Women in Research
Texas Tech University mathematician Raegan Higgins tells female students who are interested in an academic career to "Go for it!" and to understand the need to develop mentors and collaborators at every stage of the journey.
Mathematician Raegan Higgins
During March, Texas Tech celebrates women faculty who exemplify excellence in research, scholarship, creative activity, teaching, and mentoring.
Raegan Higgins is an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics. Her current research is in time scales; The calculus of time scales was developed to unify and extend results obtained for differential equations and difference equations. Her interests focus on oscillation criteria for certain linear and nonlinear second order dynamic equations.
In the question-and-answer session that follows, Higgins describes her work more fully.
What inspired you to work in your field/area of expertise?
I didn't always love math. In my eyes, it was a class that everyone had to take. It wasn't hard nor was it easy; it just was. Upon placing out of pre-algebra in middle school, I entered Algebra which quickly became my adversary. With a minimal pre-algebra background, I struggled in the course I called "The Land of Unknowns." With a very encouraging no-nonsense teacher Mrs. Scott, I excelled in algebra and became an aspiring mathematician.
At that time, I had no idea of all the areas of math, nor did I know exactly what a mathematician did. However, the feeling of solving "hard" problems stuck with me—I learned that I could do well at something new.
My area of research is time scales. I was introduced to this area as an undergraduate. It was intriguing because it forced me to think outside of the box. I was not required to work solely on the (real) number line. I could work on any part of it. That was the "something new" and I wanted to learn all about it.
Who inspired you to pursue academia?
After having such a positive experience in algebra, I wanted to change students' lives like Mrs. Scott changed mine. So, my plan was to be a math teacher. While at Xavier University of Louisiana, my Calculus I professor and research advisor, Dr. Vlajko Kocic, encouraged me to explore my options outside of teaching. He talked to me about graduate school.
I had some idea of what graduate school was because my father, who is a retired high school teacher, has a master's degree in Industrial Arts Education. So graduate school was not a new idea; earning a doctorate was. Dr. Kocic told me that I was going to graduate school and I worked to achieve that.
At Xavier, several female math majors went to graduate school and did well. So, his suggestion of graduate school seemed reasonable. Honestly, it was the norm, the expectation, the rule, the standard. Call it what you want; most Xavier math majors went to graduate school.
So, my Calculus I professor inspired me to pursue academia. After being one of the best tutors in the mathematics department at Xavier and presenting my research at a few conferences, I knew this career path was for me.
What would you tell your female students interested in pursuing an academic career?
"Go for it!" would be my initial response. Then after some of the excitement has passed, I would encourage her to find multiple female and male mentors inside and outside her desired field—and inside and outside her institution. It is important that she has as many perspectives as possible. Of course, her journey will not be the same. However, there is always a lesson to learn from others' experiences.
The undergraduate student needs to connect with graduate students while the graduate students need the wisdom of postdocs and junior faculty. This level of tiered mentoring is necessary because becoming successful and sustaining success are not easy. It is essential to seek out advice from those who have and are successfully navigating the obstacles that will inevitably come their way.