An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Gioia De Cari SM '88 characterizes herself as a “recovering mathematician”—part of the “leaky pipeline” of women who have abandoned the pursuit of science and technology studies, often due to the obstacles they encounter in male-dominated fields. She started her PhD in mathematics at MIT in the 1980s. “I passed my qualifying exam with flying colors, I published part of a thesis to good reviews, and then I left,” she says in this video from the inaugural March 2018 MIT Women’s unConference. “I didn't know why I left, I just knew something wasn't right.”

De Cari spoke at the unConference about her path from departing MIT to founding Unexpected Theatre in New York City. A pivotal chapter in her arts career has been the creation and performance of a solo play about her grad student experience called Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through M.I.T.’s Male Math Maze. Called “hilarious” by Wired magazine, the play is also a serious exploration of the world of elite mathematics and the challenges women face in the STEM environment. A decade after its premiere, De Cari has toured the show to more than 50 theaters around the country, most recently garnering a nomination for a 2019 Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award.

In this recording of her 2018 talk at MIT, De Cari explains how after years of being approached after the show by women eager to share their own experiences of marginalization, she was driven to create an educational program to accompany it. “What we needed was a way to be in residence longer with great people who really know these issues and can share with students and support them,” she says.

The Truth Values Community program now tours alongside De Cari’s show, thanks to funding from the Sloan Foundation. When De Cari delivers a performance of Truth Values at MIT on April 16, presented by the MIT School of Science, it will be part of a two-day workshop open and free to graduate students, offering them opportunities to connect with each other and with prospective mentors—including physics faculty member Anna Frebel—who can encourage their journeys in STEM.

More information for students: The Truth Values Community program welcomes graduate students in STEM to apply, especially those from historically under-represented groups in these fields such as women, race/ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, and members of low-income communities. The program at MIT includes events on April 16 and 17 following De Cari’s performance at Kresge Little Theatre, and students will have additional opportunities to connect with the community in person and online.