More Math-y Adventures

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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.

Home From SMP

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(Above: Snoopy in the MSP airport where I spent a while on Sunday chilling before my flight)

I wrote this post Sunday night on the plane. I am working on recovering/sleeping after the long month of math, and I am really happy to be back in my time zone, back in New England, and back in my hometown where we have lots of hills and way to many cul-de-sacs and roundabouts:

It is hard to believe this month is actually over, but at the same time I know I have met so many fantastic people and learned so much (math and otherwise), and have done more than I would think is possible in four weeks! I am ready to go home, and I am looking forward to having some time to myself, but SMP was a great experience for me. I think it was exactly what I needed at this point in my math life.

At our end of the program banquet last night, one of the program directors, Steve, said two things that stuck with me:

1) He told us we are all “professional mathematicians” now.

We were paid to do math for the month, so we should start to think of ourselves as mathematicians. Beginning ones, yes, but mathematicians nonetheless.

I thought it was really cool that he said that. On the math/maths podcast I listen to, I recently heard a discussion surrounding the question: “At what point in your career did you begin to think of yourself as a mathematician?” The consensus I garnered from that podcast conversation was that many people have a bizarrely difficult time taking “mathematician” as part of their identity– even some individuals who have published math research papers!

I don’t know if I actually feel “like a mathematician,” whatever that might mean, but all of us SMP students have been granted the choice to claim that identity if we want, which feels really good.

2) He emphasized again that if we want to stay, there is a place for all of us in the math world.

The types of mathematical careers and areas of study are hugely diverse, and there is a niche for us no matter our personality or interest. And particularly, no matter what there is a place for us in the SMP family.

Before I came to SMP I already felt like I had a “math family” in the community at my home college. I felt so lucky to have “math moms” (one of whom just came to visit us at SMP this past week! It made me so happy to see you, have dinner, listen to your lecture, and re-experience the egg trick) and “math dads” in my professors, as well as “math sisters” in my peers.

But SMP has made my math family grow exponentially, and for that I am so, so thankful. :)

My month at SMP was not easy. It was exhausting and trying and crazy hectic and sometimes overwhelming and a TON of work. And it was well worth it.

P.S.–The “math is hard” barbie, just because it came up in conversation multiple times at SMP and I want to post its photo on my blog somewhere. Just because:

Math is Hard Barbie

 

Step Aerobics With Russ

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Many of us are feeling worn out right now. We have a lot of work to do. We had an exam in topology this morning, have a homework problem set due tomorrow, and a presentation at the end if the week for both classes. On top of everything else that is scheduled. It’s really busy.

I was definitely tired this afternoon. I was in the math skills center working on homework and eventually found myself sitting in the napping corner because I needed a break…

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The napping corner in the math center.

Napping corners in college academic buildings… Good idea? Bad idea? It’s probably a bad idea, but I was happy it was there.

A little bit later I decided to take an actual break and go to step aerobics class. This class has a reputation: killer aerobics with Russ.

It wasn’t actually that bad. But I thought it was really fun. There’s something about looking ridiculous and failing at the dance moves in the name of exercise that I like a lot. Russ has been doing step aerobics for a long time– he still uses cassette tapes for music. But he’s super into it and has a good time and it was just the break I needed!

Now back to the homework.

SMP Week Three

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All the PhDs went home from SMPosium on Sunday. I was definitely a little bit sad to see them leave. The number of people living in this dorm was cut in half, so it feels empty.

On Friday, I remember meeting some of the PhDs for the first time and none of us knew what to say! We had been given an “assignment” to meet at least three new people. The interactions were kind of awkward. What was I going to talk with these adults about for three days?!

That changed quickly. I had some serious conversations with SMP alums about graduate school and careers, some conversations about traveling and families, and also had adventures involving getting “lost” on the way to dinner with a few of them conveniently in the Dairy Queen drive through!

I met a lot of wonderful people in a very short amount of time. Even though all of the activity and scheduled events was certainly very overwhelming at times, SMPosium was absolutely worth it.

Yesterday we had another visiting colloquium speaker, Alyssa. She echoed what everyone else has told me about the math world being small:

One thing about growing up in the MAA location that I now work in is that when I was an undergrad, there was a professor I thought was really amazing. Like, the Lady Gaga of math. I kept thinking how cool it would be if he just knew my name!… Now… that same professor sends me emails– I know where he lives!

After dinner, I ended up talking to her one-on-one about my grad school fears. The longer I’m here at SMP the more sure I feel that I do not want to go to graduate school in pure mathematics. It doesn’t seem to fit my personality. At school last semester, my advisor expressed the same sentiments about me, actually– he told me of course I would be successful at it, but there might be something I would like better. I didn’t really know enough then to be able to agree or disagree, but SMP has helped me a lot with that.

I still feel like I want to and will go to graduate school. Maybe in something like Operations Research– I just learned about it last weekend from a PhD, and it seems like it fits me better. Maybe. But I am afraid. I am afraid of being burnt out from doing school ages 5-25+ nonstop, and I am afraid of missing out on “real life” by being in school instead. I also realized while talking to her that I have this image in my head that graduate school in math means sitting in a dark room by yourself, with all these numbers on a giant chalkboard over your head, trying to prove some huge scary theorem. And I’m afraid I will never be able to prove anything.

Talking to Alyssa really helped me put a name to some of these fears. She told me that whatever I choose out do, just make sure I’m doing it because I want to and not because I think other people want me to. So, I don’t actually know what I want, but if I figure it out I’ll try to take the advice.

SMPosium Snapshot, Day One

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On the Math Family:
“Math is a community. If you stay in math, you will be seeing the people in this room for the rest of your career.”

On Representation Theory:
“If we just pick a random fruit off a tree and we want to know if it’s an apple or an orange, sometimes we can compare them using matrices to decide if it is an apple or an orange.”

On Teacher/Student:
“In a couple of years, all of you will be standing in front of this room giving a presentation your teachers won’t be able to understand.”

On Getting Dressed:
“When you teach, you’re always reaching up to the top of the board. In the morning, you really need to stand in front of the mirror and hold your arms over your head– if your shirt rides up, go change into something else.”

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SMPosium

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I cannot believe we have been here close to two weeks now! I am loving this version if “math camp.” Everyone is very very kind, smart, and willing to work hard. It is an exciting and refreshing community to be part of.

Today is the first day of our SMPosium! As far as I am aware, SMPosium is like a mini-conference within our month-long SMP. SMP alums who have gone on to earn a PhD in mathematics are invited back to visit. They give presentations, are on panels, and spend time with us current SMPers. We talk with them, ask questions, get to know one another, and really become part of the “multigenerational” SMP community, so to speak.

There will be about 20 alums who have come back for SMPosium this year. I don’t know what it is going to be like, but everyone who has been to SMPosium before (our TAs, program assistants, professors, etc.) is very excited, so I am excited. :)

We have been working in groups on problem sets, class work, and projects a lot more than I am used to. At first I wasn’t sure I would like that, but now I do. In the past, I have found group work to be frustrating and not particularly productive, but here I have been happily amazed at how our group work really CAN be better than working alone. Since all of us are very hard working and want to have a complete understanding of the math, working together in SMP groups has really helped improve my understanding of the topics we are studying. It’s the way group work is supposed to be. If anything, perhaps we spend too long on a question because we are trying to understand it more thoroughly than is necessary. :o

Yesterday I was working on my problem set for Lie theory with a friend in a small study room in the basement of the dorm. We were working on a whiteboard…with brand new markers…in a small enclosed space– the smell was overwhelming and we had to stand up on the desks in the room to open the ceiling-level window! All in the name of math. :)

I am now wary of the concept of putting a white board in a small room. One more reason I prefer chalk boards to whiteboards.

SMP Begins

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After talking to a number of girls, I think a lot of us were feeling a bit overwhelmed yesterday. Everyone is so nice and enthusiastic, but there was a lot of class, a lot of homework, a lot of new people, a lot of things to do. Nevertheless, I am really excited to be here and beginning to settle in.

We are all taking two classes this month. Yesterday we began a topology course: Topology and Geometry from the Universe to Molecules, and today began a course on Lie Theory.

In topology we talked a lot about the shape of the universe and different dimensions. One of the ways we’ve begun to talk about dimensions is by using the Flatland story. I had never heard about it, but from my understanding it was a novel originally written as a satire on the Victorian social structures. However, the premise of the story is that a character who has grown up and lived in a two-dimensional, flat world suddenly learns about the existence of a third dimension. It’s since been turned into a film: see the Flatland trailer.

We used these characters to think about what the universes “look like” to the two-dimensional characters. For example, we discussed the idea of how one would attempt to describe a sphere, something that exists in 3 space the way we as humans understand it, to a two-dimensional character. With this as an analogy, we began to imagine the existence of shapes in 4 space, a dimension one above our own.

Tonight we had a visiting presenter. I enjoyed her presentation a lot, but she came to dinner with us tonight, and I really loved the conversations that came out of that. In a smaller group, we really got into our own experiences with gender in math and minorities in education, among other topics. By the end, we were telling our favorite math jokes. I laughed harder than I have in a while during that conversation. She was really cool, and I feel like I got to know the other SMPers better because of that conversation.

I’m already behind in my homework for the week, but I have learned so much just in these first three days. I have heard that the grant from the NSF for the program is running out this year and may not be continued. I think that would be a mistake.