Marissa Kawehi Loving

NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Math at Georgia Tech

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Know that there is a place here for you!

What do you do?

As a research postdoc the majority of my time is spent doing math research, specifically in geometry and topology, which involves spending lots of time reading papers to learn new techniques, drawing illustrative examples to build intuition, and chatting with my collaborators to brainstorm new ideas.

Why did you choose this field?

When I started grad school I wasn't planning to do the kind of math I work on now. I ended up doing a reading course with the professor who became my PhD advisor just because one of my best friends was doing a reading course with him and I tagged along. My advisor was so down to earth, friendly, and very human. I clicked with him and clicked with the kind of math he does and the rest is history!

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

As far as I know, I'm the first Native Hawaiian woman to receive a PhD in mathematics. So I think while I was in grad school I always had this deep fear that I wasn't going to be able to cut it. It's very difficult to keep pushing forward in the face of adversity when you don't have too many role models to show you that your dreams are possible. I'm very proud of earning my PhD. I'm very proud of earning an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. I'm very proud of all the ways I continue to break down barriers in mathematics and open doors to all the young BIPoC women coming up behind me. I don't think younger me could even imagine all the things I've accomplished today.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love community! I really thrive on creating connections with other people that are centered around the common ground we share mathematically. Even though my primary job descriptor right now is "researcher", I wear lots of other hats: I mentor undergraduate and graduate students, I organize conferences, I start new community building initiatives (like an online peer support program for grad students called SUBgroups!), I advocate for change within my department and research community, and the list goes on. Each of these other "hats" involves building community not just for the people I'm serving, but also with the people I'm engaging in that work with. I truly love my research, but it wouldn't bring me the joy it does if I weren't able to use it as a tool to build nourishing human connections!

Best advice for next generation?

Know that there is a place here for you! There will likely be people along your STEM journey who tell you that you don't belong, but that is a reflection of them and not you. You have everything you need to flourish in STEM within you and, even when it doesn't feel like it, you have so many people rooting for you and your success.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson

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