Friday February 17th
The last day of Math Heaven :(
I was moping from the night before
- I was so incredibly happy this week, didn’t sleep for more than four hours each day, and felt super grateful for this week. I felt like it was one of those pivotal moments for me as a grad student. Everyone I met was incredibly kind, super brilliant, and had an incredible sense of humour. How could one not be inspired in this place? We lived, breathed and spoke about Mathematics all day, and it was amazing!
- I still have super imposter syndrome about being funded, but my goodness did this week have a deep impact on me, and was just so encouraging. There is no way you could be in that room, be around all that energy and be part of that event, and not want to just be an Academic working at the intersection of Mathematics and Computer Science for the rest of your life afterwards! I felt like I was dreaming; years ago, I would have never imagined I would have been able to be part of this community, and it felt like I had been waiting for something like this even before grad school, when I was fumbling around trying to figure out, what’s next, taking classes on my own and writing long emails to try to convince Maths research institutes to fund me to attend their workshops, while trying to read people’s Maths blogs while working a day job.
- Being given the opportunity to be part of this event in a way validated a bit of my constant frustration of every sleight or insinuation that I didn’t belong in grad school, in STEM, or in a space for Mathematics or Computer Science. I was here because I belonged, and no one could take that away from me. And it was something I could celebrate this week, and I received so much encouragement, it makes my heart soar.
- There were so many people just rooting for me; down to the end, a speaker I really thought was amazing came up to me and said that I really made a difference at the event, and that I was such an interesting person, that they were grateful that I was there. I was in shock, but super grateful. Another person invited me to another event, and so on. People promised to follow up and others wished me luck on my path to my thesis. This week was certainly “up there” in terms of highs during grad school for me.
The last talks today
- We had a handful of talks on the last day; the first by Petra, although Laura was also there to answer questions (or decline to answer a particular question lol, which made us laugh). It was on the Vampire prover, and Automation of Induction in Saturation. It was relieving to hear that other mathematicians did not know what skolemization was; people who are highly regarded in their field, and teach other students. Someone literally turned to that highly esteemed researcher and said “don’t worry, it’s a logic term”. Yes, it is. For years, I thought it was a Mathematics thing, and that not knowing it meant I was terrible at Mathematics.
- When I was starting to learn some PL stuff, some people made me feel badly about not knowing some things, as though it meant I was “bad at Maths”. They held it over me and I was very isolated; they bragged that they knew things to try to put themselves above me; I was the low hanging fruit to pick on.
- Some parts of Computer Science in particular I have experienced can have this culture where someone has to make you feel badly about yourself to make themselves feel better about some insecurity, and when you are new you can wonder if it’s you. As it turns out, a lot of people really were winging it on the “I know Category Theory and PL” stuff. No one who really knows that stuff would go out of their way to make someone feel stupid or look bad in front of a bunch of people, in any case. They’d want to share resources that helped them, I think in retrospect. They’d want more people to share the love they have for the field.
- As it turns out, over time I realized what they meant was not that they were doing Mathematics, but rather, they are working in logic, and that when they said Mathematics, they often meant Category Theory, which is a branch of Mathematics I was barely learning about through badly-written Haskell books which just confused me because they’re not about Category Theory; they’re abstractions of bits of things from that. I mean, I remember feeling like these people were acting like they had solved the Riemann Hypothesis with Perfectoid Spaces with a compiler and type theory. And some people (especially CS professors, who don’t have to do as much teaching as Pure Maths grad students before becoming professors) can just be not great at teaching (that’s literally not how they get hired). So generally, CS people teach less. And there is a shortage (because of the demand in industry). I’m not trying to bag on CS, but just point out that all of these things compounded were systemic inadequacies that I ascribed to myself when I was starting grad school.
- The first person who really helped me with intuition in grad school was actually another Mathematics PhD student who eventually left to become a software engineer. But they were incredibly good at (1) building me up and believing in me (2) helping me build intuition to solve things and I am eternally grateful for that.
- It took me years into grad school to disentangle things, and to realize, as one mathematician at the conference said, that if it was the case that these people couldn’t explain these things, it meant that they themselves didn’t really understand it. And I love that. I love Mathematics, but it doesn’t mean I have to be an expert in logic. As I have been taking more classes, and learning more, and reading more Silverman, I’m just getting better at the tiny sliver at the thing I want to be good at. And that means I may never be an expert in Analysis, or Predicate Logic, but that’s okay; I’m not spending 5 years doing a PhD in that. I wished I had known that earlier, because the toxicity of people trying to put me down, especially in my first year of my PhD, really took a hit on my self-confidence. Thankfully, it’s gotten better since then, and I’ve stuck it out, anyways. And continuing along has made me realize that if I have a continued desire to do this, and I put in the work, I can do it, people’s opinions be darned. Maybe they had hoped I would get frustrated and just drop out, so they could validate their expectations of me.
- I’ve often been asked how I find things, but it’s my superpower. I’ve learned to do more with less. But it isn’t something that we calibrate for in grad school admissions; someone who is creative and resourceful. But those are powerful qualities for budding or experienced researchers to have.
- I loved Jonathan’s talk; it is so much my jam (Computational Number Theory). In fact, both himself and his student came up to me to chat, after I had the wild experience of having to introduce myself and my research to the whole room (eek!). But people were very interested, and the whole event was really “my people”, so it ended up being a positive experience for me. I also have had ups and downs in my Mathematics journey, which means I have had the “benefit” of not thinking of myself as one, which means that I am less likely to be completely “starstruck”, but it was still pretty intimidating being around so many experts. The good thing is that they didn’t make a big deal out of it, so it’s almost as though you didn’t know who you were speaking with unless you knew who they were. And because I am pretty naive, it took me a day or two to figure out why some of my junior researcher peers were whispering among themselves and quietly freaking out at some of their experiences this week :)
- My favourite quote from a junior researcher about themselves was “X is a star, and I am like the dust”. It reminded me of how far one can feel from someone who is at the top of your field, but the event was also deliberately set up to support the junior researchers they chose to invite, so you can’t give yourself zero credit; you’re there to learn from all these excellent people around you! And they all responded quite favourably and passionately when any of us engaged with them! It was clear they were all SO passionate about teaching and research, and it was invigorating, electrifying. It made you want to be better and to pursue excellence.
- I remember when a fellow Mathematics PhD student told me last semester “but you are a Mathematician”. I feel more calibrated to being aligned to that path than I do Computer Science (I don’t feel like a Computer Science person at all, but I don’t call myself a Mathematician; I’m happy with “honorary” or “Computational Number Theorist”, or “Mathematical Cryptographer”, or “budding Research Scientist”, or “Budding Academic”. This week, though, there were SO many people like myself, that it was both amazing and beautiful. Andrej, whose advisor strangely I met at LambdaConf years ago (the first Turing award winner I met, who was teaching a session on lambda calculus and denotational semantics), said it best when he said that he has both brains; he switches between thinking like a Mathematician and a Computer Scientist. I can live with that.
- I had dinner and lunch a few times with Jonathan’s student, Rahul, who was just super impressive and has such a bright future ahead! I really enjoyed chatting with him and his intellectual curiosity; everyone was like this this past week! and I also had lunch with Jordan (as I mentioned in the previous post). I also had dinner with Geordie, and was naive enough on the first night to mention casually that he should come to my university to give a talk, to which he said he definitely should, but all of this was when I was naive about how decorated he was, which was hilarious. In retrospect, it worked out to my advantage, because by then I had built a relationship that was based on friendly casual conversations rather than one based on some preconceived notion of who he was based on his profile.
- Heather’s talk was also amazing, in that she spoke about how Mathematicians view proofs as elegant, and what that means.
- She also mentioned two interesting papers: this one and this one.
So here are some photos from the event and Friday!
- I caught up with one of my mentors from pre-grad school, who worked for JPL. He encouraged me and got me interested in Numerical Computation, Compilers and Mathematics, and the history of computing. He had a book on Automorphic Groups or something that he said he would mail to me lol.
- We ate Chinese food! Yes, yes, I know if you’re from there, it’s just called food lol.
- Geordie giving a talk! I enjoyed every single talk at this workshop!
- From Heather’s talk. Yes; yes they do.
- From the website; I got to hold the M! Thank you so much for the opportunity; I can’t tell you how much this opportunity and this group of persons and this week meant to me. It’s one of those things I will cherish for the rest of my life!
And that’s it!
Written on February 17, 2023