Courtney R Gibbons

Associate Professor of Mathematics, Hamilton College

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Believe in yourself, and find mentors who believe in you, too.

What do you do?

Every day is a blend of teaching mathematics, doing mathematics, and working to make math more accessible and inclusive. My research is in commutative algebra, where I study patterns that come up through different algorithms. I also write code for an open source software called Macaulay2. Right now I'm mentoring five undergraduate research students and we recently proved a cool result that we'll be able to publish! I'm also chair of the Policy and Advocacy Committee for the Association for Women in Mathematics, where I work with other committee members to keep track of legislation that affects women in math and write policy statements for the AWM that women working in math can bring to their employers.

Why did you choose this field?

Before I studied algebra, I felt like there were relationships all around me that I didn't quite know how to describe. In my first algebra class in college, suddenly I felt like I had the words I needed to describe when things that were different on the surface were really the same underneath, or when two seemingly unrelated ideas were linked by similar structures. It was a wonderful feeling to experience: like my brain was coming home.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I used to think that only certain people got to be in a position to be changemakers, or that change only happened in big steps. But every time I see a student have a lightbulb moment in class, I realize I'm part of that change. Every theorem I prove is a little change from knowing less to knowing more. I wish younger me could know how quickly those little changes added up to make me feel like a changemaker. I would have had more hope for myself during some really hard times -- dropping out of college, being afraid to go back, eventually going back but feeling like a failure for not having made it the first time.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love my community! My research collaborators are also some of my best friends. We gravitated toward working together because of friendship, and our research interests keep us in close conversation. My colleagues and students are also a big part of my excitement for each day -- I love being part of a community that is excited to teach and learn mathematics together. And there's nothing like a fresh pot of coffee and a clean blackboard to get me excited for the day.

Best advice for next generation?

Believe in yourself, and find mentors who believe in you, too. You don't have to prove anything to anyone -- you're already enough. There's no one magical quality that makes someone a "STEM person" -- there are a billion possible combinations of curiosity, enthusiasm, persistence, and other qualities that add up to your being a STEM person.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"Whenever you do something that fills you with enthusiasm, you are following your legend." Paulo Coehlo

NOMINATE a woman in STEM

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