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Pamela E. Harris

Associate Professor of Mathematics, Williams College

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Believe in yourself and work hard.

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am a mathematician and a mathematics educator. I spend my time working on solving new problems in combinatorics and, on most days, asking many more questions that I ever answer. I also teach mathematics courses from calculus to research courses in algebraic combinatorics and graph theory.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I became a mathematician by having supportive teachers and professors who told me to take the next math class! I actually never knew that being a mathematician could be a job! I knew I always liked math, but I also didn't know what one could do aside from teaching. Luckily, I have always enjoyed teaching and helping people learn new challenging mathematical concepts, that along with my own love to continue learning and doing mathematical research, meant that being a mathematics professor would be a greta job for me!

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

Completing a PhD in mathematics! When I was young I didn't know one could get a PhD let along in mathematics. I did not understand that mathematics is a living field, that new math is being developed, created, and discovered every single day.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

I love the challenge of discovery. Most days I can feel frustrated thinking that although I am working hard, I am not making any progress. That couldn't be further from the truth! When I work on research and something doesn't work, that means I know have learned a new thing - that that particular technique would not work to solve the problem. So even in my own "failures" I find joy in learning something new. I wake up looking forward to getting back to work on my math research questions and even better when I have some meetings scheduled with my friends to share what we both think about the problem and what we may have tried. Collaborating in mathematics research is so much more fun than working alone! I really look forward to those interactions and collaborations.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

Believe in yourself and work hard. Do not let the frustration of learning something difficult make you question you're worth. You are more than the science you do and you are worthy of having a positive experience in STEM. Find friends, mentors, and supporters at every step of your academic and professional career. Mine has been made exponentially better by having the right community! You can do it!

INSPO / FUN FACT

"The impostor syndrome never stopped, but it also never stopped me." Dr. Ana Mari Cauce