Shakesville and enjoying this post. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Wonderful! If it’s okay, I will e-mail you at the address you supplied when commenting. I’m also updating the post with an e-mail address, and hope the snow plowing company from Poland that keeps spamming the blog stays away!

  • Hi,

    I missed your first mention of interviews, but I’m a woman who just (as in, about three days ago ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ :D), received her M.Eng. degree. I might be interested in an interview, depending on what’s involved.

  • Congratulations! I will e-mail you.

  • Just dropping a note to say that I’d still love to be interviewed for this. I’m in the process of moving, so any response time may be slow, but I am interested.

  • I think I’m quite lucky in my department — at my institution 5 of the tenured professors in the math department (or tenure-track) are women, and also lots of talented women in the student body (who receive far more support from the department than at most institutions.)

    Look forward to your book ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Any chance the profs you mentioned might be interested in being interviewed for the book?

  • Twostatesystem, thanks for writing in. I will contact you!

  • I don’t know. I’ll certainly ask!

  • I’m a 25 year old woman, have my Master’s in math, am working on the PhD. Would be interested in being interviewed!

  • Great! I will e-mail you!

  • I’m a female taking my first math class in 8 years, and was so excited to find this blog! Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m also happy to answer any questions- feel free to e-mail me.

  • Best of luck to you! I’d be curious to know more of your story.

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