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Interview with Dr. Bianca Thompson

Dr. Bianca Thompson is currently a Mathematics professor and researcher at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was given the pleasure to meet Dr. Thompson online in a Zoom interview format, learning about how she got into studying chaos and her experience as a woman in STEM.

During the interview, Dr. Thompson spoke about her path as a Latina woman navigating the STEM world and speaks with the thoughts of many POC in mind.

Q: Could you please introduce yourself? How did you get to where you are today?

A: "I am Bianca Thompson and I work in Utah as a math professor in a small liberal arts college... My primary role is in teaching but also do research in chaos!"

We then went further deeper into her path of studying chaos, specifically finding stability. She initially knew that she was interested in Number Theory because it was the one she loved, not just liked. During graduate school, Dr. Thompson was invited to a specific conference researching chaos theory. To say the least, she was impressed.

"I fell in love... (The people were) so friendly and open and wanted to help me."

Q: When did you know math is what you were interested in?

A: "I was good at math in high school... being privileged, my parents went to college during elementary school and my mother became a statistician and teacher... I hit college, and I was BAD at math..."

"But, I liked the challenge of getting better at something. And so I took another year of math classes. I took Linear Algebra and I LOVED it. There's just so many things to prove."

We then had a bit of a discussion about math. The beauty of math is the challenge - it's the will to take up a problem. The beauty of picking up a blank sheet of paper and filling it with numbers and a proof.

Q: Did you ever notice the division in gender or other demographics in STEM? If so, what were and are your thoughts?

A: "In middle school, I noticed a split between boys and girls in general, not just in STEM. I took a college track, and out of the 20 students on the track, there were only 5 girls. It only worsened in high school. But in college..."

"I chose a women's college. There were wonderful role models around me in undergrad, even though I was the only Latinx student."

Dr. Thompson was scared to fail, because her failure wasn't just her. It would feed into the "Latinx stereotype," which always stayed with her through her years in college.

"This only intensified in grad school. My year was the first year they really 'tried' with gender equality - 5 women, 6 men - although not many made it through PhD."

"If I remember correctly, I was the first Latina to graduate. One thing that I found important was to find community immediately. I was with Graduate Women in Science, American Women in Mathematics... Community matters so much."

Q: Do you have any anecdotes, positive or negative, that you’d like to share?

A: "One of my first experiences with my eventual advisor, who was new to the job. As some professors walked out of a meeting, one of them made a very sexist joke. And she said, loudly laughing, 'Because sexism is so FUNNY!' She put herself on the line."

"She wanted to make a statement. She is in this position and she can make change even if it makes her uncomfortable."

This was just one of the stories she had to share about her advisor. Another story included the Joint Math Meeting, where her advisor made a statement on sexual assault.

"Sexual assault happens in mathematics. It is your job to pay attention and do something about it."

Thank you Dr. Thompson for taking the time to sit down with me, especially in such chaotic times. I learned so much about the importance of community, and I hope that you, the readers, did as well.

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500 Women Scientists Saratoga Pod is a group located in Saratoga, California dedicated to promoting women in STEM.