My name is Rhoda, and I’m a mathematician.
I’ve been doing math since I was a little kid. My parents did it sometimes and it didn’t seem like a big deal, so I didn’t even think about whether it was right or wrong, or even a good idea, when I was offered my first math problem.
That single hit was all it took. Since then, I’ve been doing math almost every single day! Sometimes, I don’t even realize it. It feels normal..but I know, because my friends never miss an opportunity to tell me, that it is not normal.
In college, I tried to quit. I was a chemistry major at first. I made it almost two whole years. Of course, I still did math on the side…a little calculus here, a little linear algebra there…until one day I realized, while doing unit conversion for my chemistry homework, that I had somehow managed to bring math into science.
I was horrified… but also ashamed. I tried talking to my chemistry professor, but I couldn’t bring myself to admit to her that I’d been doing math in her class. She never would have looked at me the same way. Shortly after that, I gave up on chemistry and switched to mathematics, where I could do math full-time.
After college, when I left town, I resolved to leave math behind me. But I wasn’t in St Louis for more than a few months before I started attending calc 3 class at a community college where I wasn’t even enrolled. I made excuses. I hadn’t actually learned any Calc 3 as an undergrad because I didn’t go to that class. It was too early, and I was exhausted from staying up all night doing other math. Doing math seemed okay if I was just studying it.
But I was wrong. Calculus was the gateway drug. Before, I’d been a casual problem solver. Maybe I did extra work sometimes, or lingered longer over my books than my peers did, but I blended in. Not after Calc 3. Once I understood WTF a line integral was, all of the math I’d done for the other three and a half years of college began to make sense. My mind was blown. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
I enrolled in graduate courses at UMSL. Sure, at least I was enrolled this time, but why? I wasn’t pursuing a degree. I was just taking classes–math classes–for the hell of it, and paying thousands of dollars for the privilege.
Is it any surprise that I became a math graduate student? I was as close to being literally enslaved by math as it’s possible to be, and, still, I was in denial. But, in grad school, I began to spend more and more time doing math, and the more I did, the more I needed to do.
These days, I try to keep my math habit quiet. But, sometimes, I wonder where I’d be today if math hadn’t sucked me down into a hell of countably infinite imaginary differential analysis of algebraic set theory. I wonder if I’d be…different.
It’s too late for me, kids, but you still have time to make a different choice. Don’t be like me. Don’t give into the seductive thrill of differentiation. Just say no…to math.