April 15th, 2012
(written by lawrence, however indented passages are often quotes)
I went to math camp in spite of it being an extremely uncool summer endeavor, according to my classmates at school. Yet I didn’t care, and went anyway, mostly because I was already a complete outsider, a fat girl on the math team (but a mathbabe when I got there!).
Two things about this. First, most smart girls around me in Lexington High School, and there were a lot of them, would not have been willing to go to math camp and ruin their reputations. Most of them were relatively popular, and wanted to keep it that way. I had nothing to lose in that aspect and knew it. This kind of thinking may seem silly to us as grownups but seemed like life or death choices then.
Second, the advantage having been to math camp gave me when I got to college was phenomenal. I knew how to prove things by induction, by contradiction, and using the pigeon-hole principle. I knew basic group theory, graph theory, and real analysis. This gave me a jump-start in all of my undergrad math major classes. I was an elite, and what I could do seemed like magic to the kids who were math majors who didn’t know that stuff.
The thing about math is that people get into this mindset about being good at it: they think that you either have it or you don’t (see this post for more on the mindset). So the experience for the other kids, boys and girls, going to an algebra class and sitting next to me and a few other kids from math camp backgrounds was understandably intimidating and made them think they couldn’t compete. But I believe that, considering the social constructs and the kind of confidence girls and boys are trained to have (or not have), it was particularly daunting for other girls to see their competition in a small group of elite nerds who already knew all the answers.