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STUDENT PROFILE

Taylor McAdam

Major:
Mathematics PhD
Graduation Year:
N/A
"One of the worst myths is that there is such a thing as a "math person." Everyone is capable of excelling at high-level math, and everyone will find it difficult at times."

What has been the most rewarding part about working at the Sanger Center?
Learning about education theory and practice from my fellow math SI leaders and supervisors and from Jay and Jenell has been a truly amazing experience. I’ve been an SI leader for four semesters now, and the most rewarding part of the experience has been observing how improvements to my teaching style have positively affected my students. I love watching my students develop into confident, flexible learners while discovering the beauty of mathematics.

What has been the most surprising aspect of your job?
When I first joined the SI program I expected it to be more difficult than a regular TA position. However, despite requiring a bit more time than a typical TA job, I was surprised to find that participating in the SI program actually makes teaching easier in a variety of ways. The support I receive from my peers and the Sanger Center learning specialists makes it easier to deal with teaching issues as they arise. Also, as I’ve grown as an educator, I’ve become much more comfortable in the classroom. Not only does this make me a more effective teacher, it also means I’m able to have more fun while doing so.

Tell us about a time you worked with a student (or a group of students) and were particularly proud of the outcome. What happened? Why was it special?
There are too many to count, but one recent example involves a conversation I had with one of my students after a discussion section. She told me about how in high school she had always thought math was boring because it was just memorization and application of formulas, but after taking college calculus with her professor and myself, she had realized how deep, challenging, and interesting math could be, and that she was considering pursuing a math major. That made me so happy!

What do you think is the biggest myth about learning/studying in college?
There are many, many detrimental myths about learning math in particular. I could go on all day about this, but I will list just four:

1. One of the worst myths is that there is such a thing as a “math person.” Everyone is capable of excelling at high-level math, and everyone will find it difficult at times. People often have differing levels of experience when entering a math class, but just because some people seem to already know all the answers doesn’t mean that they are inherently better at math than those struggling to understand it for the first time. Struggle is normal and helpful for learning!

2. Another myth is that math (or STEM fields generally) are somehow at odds with arts and humanities. As a mathematician, artist, and writer, I know this is false. Math is an extremely creative field, while arts and humanities require logic and careful reasoning. Everyone can benefit from a math education, even those who are not planning to pursue a technical career.

3. The idea that succeeding in math requires good memorization skills is a myth. One of the best things about math (in my opinion) is that so little needs to be memorized. Every idea follows logically from the ideas that came before it, and if you work to achieve a deep understanding of the underlying concepts, then memorization becomes almost completely irrelevant.

4. Finally, there’s the extremely damaging myth that men are better at math than women. The vast bulk of evidence suggests that this is simply untrue, and that it is in fact this stubborn societal perception, rather than anything intrinsic, that leads to differences in outcomes. The sooner we can dispel this myth, the sooner everyone will be able to achieve their full potential in mathematics.

Tell us about an academic challenge you encountered when you got to UT. How did you handle it? What advice would you give to someone in that same situation?
When I started graduate school at UT, I had trouble figuring out how to manage my time effectively. As an undergraduate, I always had lots of classes, lots of homework, and lots of extracurriculars, so “time management” was always just doing the most important thing with the closest due date. In graduate school you need to be much more deliberate about organizing your time, because there are not always grades assigned to the most important things you need to do, like research. I learned to plan out my weeks in advance and set regular meetings with my advisor to create artificial deadlines that would keep me motivated. I also found that making plans to work with other people helped me be productive during times I might otherwise have slacked off. However, I would definitely advise reserving at least one day a week to not work at all—it’s exhausting to always feel like you should be doing something, and having a break where you don’t expect anything from yourself can be important for refreshing your mind and preventing burnout.