What’s in my GHC Bag?

Standard

IMG-0786.JPG

With one day down, this seemed to be a good packing list for a day at GHC!

My bag:

  • A small backpack: small enough to hold on my lap but big enough to hold everything
  • A notebook + pens for session notetaking (ok, maybe a few too many pens)
  • My badge: essential. $150 if you lose it!
  • Water bottle: fill it up whenever you pass a water fountain
  • 2 granola bars: I wish I had more food. I found an organic grocery store near the center and grabbed a sandwich, bottled iced coffee, and another snack (Phoenicia Specialty Foods)
  • Sweater: Also essential. I wore pants, short sleeves, and this sweater all day. I was slightly cold during the keynote but not bad.
  • Phone & phone charger: there are charging stations if you need them, although I didn’t
  • Headphones: I didn’t use these, but they would come in handy if you need a mental health break from the overwhelming number of people at the conference

Today was amazingly exciting and overwhelming. I feel at home with so many women in tech; it reminds me of my women’s college. I’m looking forward to tomorrow!

Advertisements

Grace Hopper Tomorrow!

Standard

Wow. I’m actually on my way to Grace Hopper! I’ve been hoping to go since my first (and only) CS conference, a GHC-inspired event called WeCode.

I’m so excited and more than a little bit overwhelmed. This conference is enormous and I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.

Questions I still have:1_Celagr9vyXsM6nZkgnQ6dg

  • How do 20000 people watch the same keynote?
  • Do I really need business cards?
  • How cold do conference centers get?
  • What do I wear to the party Friday night?
  • How much time do I need to leave between sessions?
  • How do I pick my sessions our of hundreds of them?
    • Is it better to stick with sessions in one theme?
    • How many sessions can I go to in one day without going insane?
  • Where will I get coffee?
  • What’s an Abie Award?
  • Why are some sessions “featured”?
  • What’s the food like?
  • How will I apply what I learn when I get back to work?

My questions are all over the board. I haven’t found enough advice online, and am hoping my blog can be a resource for future attendees once I’ve made it through my first GHC experience!


Where have I been?

I graduated with my BA in mathematics in 2016 after writing my thesis on the Linear Ordering Polytope, the Travelling Salesperson Problem, linear optimization, and voting theory. I used my CS skills to start work in tech as a Quality Engineer doing front-end testing. I’ve since moved on as a Product Manager in the same space! My focus is in front-end UI components (text fields, charts, grids, etc) and their web accessibility. I’m super passionate about diversity in the tech space and of its users, and am psyched to meet some more women with the same passions!

Hungary Makes The News

Standard

A friend from my semester in Budapest posted this video to our Facebook group. The video shows the metro station underneath Keleti train station, which runs service west to Austria and Germany, as it looked on 9 September. He said the news about the “Migrant Crisis” in Hungary feels really personal to him. I feel the same way.

Keleti was the closest station to my school, and the closest Metro 4 to my apartment. It was the area where I went to the post office, where I bought train tickets, where I drank espresso and did homework. It was home: how can it not feel personal?

In stark contrast to the video above, this is a photo I took of the station one year ago:

IMG_0816

The station was brand new; it felt way too modern and way too enormous. It was eerie and echo-y, built for far more people than used it. There were about three or four homeless people who regularly slept in this station, who would come in at night and be gone by morning. The difference between the Keleti I knew and the Keleti in the video resonates deeply with me.

I don’t want to make any real political comments on the “Migrant/Refugee/Immigration” “Issue/Crisis/Problem/Question,” but I will say that I’m not surprised it’s being dealt with so poorly by the Hungarian government. I’m not surprised that what is finally putting Hungary on international headlines is a barbed-wire fence, a kicking camerawoman, and a closed train station.

Hungary is the kind of place where it’s illegal to be in public without an ID, and if you’re annoying the police they’ll actually ask you for it. It’s the kind of place with no diversity: where 92% of the population is Hungarian, 99.6% speak Hungarian, and everyone is white. It’s the kind of place where the international immigration process literally involves a man sitting behind a desk using a glue stick to paste eighty dollars worth of postage stamps to a sheet of paper. Literally! A glue stick!

The Times described the political environment:

Hungary is not explicitly a poor country. But it is a frustrated, and frustrating, place — with its “seen better days” culture, antiquated manias and obsessions, barely functioning bureaucracy, tepid economy and corrupt politicians. (Noemi Szecsi, NYT)

I love Budapest, despite its problems. It is one of the places I still consider home, and I’m watching the news with a full heart.

Homesickness

Standard

Drawing Space II (2)

I am out of my math element here. I’m in the BU bioinformatics REU, and the lab I was placed in is a biochemistry group.  My desk is literally in the middle of a chem wet lab, which is somewhat of an inconvenience as I like to take off my shoes and drink coffee when I program or do math. But, of course, that’s against lab safety rules! :P

I like the work that I’m doing, which is primarily writing scripts for a protein sequence clustering analysis program. I don’t understand enough biology or chemistry to tell you what type of proteins I’m putting through my programs or why we’re clustering them in these ways: to me they’re just numbers. I like it better that way, and see my programs as puzzles in which I need to trick the computer into outputting the groups of numbers that I want.

Being in the chem lab is kind of cool, if somewhat uncomfortable. The grad students around me are doing things with chemicals that I will never do and are far outside my range of knowledge. I’ve learned what a glovebox is, and have been able to see and appreciate the way chem experiments are very time, location, and temperature sensitive.

On Friday I took a break and walked across the street to the Mathematics + Computer Science building. Whenever I am working for a long time, I tend to take short mental breaks where I just sort of wander the halls and stare at the posters.

Outside my chem lab, I see symposium advertisements for “21st Century Genetics: Genes at Work” and research posters on “Reductive Activation and Catalytic Insights in Bacterial c Peroxidases.” In the math department, I saw their posters for SIAM and BSM, as well as a course descriptions list that I fully understand. It was very comforting. Home-y.

I think I’m going through a culture shock and homesickness of sorts up here in the chem department!
IMG_0388

Bio_Info REU Day 1

Standard

Monday I found myself in a conference room on the tenth floor of the Life Sciences building, listening to my post-doc advisor explain his most recent project. Hundreds of issues of Nature and Science covered the bookshelves, and a wall of windows overlooked the Charles, Harvard, MIT, and the “infamous CITGO sign.”

LSEB

10th Floor LSEB

My post-doc said something that I was acutely aware was meant to be a joke. The biology reference went over my head, but I pretended to laugh anyway to ease the awkward.

I took notes while he was talking to me, but most of them consisted of things I was too embarrassed to ask about:

  • What does SSN stand for?
    sequence similarity network, not social security number
  • What’s the workflow?
    the order in which you run big programs? sort of?
  • What does “PI” stand for?
    principle investigator, aka the head of the lab. not 3.14159

I only have a NYS 10th-grade knowledge of biology. Yet this is the second time I’ve decided for some reason to join a bioinformatics research group.

For both projects, the first day has been the same: someone with a PhD in a biology-related field explains to me what they are working on while I try to keep my brain from exploding. It always makes me wonder why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Last fall, on the first day I met the Hungarian neuroscientists, for example, I spent the entire 2-hour research meeting thinking they were studying this phenomenon called SHARK wave ripples instead of SHARP wave ripples. I thought that was cute, and totally saw the resemblance between the SWR pattern and a shark fin in the ocean:

Drawing Space II (1)

(to be fair, their Hungarian accent was really thick)
These kinds of experiences make me worry that I don’t belong here, that I’m not going to be able to help with the project, that I will be annoyingly slow– IMPOSTOR syndrome.
I try to remember that this is an REU and the point of it is for me to learn. I’ve already been handed a textbook and five papers to read through! That should be a start!

More Math-y Adventures

Standard

I started this blog a year ago to help me get ready for two adventures that involved a whole lot of high-level math, in two places I’d never been, with a lot of people I’d never met. I was preparing for my summer at SMP in Minnesota and then my Fall semester at BSM in Hungary.

A year ago, I was questioning my abilities in math. I was in the depths of my Real Analysis course which was the first math class I really struggled in and had to work for. I was incredibly nervous about spending the next summer and semester surrounded by all this high-level math and all those math geeks. What if I didn’t fit in? What if I didn’t like math that much? What if wasn’t smart enough?

A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined the ways in which SMP and BSM would change my life. I made so many new friends and met so many new people who I have laughed with, loved with, cried with, and worked with. These math people? They’re my people. I am now so confident in my math abilities and love of the subject. I’ve learned what it means to DO math, as opposed to just study it, and have found the joy in learning and doing as much of it as I can. I’ve become one of those people I used to joke about who read their math books for fun.

A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined I would ever feel that I’d “outgrown” my liberal arts math department. Even though there are still courses I haven’t taken, I’m jealous of my BSM friends who go to University and have more than two options of 300-level math courses, and I miss being in class with other students who want to use their math education to be mathematicians. The level of intensity I learned while at SMP and BSM makes me feel like I don’t really belong here.

I’ve spent this semester transitioning back into New England, suburban, liberal arts college life. I’ve been taking a math course on optimization, learning the headaches of debugging hardware in my robotics workshop, writing for my journalism class, and trying to finish up my music minor.

And now I am SO ready for more math-y adventures!

This summer I am going to Boston to work in a bioinformatics lab group. I don’t really know what I’ll be doing or who I’ll be working with, but I am excited to live in the city that my sister calls home, and to be part of a research group again!

Just like a year ago, I can’t know what’s coming my way, but I’m ready for the challenge.

Me and my sister.

Me and my sister on the Bp metro.

Back to the Liberal Arts Version of Math

Standard

My professor goes through a proof during lecture that requires the definition of a convex combination.


Situation A: BSM, Game Theory Classroom:

He sees our blank stares and says, “What? Weren’t you required to take matrix algebras before you came here? Don’t you know what a convex set is?”

A number of students pull out theirs phones to look the term up as he proceeds with the lecture. We all receive an email later that day with the subject title “READ” and a link to an explanation of convex combinations that everyone will know before the next lecture.


Situation B: Smith College: Optimization Class:

She sees our blank stares and asks if anyone knows what a convex combination is. I’m the only one who raises her hand (thank you, Game Theory Professor).

The lecture stops and a full-out definition of convex combinations begins, complete with diagrams of geometric convex sets and explanations of the necessary set notations. We don’t finish the planned lecture for the day.


imagesI find the two versions of this situation quite representative of the difference between my Hungarian mathematics experience and my liberal arts mathematics experience. Honestly, I’m not sure which I prefer anymore.

On the one hand, it was very easy to get lost in lecture at BSM (e.g.: you just missed everything that was happening when you looked up the definition of convex combinations on your phone), but my current math lectures are so slow in comparison. People ask SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. Like, people ask questions about other people’s questions.

In Hungary, the professor might actually tell you that your question is too basic and needs to be talked about after lecture. And we covered so much more ground because of it. But… we covered so much more ground because you never fully understand everything that was being taught.

I can’t say that one mathematics experience is BETTER than another; they serve different purposes.

Although I’m definitely missing my Hungarian mathematics very much right now.

IMG_0121

Also, snow. So much snow. :o