Wednesday, March 02, 2011

A Film about Mathematicians, with Hilary Putnam

The film below sounds like it would be interesting, just because of the interesting subject matter. I've been thinking about women in math and science, so it's worth saying a few words about that. I'm conflicted when it comes to pointing out that I'm looking forward to seeing this film because the mathematician featured is a woman. I think that I'd be interested in it regardless of the gender of the main character. But in a social context where those of us who are women and interested in math and science are made to feel odd, there is added value in highlighting the work of women. Yes, there is a paradox here: gender shouldn't matter, but gender has to matter.

A while back, without a tenure-track job but having full access to university courses, I decided to take a year to construct a solid foundation in science (and to do the pre-req's for a master's program in science). That required taking a year of calculus. A friend and colleague, teacher of women's studies courses, and supporter of women in the sciences, could not help but express the doubt-ridden question "Why in the world would you want to take calculus? Math is so hard! Aren't you worried you won't do well?" Why would I have such a worry? Me, with a PhD--why would I be worried that I couldn't do what so many 18-year-olds can? And why project such doubts?

This week a student, a graduating senior woman majoring in business, told me that she signed up to take a physics course in the spring to complete her last general education requirement in science. She happens to enjoy math and has done well in physics in the past. Her academic advisor discouraged her from taking the course.

Here's the trailer for the 2008 1-hour documentary film Julia Robinson and Hilbert's Tenth Problem. It's not easily available, but I plan to ask our library to order it. I think it would be a nice fit for a Women in Science course.

No comments: