Black mathematician month 2019

A month celebrating the contributions of black mathematicians

This post is part of black mathematician month.

This is our third year of running Black Mathematician Month and we could not be more pleased for this time to come round again.

We believe that diversity is important in all fields. I work on mathematical modelling applied to biological and medical problems, and one of the most exciting advances on the horizon is the idea of personalised medicine. This is the idea that medicine should be tailored to the individual. When medicine is prescribed, the questions of gender, age and ethnic background, among others, should be taken into account in order to establish the most successful treatment. However, for this goal to be possible we need to consider a wide range of different people, and the most direct way to do this is to have a diverse group of people involved in the research. If mathematics is supposed to benefit all of society, then surely the same is true for us.

Why focus on black mathematicians?

Usually, when we speak about diversity in mathematics we focus solely on gender. However, there are female mathematics role models in the public eye—Rachael Riley on Countdown, Hannah Fry on Radio 4, are but a few of the more famous female mathematicians. But how many black mathematicians can you name? Stepping onto any university campus, it’s easy to notice that the research community is not ethnically representative of the population. Similar issues have been raised in the ‘Decolonising the curriculum’ movement and were noted in reports by the charity Advance HE. Here, although it was noted that 23.6% of mathematics students are BME (Black and minority ethnic), the real issue is hidden by lumping all BME students together. A recent report showed that, shockingly, only 0.6% of all UK professors are black, compared to about 4.6% of the population in England and Wales.

Towards diversity in higher education

People are trying to tackle the problem. It was announced that Stormzy will be funding another round of scholarships at Cambridge this year. Leading Routes run a range of different events and have recently published the `Broken pipeline’ report into why there are not more black students with fully funded PhD places.  Throughout February 2019, Mathematically gifted and black published the profiles of 28 black mathematicians. Chalkdust also wants to do our part. The aim of Black mathematician month is to raise the profile of black mathematicians, in order to provide role models for the next generation who aspire to study mathematics and to generate a conversation about the role of diversity in mathematics. 

In previous years we have published interviews and articles written by black mathematicians, which you can read here. This year, throughout October we will be giving our Twitter account up for ‘take-overs’ by black academics who are leading the conversation on what we can do to improve diversity in the mathematical sciences. Further, from the past few years we have realised that promoting diversity once a year is not enough. This is why we are planning two events for early 2020. One will be for year 9 and 10 school children in London, with a series of workshops and talks to encourage them to consider carrying on studying mathematics. The second will be a networking event for black students, academics and those in industry working in the mathematical sciences. Keep an eye out for these events!

Black mathematician month is something we feel strongly about, however it’s also something that we need help in running. If you would like to get involved or would like to tell us about any events you are running for Black mathematician month, please get in touch!

Eleanor is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Manchester. A mathematician by training, she works on developing mathematical models to improve our understanding of biological mechanisms in medicine, with particular interests in women’s health and autoimmune conditions. When not doing mathematics, she crochets, sews and reads everything and anything.

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