Woman in logic class

Posted: November 20, 2010 by Jender in Uncategorized

More than ten years ago, I, a female philosophy major, was enrolled at a prestigious Masters of logic program. One of the very first courses I took was proof-theory, with a ‘big name’ in the area who was also about to retire. Throughout the course, he made sure to let me know (in public) that he didn’t think I should be there, as a woman who did not even have a degree in mathematics (or at least computer science). The evaluation consisted in handing in exercise lists every week, which I always made diligently. At the end of the course, he came to tell me that I still owed him exercise lists; I replied that, to the best of my knowledge, I had handed them all in. So he went back to my lists, and after an hour or so came around with the announcement that ‘they really weren’t all that bad’ (as he had expected, presumably). Talk about implicit biases…

After surviving this course, I told another student who had taken the course with me that I was considering taking another course with the same professor. His answer was: ‘Are you a masochist?’ Enough said… I did not take the course. More importantly, the pressure during the first course could very well have pushed me out of the program and the field.

Now, more than ten years later, I happen to have a research position at the very same institute where I did my MSc in logic. Just last month, I was awarded a very prestigious research grant, which was widely announced and celebrated at the institute. To my surprise, I received an email from my former proof-theory professor, with the text: ‘My most sincere congratulations.’ I’m not sure what exactly it means, but I like to think there is at least a chance that he came to realize that he had made a poor judgment of me when I was a student.

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