From math-hater to mathematician and computer scientist: The story of Allison Bishop

This is the story of an unlikely mathematician. It is the story of my friend and Funville Adventures coauthor Allison Bishop, who always imagined she’d write a book someday, but would not have guessed it would be about math.

Allison grew up with a strong dislike for math.  She was by no means bad at it and had no trouble getting A’s in all her math classes.  She just found it dull, formulaic, and uncreative.  What she loved was writing, where you could use your imagination and create anything you wanted.

It didn’t help that she never cared for most of her math teachers.  There was even one high school math teacher that felt that girls had no business doing math.  When a girl asked a question in his classroom, his reply was, “You will not need to know that when you are a housewife.”

That’s why when Allison began her undergraduate studies at Princeton, math was not anywhere to be seen on her list of potential majors.  She was leaning towards English, although considering some other subjects in the humanities.

Yet somehow, she found herself being convinced to take a math class her Freshman year.  She didn’t have high hopes for it, but thought that she’d give math one last chance.  The class was an Introduction to proofs through Number Theory taught by Jordan Ellenberg.

It didn’t take long for Allison to fall in love with the class.  But how could it be that this was math?  It was so different from anything she had seen called math before.  It was exciting, thought-provoking, and required quite a bit of creativity.  Was this a fluke?  Allison had to try out a few more math classes to be sure.

By the end of her sophomore year, Allison knew that she wanted to become a math major.  She went on to take many more fascinating math classes and to graduate with high honors in math.

She set out to find compelling uses of math in the wider world, and wandered into computer science research as a result. After obtaining her Phd, Allison became a computer science professor at Columbia University. Though she loves teaching, she is not content to work only with students who have already found their way to math and science. She wants to help more young minds discover the creative side of mathematics, and waiting for college is often too late.

Allison joined the Funville Adventures project because she believes that mathematics needs more writers, and writers need more mathematics. The kind of thinking muscles that mathematical studies develop are sorely needed in today’s world, and the creativity that lies behind the shape of a theorem is not so different from that behind the shape of a story. And every little girl, and little boy, should get to grow up loving math. Because in addition to enriching their lives, they will need to know it after all.


About aofradkin

I enjoy thinking about presenting mathematical concepts to young children in exciting and engaging ways.
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4 Responses to From math-hater to mathematician and computer scientist: The story of Allison Bishop

  1. Jim Hefferon says:

    Saw your AMA. Very interesting blog. Thanks for both.

    I wonder if you know what Jordan Ellenberg used to teach the class? I teach a similar intro to proofs Inquiry-Based, have written a text, and obviously am looking to make it better.


  2. Fiona says:

    My husband same thing until calculous. Then he loved math. Now has applied math PhD from UCLA. Apparently elementary school middle and high school math was just too boring.


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