Student Essay Contest

Sponsored by AWM and Math for America

To increase awareness of women’s ongoing contributions to the mathematical sciences, the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and Math for America  co-sponsor an essay contest for biographies of contemporary women mathematicians and statisticians in academic, industrial, and government careers. The essays will be based primarily on an interview with a woman currently working in or retired from a mathematical sciences career. Participation is open to middle school, high school, and undergraduate students.

Submission Period. December 1 – February 1 through

Submission Packet. A valid submission will contain the following information:

  • A biographical essay of approximately 500 – 1000 words in length, based primarily on an interview you conduct with a woman currently working in or retired from a mathematical career;
  • A short (approximately 100 words) biographical sketch of the student contestant. This biographical sketch can be written in the first person, and it should include the student’s name, grade level, school, and mathematical interests;
  • Information about the student:
    • student’s name;
    • address of student (or parent);
    • phone number or email address of student (or parent);
  • Information about the subject of the biography:
    • name;
    • phone number and/or email address.

How to Submit. Submissions will open on on December 1, 2023. If you have any questions in the meantime, please contact the AWM Essay Contest Organizer, Dr. Johanna Franklin (

Categories. This essay contest is open to students in the following categories:

  • Grades 6 – 8
  • Grades 9 – 12
  • Undergraduate

At least one winning submission will be chosen from each category.

Judging Criteria. Your essay should be based primarily on an interview you conduct with a woman currently working in or retired from a mathematical career.

  • The submission must be in essay form, not just a transcript of your interview.
  • The essay should be approximately 500 to 1000 words in length.
  • Essays will be judged by a panel of mathematicians on content, grammar, and presentation.

Essay Subject. You may interview and write about any woman currently working in or retired from a mathematical sciences career with a small number of exceptions (listed below).  Here are some suggestions for finding possible women to interview:

  • To find out about mathematical careers, you can look at the resources at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, the SIAM website, or the ASA website. Try contacting a woman in one of these industries!
  • To find mathematicians from underrepresented minorities, you may want to try the website for the National Association of Mathematicians (NAM), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Lathisms, Mathematically Gifted & Black (MGB), or Indigenous Mathematicians.
  • Look for mathematicians who are active on social media.
  • Math teachers.
  • Professors in mathematics at a local college or university (you can try looking up the school’s website and looking for the mathematics department; many departments list their faculty and their email addresses).
  • Consider other mathematical departments at colleges and universities, such as applied mathematics, computer science, statistics, physics, engineering, finance, etc.

If you would like to be put in contact with someone who has agreed to be interviewed for this contest, please fill out this Google Form. Please note that we can only accommodate requests received by January 10 each year.

A few women are not eligible as essay subjects. These individuals are:

  • subjects of essays that have won a Grand Prize, First Place, or Honorable Mention in the past four years,
  • the President, President-Elect, Past President, and Executive Director of the AWM, and
  • current AWM Essay Contest Committee members.

A complete list of ineligible women can be found here.

Suggested Interview Questions. The following questions are suggestions for what to ask your interviewee during the interview:

  • What motivated your interviewee to pursue a career in the mathematical sciences?
  • What is your interviewee’s educational, family and cultural background?
  • What kind of work does she do?
  • Does she have any advice to students who are interested in pursuing a career in the mathematical sciences?
  • What are your interviewee’s hobbies?

These questions are just starting points! Use them as a guide, but ask other questions based on your interests or what you know about your interviewee’s interests and experiences, too. You should also follow up with more questions based on your interviewee’s responses to make this more of a conversation. Speaking in person, over the phone, or in a videoconference instead of e-mailing will make it easier for you two to respond to each other.

All submissions become the property of the Association for Women in Mathematics.

I’m not female. Can I still enter the contest?
Absolutely! The contest is open to all students in these grade categories. The only gender restriction is that the person interviewed must be a woman.

Can homeschooled students participate?

I’m not a US citizen/I don’t live or attend school in the US. Can I still participate?

Can I interview a relative?

Can I interview a graduate student?
Most of the time, a graduate student won’t fit the contest criteria: her mathematical career hasn’t really started yet! However, if she worked in a mathematical career before starting her graduate program, then it’s reasonable to interview her and focus your essay on that.

Can the woman I interview be a trans woman?
Of course! The Essay Contest Committee has always interpreted “a woman working in or retired from a mathematical sciences career” to be inclusive of all women.

Can I include information I find elsewhere about the woman I’m writing about?
You can read about her before you interview her and use that information to decide which questions to ask her, but your essay must be based on the interview you conduct yourself.

How do I find a woman to interview?
If there is a woman in mathematics who you know, you can tell her about the contest and ask her to do an interview with you.  If you don’t already know someone, you can ask your family or your friends’ family members if they know any women who have worked in a math-related career, or you can look at nearby businesses (insurance companies, engineering firms, software companies, research organizations, government labs, etc.) and schools, possibly checking online, and see if there are any women who use math heavily in their jobs and would be willing to be interviewed for the contest. One advantage of this is that you can interview the woman in person, which some students prefer.

I’m having trouble finding someone to interview.  Can you help?
Yes, you can request the name of a woman to interview.  This will likely be someone in a different region, so interviews would take place remotely (e.g. Skype or phone).  Please fill out this Google Form to request to be paired with someone by January 10. (Please start earlier! We may not be able to accommodate too many last minute requests!)

What is the Request Deadline?
The Request Deadline is the deadline to request contact information for a woman in mathematics who has (already) agreed to be interviewed.  This is an option for students who wish to submit an essay but aren’t able to find a woman to interview on their own.  This deadline is several weeks before the deadline for submitting essays in order to allow time for the student and interviewee to find a common time for the interview (which may take place over phone or Skype, since matches are not usually in the same geographic area).

How can I conduct my interview as thoughtfully as possible?
First of all, be sure to thank the woman you interview! Before you begin, you could send her any questions you’ve thought of in advance so she has a chance to think about her answers, and if you want to record the interview, you should ask her permission in advance as well so she can think about her answer to that as well. At the end of the interview, you should ask if she’d like anything she said to be “off the record.” Finally, once you’ve written your essay, you could offer her the chance to read it before you submit it.

Is it okay to get outside help with my essay?
You should plan the interview yourself, but you can ask a peer, a family member, or a teacher for feedback on your topics and questions for the interview, or ideas about how to organize the interview. When you write the essay, you should write it with minimal assistance – we want to hear your voice, not someone else’s! We especially discourage the use of artificial intelligence.

Is this a scholarship?
No, it is a contest.  There is a monetary award, but it doesn’t have to be used for schooling.

How many winners are there?
There is one First Place Winner in each category (Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12, and Undergraduate) and a Grand Prize Winner chosen from among those three First Place Winners. There are also typically 0-3 Honorable Mentions in each category.

What are the prizes?
The winners (including honorable mentions) receive a monetary prize, a membership in the Association for Women in Mathematics, a certificate, and their name and affiliation published in the Newsletter for the AWM.  In addition, all of the essays are published online and the Grand Prize winner‘s essay is published in the AWM Newsletter.

How do I submit my essay?
You’ll be able to submit it online when the contest opens in early December. We’ll post the link here then.

Can I send an email with my essay as an attachment?
No, there is a risk that it would get lost.

Do I need to give my home address and phone number?
You can use your school’s address. What is important is that we have a way to contact you (typically in March) if you win.

Can I enter more than one essay in the same year?
No, each student should only submit one essay.  If a student does enter more than once, typically because there was a mistake in the first entry, the most recent entry is used.

If I won a prize, can I still enter the contest again? 
Yes, but you should interview another woman and then write a new essay.

First of all, thank you for considering being interviewed for the AWM/MfA Essay Contest! Here’s what you can expect as an interviewee:

A student will contact you and ask to interview you. Perhaps you knew them already, perhaps they got in touch with you out of the blue, perhaps you’ve been matched with them through the Essay Contest Committee’s matching service. The interview arrangements are made entirely between you and the student: depending on your preferences and availability, you could meet in person, speak on the phone, or videochat. (We encourage the student to speak with you rather than relying on e-mail to make the interview more of a two-way conversation.) It’s all right to say that you aren’t comfortable with your interview being recorded, and it’s all right to ask the student to consider part of the interview “off the record” afterwards if you find you’ve told a story you’d rather not have published online.

The essay must be the student’s own work—you shouldn’t be involved in the writing at all! We also encourage the students to show their essays to the women they interview upon request before submission, so if you would like to read the resulting essay, please feel free to ask them for a copy. However, please keep any corrections you make at the level of fixing basic factual errors (such as “I went to Miami University, not the University of Miami”) or asking the student to remove material that you’d be uncomfortable having published. We want to read the student’s writing, not yours.

We’ll e-mail you within a day or so after the contest deadline (February 1) to let you know we’ve received an essay about you. Judging will begin a few days after that, and we expect to finish the judging by the middle of March. At that point, if the essay about you wins a prize, we’ll contact you so you can read the essay and check it for accuracy before it’s published on the AWM website (and, in the case of the Grand Prize winner, in the AWM Newsletter as well). The winning essays will be posted on the AWM website in April.

If you have any questions about the interview process or the contest in general, please feel free to contact the Chair of the AWM Essay Contest Committee, Dr. Johanna Franklin, at

I want to make this a class project. Do you have any suggestions?
This would be wonderful! Sometimes teachers even help their students produce a website or magazine of their submissions — though we ask that you not publish their work online until the contest is complete so the judging can be anonymous.

We encourage you to help your students think of potential questions for their interviewees and to think about how you can help your students find women to interview. We have a matching process, but it is entirely a volunteer effort, and we may not be able to match all the requests for your class. We suggest that you look locally for women to interview, perhaps at local businesses, colleges, or universities. Perhaps a guidance counselor could help your students make connections, too!

Can I help my students submit their essays?
Absolutely. Each of them will need their own account on with a separate e-mail address, but you can help with the submission process.

I teach middle school, and am encouraging my students to do this.  Do they need to use their home address and phone number, or can they use the school’s address and my phone number?
Your students can use your school’s address and your phone number as their teacher: these are used to contact winners.  Typically the first contact is through email and/or phone, and the mailing address is used later.

Questions? Call the AWM Administrative Specialist at 401-455-4042 or email