Rachel Beddoes, AMSP Careers Lead and Sarah Denison, AMSP EDI Lead
Who inspired you into your career or field of study? What was it about them that influenced your future path? In this blog to celebrate International Women in Mathematics Day, we will look at some female mathematicians and how they could inspire your students to continue their maths studies.
If you asked your students to name a famous mathematician, how many do you think would know about Florence Nightingale and the difference she made as a statistician? Or Katherine Johnson and her contribution to space exploration? Maybe they will have heard of Ada Lovelace as “the first computer programmer”? Maryam Mirzakhani was the first female winner of the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics, in 2014 and it was her birthday, 12 May, that was chosen to be International Women in Maths Day.
Although none of these inspirational women are doing maths any more their legacies live on and provide a fantastic storyline through which we can raise aspirations. But a key question is – are they the role models that will help your female students to see that maths is for them?
Fortunately there are a large number of female mathematicians being recognised right now for their contributions.
Who in the maths world hasn’t heard of the phenomenal Hannah Fry – author, presenter, lecturer and Professor in the Mathematics of Cities? How about the mathematical biologist Professor Julia Gog OBE? She is a leading expert in mathematical modelling, helping to control the spread of infectious diseases. Students can watch these mathematicians on YouTube or read about their work and discover the positive influence they are making to society.
There are of course many more: Dr Eugenia Chang, Rachel Riley, Dr Aoife Hunt, Anne-Marie Imafidon... What they all have in common is that they are great communicators and passionate about letting others know that they can succeed in maths and, most importantly, that maths can make a difference in peoples’ lives.
However, becoming the next Ada, Maryam or Hannah might not seem attainable to many students. They need more relatable role models – women with a similar background, who look like them or are only a step or two ahead of them in life.
I doubt that you will have heard of Bryony Moody or Grace O’Halloran. Neither had I until last week! (Look them up). Bryony and Grace are two ‘ordinary’ young women who made a big impression on a group of Year 12 female maths students at a recent AMSP enrichment event at Sheffield University. They both went to state secondary schools, lived in Yorkshire (where the visiting students were from), graduated recently, and talked openly about struggles they had faced. Very relatable! When they were 16 they had no idea what they wanted to do in the future but explained passionately how maths had opened so many doors for them.
Throughout the day undergraduate STEM students acted as mentors for the Year 12 students. During a ‘Speed Networking’ activity, the university student mentors offered advice to Year 12 students in an informal and genuine manner that created an atmosphere where the students just kept wanting to ask questions!!
Perhaps you’re thinking “that sounds great, but taking students out on a visit is too time consuming”. “I want more than just a handful of my students to hear those messages” … well the good news is that there are plenty of simple low-cost things that you can do!
Female students today have far more opportunities than their historic counterparts. However, there is still a huge disparity in the number of women in STEM, which starts with the number of girls choosing maths post-16. At the AMSP we’re trying to change this:
Why not sign up to our monthly stay informed bulletin to make sure you’re up to date on what’s going on. You can also contact your local area coordinator via the local support page, and check out the AMSP events page to discover what’s happening near you.
Our students have countless influential, inspiring, and enthusiastic women around them, and we need to celebrate them all. Having role models to aspire to will help ensure that success in maths is seen as an achievable goal for young women.
If you have any questions, you can email the authors at email@example.com or tweet them @SarahDenisonMEI or @GirlsCount_2. Alternatively, share your thoughts in the comments below.
If you have any questions for our maths subject advisors, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Maths. You can also sign up to subject updates and receive information about resources and support.
Between them Rachel and Sarah taught maths for over 30 years before joining MEI to work on the Advanced Maths Support Programme. Both have always been passionate about encouraging students to continue with maths beyond GCSE. In 2018 Rachel started at MEI as the Girls Participation Coordinator but has recently focussed more on careers work and stakeholder engagement. Sarah’s work at MEI has led her into becoming the Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Lead since 2022 which includes the girls’ participation work.