Rachel Levy | Professor of Mathematics and Associate Dean for Faculty Development
Harvey Mudd College
Education: B.A. English and Mathematics, 1989, Oberlin College; M.A. Education Media and Instructional Design, 1996, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; M.S. Applied Mathematics, 2003, and Ph.D. Applied Mathematics, 2005, North Carolina State University
Career stage: Late—28 years post Bachelor’s
What She Does
As an academic, Rachel works to bridge the gap between research, education, and industry. She spends most days interacting with her students and colleagues. Her applied math research focuses on mathematics related to fluid mechanics, often in biological contexts. She promotes engagement in mathematical modeling from kindergarten to graduate school. She especially enjoys communicating her love of mathematics with the general public, usually through interdisciplinary connections. Rachel is a founder of the BIG Math Network, which connects mathematicians in business, industry, government, and academia.
Necessary Job Skills
Problem solving and communication. Willingness to learn and use new mathematical, computational and teaching tools. Curiosity, patience and perseverance in research.
Pros and Cons of Her Job
Rachel loves connecting with people in a learning context and mentoring students and junior faculty. She enjoys team teaching and has been very lucky that in addition to mathematics, she has had the opportunity to team teach art and writing at Harvey Mudd College. She likes giving students feedback, but doesn’t like assigning letter grades. Rachel hopes the mathematical sciences community will draw a diverse group of people into the profession to develop rich new mathematics based on multiple perspectives.
Teaching well is demanding. It requires long hours of preparation, and a lot of energy. Research can be all-consuming. To solve new problems requires deep thought and perspective. Life as a professor also usually involves service to the institution outside of the classroom. Rachel gets a lot of satisfaction out of all of these aspects of her job, and so she finds herself spending a lot of time working and traveling. At the same time, she has a tremendous amount of choice about how she spends her time and what projects she initiates or joins.
I was surprised that my desire to go to grad school only grew over time. You can always go back if you want to!
Rachel always wanted to be an educator. During summers as an undergrad and beyond she worked teaching math and running a math summer program. After graduating with a B.A. in math and English, she tutored college students for a year and then took a job teaching a variety of subjects to middle and high school students, which she truly loved. During this time Rachel decided to leave teaching temporarily to pursue a Master’s degree in educational media and instructional design. Afterward, she returned to the same school, where she taught for four more years, spending her afternoons and summers working on educational software and professional development for teachers. But she wanted to learn more mathematics, so she returned to grad school, this time with a focus on applied mathematics. After graduating, she did a postdoc before becoming a professor at Harvey Mudd College.
Career Expectations and Advice
“Be open to opportunities that arise and choose them wisely.”
Whatever interests you in the mathematical sciences, get broad training. Learn lots of math. Try an industrial internship. Learn to code. Practice writing and public speaking. These skills will serve you well in any career.
Professor’s salaries depend on many factors, such as the size and type of institution, department, and rank (assistant, associate, full). It can also depend on the type of position (such as visiting, adjunct or tenure-track).
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