You are currently reading Issue 123: Women in Mathematics, May 2021

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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‘She believed she could, so she did’: Helping girls understand what it means to be a mathematician – Shamia Sanjania, Undergraduate STEM Lead at the University of Leicester

Maryam Mirzakhani

Shamia Sanjania is a second year mathematics student at the University of Leicester, and is their undergraduate STEM lead. Shamia is also a co-opted member of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications Early Career Mathematicians committee. In 2020 she founded Women in Maths, a platform aiming to provide opportunities for students to explore routes in careers after attaining a math degree.

Shamia Sanjania

“Maths is challenging and there will be times you will feel you will not be able to reach a solution, but that’s the beauty of maths – a challenge.”

Doing what I enjoy the most

I am currently a second-year BSc mathematics student, studying at the University of Leicester. I was never committed to exploring a career in mathematics but always knew it was something that drove my interest as I enjoyed a good challenge. I studied maths, chemistry, and biology in college, and it was not until late in college that I decided that I should tailor my career route to what I enjoy most – mathematics.

Additionally, in my second year in college, I started working in a part-time retail position at John Lewis, a post I’ve held for three years, building experience of working in the industrial world, where I take key decisions and work with a range of different professionals in a varied challenging atmosphere.

To educate, inspire and enable

My roles within the University of Leicester involve planning, organising and leading ideas to educate, inspire and enable networking of students with members of the wider mathematical community.

My interest in getting involved with voluntary engagement projects led to me taking up the role of the student lead for diversity and STEM champion in mathematics. With this role, I was able to hold workshops within the university on diversity in mathematics and also to give talks and hold workshops at a community school about STEM career fields.

In my second year, I began the role of a lead mentor in my department with the Students’ Union Peer Mentoring Scheme as I was keen on guiding students through the uneasy journey of transition and integration into their university life. My role here also involves coordinating and supporting other mentors in the department and hosting events for mentor and mentee interaction.

Spreading the word about studying mathematics, despite COVID

COVID-19 hit when I had just begun my journey. My aspirations to reach out wider into the community were challenged when I was unable to physically attend venues or plan for schools to get involved with the university. However, the opportunities didn’t stop there though, they actually built further as I was able to attend and hold more events by reaching out to a larger audience virtually.

Such an example was the recent conference I held with The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) on What it’s like to study Mathematics at University, which enabled students to get involved internationally. We had attendees from several different countries, of which some included Italy, Romania, and Ireland.

A female undergraduate first

Additionally, my relationship with the IMA grew earlier this year as I became the only undergraduate female to join the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications Early Careers Mathematician Committee. I was keen to get involved to hold a stance and share a voice in such a distinguished community.

The IMA is such a great platform, enabling me to connect with many other mathematicians in academia and industry and build my networks to educate me on what further opportunities are out there supporting my career path.

I was introduced to the IMA when I received the opportunity to be featured on their diversity webpages for the work I engaged in. You can find my profile here.

I have also been featured in the campaign for 1 Million Women in STEM.

What it means to be a mathematician

Shamia SanjaniaI also decided to found my own platform, Women in Maths, which aims to provide opportunities, drive change and celebrate success.

Coming from a background of being the first in the family to attend university, it was hard for me to recognise what routes were available for me as a mathematician and only after I started my university journey did I explore the wonderous field of opportunity. I recognised that mathematics not being a career field we encounter on a day-to-day basis restricted people from seeing it as an opportunity for them to consider.

Mathematics has many stereotypes attached to it, the application and importance are hidden away, so I wanted to bring it back into the spotlight.

A key area my platform focuses on is supporting and inspiring younger girls into understanding what it means to be a female mathematician. For this reason, I run a campaign – ‘A Mathematician looks like me’, where every week I recognise and share the journey of a female mathematician. I want to bring forward role models into the light and give women the recognition they deserve.

Remembering Maryam Mirzakhani

One role model I can mention to you that I look up to is Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian mathematician (pictured in the main image for this piece). One can easily recognise what a great success it was to be the first person on the moon, but Maryam was the first female Fields Medal winner.

Her attitude to maths was one filled with love and, despite several challenges and hardships, where she had also been diagnosed with breast cancer before winning the award, she continued to thrive and produce not only results of great significance but further developed tools along the way that will be used by other researchers in the field as they continue to push forward.

In 2017, at the age of 40, Maryam passed away from breast cancer, but her legacy lives on, breathing inspiration and passion into every young girl’s heart so that they too can achieve success in such a field.

Believe in yourself

My key advice to girls and women interested in a career in maths would be: Don’t stop trying and find your personal best. Maths is challenging and there will be times you will feel you will not be able to reach a solution, but that’s the beauty of maths – a challenge. Explore everything out there and grasp onto all the skills you learn on the way because a mathematician is a role to be proud of, and you are a story of success.

To begin your journey, start networking as this is the way to open the doors to understanding the breadth of opportunities within this field. A career in this field may make you confused about where to start but giving yourself the chance to take a step out there and be curious as to where it can be applied and used will mean you will discover endless possibilities.

I really like the quote: “She believed she could, so she did.” by R.S. Grey, and I want you to also believe in yourself so you too can achieve success.

Becoming a mathematician

I am currently now looking to progress further with my platform, reach out more and get involved with many more schools and organisations to continue to spread my message and inspire more individuals.

I am working with the platform Pioneer, along with the MEI and the IMA to create a competition for students to take part in, and I plan to further get involved in my roles to host Maths Teas and other networking opportunities.

Additionally, I look forward to an internship I have managed to get over the summer with Deloitte in an audit and assurance role, and then completing my third year at the University of Leicester to graduate as a mathematician.


Main image credit: Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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