Student Essay Contest

The Beautiful Concept of Math: An Interview with Dorothy Buck

2015 AWM Essay Contest: Grand Prize Winner

By: Caroline Crawford, Home School

Have you ever found beauty in mathematics? Dr. Dorothy E. Buck is a Professor of Mathematics and Molecular Biology at Imperial College London. By talking to people like her, you can come to realize a whole new perspective in math. “Lots of my support came right from my childhood home,” says Dr. Buck, “ my mother had her Master’s degree in mathematics and my father was a scientist. They both helped me a lot during my school years.” In addition, Dr. Buck also mentioned Professor Erica Flapan, her teacher for undergraduate studies as an inspiration to pursue mathematics. Having all these math-minded people around inspired and influenced her desire and love for mathematics.
“Math is very beautiful to me,” Dr. Buck explained, “ it is about finding patterns, trying to generalize examples, and understanding something very precisely.” Hearing her describe math in that way opened my eyes to looking at math as more than just numbers on a page. Many people, including myself, see beauty in a variety of things, but here is a woman who sees beauty in something that many people are blind to and sometimes even opposed to learning. She also looks on math as a link to understanding other fascinating subjects. “When I started my PhD, I learned that I could apply some of the types of mathematics that I most like and use them to understand questions in Molecular Biology, in particular when studying drugs that fight cancer. This application is very exciting to me!” Before, I had always worked out my math lessons and learned the concepts, but Dr. Buck gave me some new things to consider: I am learning math, but why? How can I apply math to my every day life?
Dr. Buck went on to explain her work thoroughly, “ I do not teach very much. Most of my job is to write research papers; however, when I do, it is on Mathematical Biology for Master’s students. In the course, they learn about knots and graphs and how understanding those structures mathematically can help them understand molecules and molecular reactions better.” Dr. Buck seemed like a confident woman who knows her job well and is a hard worker. “ However,” Dr. Buck confessed, “ sometimes, when doing new math problems, I can get stuck for a very long time: months, and with some problems, I have never gotten ‘unstuck’.” It seems like it would be a challenge to perservere and not become discouraged. Dr. Buck agrees that it helps to be an optimist.
Dr. Buck loves working on math problems with smart, diverse people from around the world. “My university is all science, engineering, and medicine. In England, when students come to the university, they only study one subject, mainly, the mathematics courses. It is very competitive to get in, so they are all really smart and like math, which is a pleasure.” Math is a beautiful concept that she loves practicing in her free time as well as at work. “My least favorite part is that there are so few women mathematicians, but hopefully that is changing.”
It is very clear that Dr. Dorothy Buck loves and enjoys her profession and everyone, no matter what they study or become, should have a desire to succeed and find beauty in what they do.
About the Student
My name is Caroline Crawford. I am in 8th grade and I am currently a home school student. My favorite subject has always been math. I am very excited about algebra 1 that I am studying. I particularly love factoring trinomials and solving two equations using the elimination method.