As a 2015/2016 recipient of the Killam Graduate Teaching Assistant Award, Vanessa Radzimski reaches both students and teachers with her research on mathematics education. As a classically trained ballerina, she also knows the importance of stretching your body as much as your mind during grad school.
Admission requirements for most secondary mathematics teaching programs include a degree in mathematics or a related major, and, consequently, students enter mathematics education programs with courses in Abstract and Linear Algebra, Real and Complex Analysis, and Number Theory, among others. It is assumed that advanced subject matter experience allows teachers to understand the secondary curriculum at a deeper level, and that advanced coursework allows secondary teachers to provide their students with a richer mathematical experience.
Research on secondary mathematics teachers' subject knowledge suggests that a post-secondary degree in mathematics does not necessarily have the effects mentioned above. The current structure of many teacher education programs focuses mostly on general pedagogical knowledge and pedagogy of secondary content. My research investigates the role that advanced coursework plays in secondary mathematics teacher education programs by determining the ways in which prospective secondary mathematics teachers relate post-secondary mathematics knowledge to a mathematics concept in the secondary curriculum when explicitly asked to do so.
My research could influence mathematics teacher education programs to rethink the ways they currently foster the connections between secondary and post-secondary mathematics for pedagogical practice. This improvement in mathematics teacher education would provide us with teachers who are able to engage with secondary mathematics teaching at a more meaningful level and, in turn, provide secondary students with a more meaningful mathematical learning experience. Moreover, improvement in mathematics education at the secondary level could improve students’ mathematics upon entry to university and, in turn, increase entry into STEM fields for post-secondary education.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
To be honest, not needing to have a car was a huge surprise to me. In Florida, everyone drives. You really can't get anywhere unless you have one, so I was definitely worried about not having one when I moved. People always say that cars give you so much freedom, but I think the Vancouver bus system gives me more! The busses take you anywhere and everywhere, at any time of day. If some friends and I decide to have a night on the town, we know that everyone can get home safely on a bus. For me, that's freedom.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
First of all, UBC is a world renowned university with brilliant scholars from so many disciplines. For my MSc, the mathematics department had a number of well-known researchers in my field of interest. I was also excited that the program offered a Master's degree that included a thesis, and not just coursework. By staying at UBC for my PhD, I was able to maintain the professional relationships I developed in the mathematics department, while building new ones in the Faculty of Education. When I initially met my potential PhD supervisors at UBC, I was immediately drawn to how passionate they were about mathematics education, their own research, as well as my interest to transition into the field. The conversation we had was critical, engaging, and made me excited to continue my studies at UBC.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
The majority of PhD programs in mathematics education have you with a cohort of students in who are also in mathematics education. My program in curriculum studies, on the other hand, consists of young scholars with varying interests in the field of education. I find that this keeps me very well-rounded in my studies, and it also provides me with the opportunity to engage in conversations that I probably wouldn't engage in if I were in a program with just mathematics educators. If I run into a philosophical hiccup in my research, I can turn to a friend in my cohort with an interest in educational philosophy. Although it can be overwhelming to be exposed to so many different fields of interest in education, I think I have become more critical and aware of these facets in my own research domain.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
Although the field of mathematics education is quite young, it is expanding at a rapid rate. For me, being well-versed in the various directions that the field is going is a huge challenge.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
As I mentioned earlier, my program has students from varying interests in education. To be able to make these interdisciplinary connections while I'm in my studies, I hope, is preparing me to engage with mathematics education at broader level than my own research field of interest.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
I spent the majority of my young life training as a classical ballerina. Ballet did not come naturally to me, so I had to work very hard to get to the level I was at before my undergrad. I couldn't end my work in my scheduled studio time; I spent countless hours stretching at home, watching videos of professional dancers, as well as spending extra time in the studio alone. In the end, a career in classical ballet was not for me, but I definitely attribute my academic success to the work ethic that I developed in those years.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
My favourite place in the city is the Kitsilano dog beach. First off, the view at Kits beach is just fantastic! The sweeping mountain, water, and city views are stunning, no matter how many times you have seen them. Secondly, I love dogs. I currently do not have one of my own, so the dog beach is my favourite place to see some dogs running around in the sand and water. Plus, I can get some puppy love every once in awhile.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
My largest piece of advice is to love and respect your body. As young scholars, we need to take care of our mind, and that means taking care of our body. For me, this means restricting my work hours from 9-5 and going to bed by 10:30. This is something that I started when I started my PhD, since I completely wore myself down during my MSc. Not only am I happier, I'm much more productive and feel refreshed when I return to my work each morning. Find out what schedule works for you and stick to it!