Victoria Robinson is an aspiring mathematician and a second-year graduate student studying mathematics at the University of Alabama. She is a 2015 graduate of Richton High School (Richton, MS) and she received her Bachelors of Science in 2019 in Mathematics with minors in both Intelligence & Security Studies and Electrical Engineering from the University of Mississippi. Her long-term goal is to develop her mathematics and technical skills to improve the quality of life for underrepresented communities.
What initially piqued your interest in math? And what has kept you in this field of study?
Most people forget that becoming good at math is learned and not given at birth. I had some notable math teachers as early as fourth grade, and I began to appreciate the subject more every year. I was fortunate enough to have the same GREAT math teacher for most of high school, and she always made sure to show her passion and respect for mathematics. She was also the coach of the Jones County Junior College Bobcat Math League; a math competition for high schoolers in the Pine Belt of Mississippi. I joined during my sophomore or junior year of high school, and they were the first group of people to show me the value of math. I came from a low-income family, and the small amount of money that I would get from participating and doing well in Math League meant so much to me. However, I never knew what job I could work in math besides teaching, but I always knew that I enjoyed it far more than any other subject.
When I arrived for college orientation, I was undecided about my major. The student at the University of Mississippi that was helping me build my schedule asked me “What do you like?” I told them that I liked math. In a matter of a few clicks on the computer, I began to study math with no idea of what the future may hold for me in this field. The next day I met with my advisor, and I explained to him my concern with being a math major, and he told me that it did not matter what riches the future may bring. He noticed that extremely shocked look on my face, and he proceeded to say what matters most is that I do what I love. Then, the money will come. I have held on to this idea ever since, and studying math has taken me further than I could imagine. For that, I will continue to study mathematics until I am denied for something beyond my control.
What specifically do you study in math? What does research look like in this field?
Math is the study of puzzles and patterns of numbers, and it is split into two primary areas– pure and applied. In pure math, people research how you make math. For example, everyone loves to ask those silly, pointless order of operation related questions on social media with all the parentheses and math operations(also known as P.E.M.D.A.S.). Someone studying pure math may ask why do the order of operations work, and they would try to mathematically prove it. Then, they have a really interesting puzzle to solve by finding a pattern between numbers.
The other category is applied math which has a lot of pure math behind it but is used for a different purpose than to make more math. There are so many problems that can be solved using mathematics, and many applied mathematicians want to tackle those problems. Applied math is what I am studying, and more specifically, I want to become a Data Analyst upon getting my Ph.D. It would allow me to use all the things that I have learned in math to tackle relatable issues such as the need for better education for minorities, national security to keep our country safe, criminal justice, or engineering.
What does an average day in your field of study look like?
Everyone’s day will look a little different. Currently, I am a second-year Ph.D. student, and for a normal semester, my days can be long with teaching and studying. However a day for an applied mathematician who works in industry (for a company and not at a school or university), they wake up and go to work. Then, they should probably get a cup of necessary coffee. They arrive at work where they are assigned some problem related to the company. Since mathematicians can do ANYTHING, let us say that this particular one works for Apple Inc. (a multinational technology company that earns over 200 Billion dollars a year). They could be given many different areas of math problems, but they are asked how could they make Apple products cheaper. They work with a team of people who are equally awesome and work hard to try to solve this puzzle. However, this is a big problem, and it may take months or years. So, they go home, have dinner, watch a movie, and go to sleep. For that, they may earn $100,000 a year.
What is your favorite part about your job/research?
The opportunities are endless. I thought that I could only teach, but I can study anything that I want. Right now, I am enrolled in a Data Science certificate program which is a way to learn more skills that I cannot get at school. I work on a team of awesome, young people, and our project aims to help companies invest in low-income communities without causing the community to be hurt in the process. I aimed to study math and help people with a background like mine, and I love that I have been able to stick to that goal.
What is something you wish more people knew about your job and what you do?
Not everyone who studies math matches the stereotypical profile of a mathematician– quiet, too smart, or uninvolved. We do have lives outside of math, and not all of us live and breathe math 24 hours every day.
Fun fact: doing math is still hard for me. I do not remember everything, and the world shouldn’t expect me to have all the answers to everything in math. I was not made into a human-computer, and I do not instantly know what 825,345 divided by 92 equals.
What words of encouragement do you have for junior scholars interested in pursuing a S.T.E.M. field?
“Don’t knock it until you try it!” I understand that it may look scary, but diversity in S.T.E.M. matters more than you think. You may not be the best at math or science, and it is fine as long as you have the passion and respect for it. I was far from the smartest in my class, but I was a hard worker. I got so much encouragement in college, and I am glad that I stuck with math. The S.T.E.M. field needs diversity in background and thoughts. What matters to you may also matter to someone else, and you can help fix the problem in some way through S.T.E.M. Also, you can make more money in S.T.E.M. instantly.
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