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Balancing Duality: Motherhood and Scholarship

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Being a mother is hard enough; being a professor is just as difficult. Dr. Amanda Francis, a visiting professor in the Department of Mathematics juggles both roles.

“I love math, and there aren’t very many people who I can talk to about things like equations, polynomials, and matrices,” Francis said. “I love teaching math because I get to discuss some of my favorite topics with my students.  It’s their first time seeing these elegant concepts, and I remember how miraculous it all is, watching through my students’ eyes. I find that so fulfilling.”

Francis, originally from Salt Lake City, received her BS in mathematics from the University of Utah. After Francis completed her undergraduate work, she came to BYU to receive her masters and PhD in mathematics. Now, after taking a two-year break to stay home with her toddler and newborn twins, Francis is back and excited to teach and research once more.

“There are so many great people to work with here in this department. They are very welcoming and helpful, and many are working on really interesting projects,” Francis said.

When Francis isn’t talking math with her students, she spends her time researching algebraic geometry and mirror symmetry. In mirror symmetry, researchers compare two different mathematical structures that are created in different ways, and yet turn out to be the same when actually computed.

“We’re trying to verify a conjecture that these two different mathematical models really are the same,” Francis said. “The whole idea of duality—that you have these two objects that should somehow be dual to each other and then they turn out to be isomorphic [equal]. It is fascinating—why are they isomorphic, these dual objects?”

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Balancing motherhood and academia isn’t all a walk in the park, and Francis knows all too well how hectic that life can be.

“It’s hard to balance it all and try to think about the needs of my kids and my husband, and then also, have the other part of my mind thinking about some complicated problem I’m working on or something that I’m going to teach in my next class,” Francis said. “I really admire families and women who succeed at balancing everything because it is definitely tough.”

Despite the sometimes stressful schedule, Francis said that she wouldn’t give it up for anything, and she is very grateful to her colleagues in the college for their support.

“Students and faculty in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences here at BYU should know what rare and valuable opportunity they have,” Francis said. “At other universities there are people who are brilliant in their fields of study, but at BYU you get people who are brilliant in their field of study and are also amazingly commendable people who serve in the church, who love their families, and who are just shining examples of how to be a great person—including how to excel in scientific scholarship. I just so appreciate their examples.