Saturday September 24th
Finding a Home
I’ve been blissfully absent
- About a week ago, I began to feel like my schedule was spiralling out of control again. I had promised to get back to people from a conference, and I still haven’t done that. I have set aside time next weekend to do this. I had some more pressing deadlines so I had to get those things out of the way this weekend, and work on getting things done for the upcoming week that absolutely needed to be done.
- Last weekend, I didn’t really have a weekend. I spent my Friday evening hanging out with some Pure Maths people, and then on Saturday we attended a barbecue where a “Commutative-scarf-wearing-dog” made an appearance. And on Sunday, I attended a weekly meditation session. Outside of that, I have just been doing homework, and I could see the emails in my inbox just piling up. Even today, as I got rid of some, more replaced those. I have given up hope on ever answering all of them. Sorry!
Finding a home
- One of the Pure Maths students gave me a ride home and we began chatting, because I am trying to make my way through a paper that takes a lot of work to read. Especially for someone starting out and learning to acquire the knowledge and read the notation. It’s very interesting, but it is a lot of work to read through. They had read it before and were explaining a bit of the high-level information about it. Then they said something about how they “think they’ve skated in my area” and at first I thought it was hilarious that I didn’t even know they skated. Then, the next few words gripped me. “I don’t think you can learn to skate unless you love falling.” They said it in the typical Maths-student humour-kind of way (if you don’t know what this is, I would say it’s kind of a matter-of-factness with a hint of mischief), but it really resonated with me.
- A professor was telling me recently about people who like the idea of a thing more than the actual thing. And going back to what my friend was telling me, I think it would be really difficult to endure the process of falling over and over again if you didn’t really enjoy and love the process of doing a thing; if you were in it for the glory of or for the idea of it.
- I saw “Whiplash” this week; it was one of the movies that has evaded me for a while, because I was caught up in the “Birdman” hype for that Academy Awards season; they were really pushing the latter movie that year in all the screener events. Since I literally took drumming lessons for a couple years in high school, and competed in music growing up (until my parents pulled me out because one of my parents had asked the choirmaster if I was at a place we were competing, and they responded that they “weren’t sure; they think they saw me”, and that apparently was the wrong answer lol. In hindsight, it was a great lesson about respecting one’s value or contribution to a group, and I am grateful for their decision.) , so much of it is familiar and hilarious. My parents still regularly are involved in music, and I have a lot of friends in that world, so some things just made me laugh. Funnily, my dad went to a show recently and said he saw a guitarist with a custom guitar that was so strange and eccentric, and he got home and told my mom about it, and she laughed and casually said “oh, that’s K’s friend”, to which he responded, “of course; she has a lot of weird friends”. Let’s just say that a lot of my friends are misfits who have accepted (and are quite confident in) their eccentricity and that suits me. But especially the part about nothing being more harmful than “good job”. Especially in grad school, we are often our own enemy. We overwork ourselves, we feel guilty for taking breaks, because we self-strive for excellence. And then there is the competition of peers. As I asked someone this week, “how can I have a home in Computer Science when I have always felt like these people are competitors / adversarial rather than supporters / collaborators?”. An interest in befriending myself has been out of understanding that I have something that is of value to them rather than for the sake of seeing me as an authentic member of their community and as a long-term investment (I should emphasize that I am not referring to any particular group, but more-so, this has been my experience at-large). I’ve still been thinking about this, although I have had one or two experiences in Pure Mathematics, too (there is gatekeeping in that field as well). I feel like being tossed between Computer Science and Mathematics, what I notice is that in Computer Science, there is elitism and competition, and in Pure Maths, there is a subtle sense of a lack of respect if you do not act like you are dedicating yourself wholly to being a mathematician. I know about this in the Arts. There is a subtle disdain for persons who casually “do photography” or “paint”. You are “not serious” unless you eat, breathe, live the life. There is a secret stench around you, the person who does not ritualize this lifestyle, and stay until the end of the credits in movies. You do not casually do maths; you dedicate your life to it, you wake up and say a Maths prayer to the Maths gods in the morning. It’s been interesting to live between both worlds.
- A Pure Maths friend and I were walking home from campus and he was telling me that Mathematics is essentially from agriculture. I had never thought about it before until it was pointed out; we have trees, roots, stalks, sheaves. He noted that when we learned about ramification in elliptic curves, the latin comes from “branch”; the word ramificare means “to form branches,”. It’s fascinating. I have really felt that interacting with the Pure Maths students has given me grounding and a sense of where I want to be in a way that is true to who I am. It’s refreshing.
- There is also a sense of constantly being “uncomfortable”, and pushing for more, which I really like, and feels more in line with the work ethic I grew up with.
- I’m working on my writing. It’s very interesting that in a lot of Computer Science spaces, I have felt like there is an expectation of ego; there is a need to show that you know. I really loathe a lot of the methods for testing in interviewing because they are just that; the emphasis is on specific knowledge rather than one’s ability to necessarily solve a problem. Questions like “what is a Linked List?”, “Do you know React?” seem silly to me. It’s interesting because a Pure Maths professor this week told me “I will give someone credit if they can convince me in a way that convinces me they know what they are talking about”, in the way they write things up. It’s interesting because that places a lot less pressure on this idea of “finding the way”, “the answer”, and more about the thinking on getting to the way and in proving the way / explaining it. In terms of the expectation of needing to show that you know, my experience so far in Pure Mathematics has been the opposite; you accept that you don’t, and the impossibility that you cannot know everything, but you can ask a question with curiosity, and try to use the tools that exist in the field to try to solve it. And maybe you can’t do that by yourself, and you need people who also have other tools who can help. And then you do, and you write a paper about it. And it can take years.
- I had a slight moment of panic when one of the professors I am doing research with told me that it’s okay if some weeks I come in and I don’t have anything to show. That’s such an alien thing (or at least, it has felt like that) in Computer Science, where everything seems so results-focused. I think I enjoy the Pure Maths style a lot more. Of course, one of the tradeoffs is that there is a time-limit to one’s grad school time, but in my head, when I imagined grad school, it is closer to what I had in my head. I really don’t enjoy the constant churning out of results, specifically in some areas of Computer Science. And I do not want to work in a place that feels like a “research mill”.
- I took part in this Research Day at my school and tied for second place. I presented a talk on the Bitcoin project (15 minutes) and was happy that it was so well-received! I really think it’s such an important project and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of learning this summer!
- I was asked to present a poster for a Doctoral Consortium conference and record a Lightning Talk.
- I was featured in PLMW’s perspectives (1 of 3 persons) and I have to record a video for that with a deadline that isn’t too soon (thankfully; my plate is really full right now).
- A paper that has been in the works for a while was finally published this week!
- I started bidding on reviewing for a workshop conference and also have a manuscript to review (again, the deadlines are not too close, so there is some time, thankfully).
- I have less stress about a trip coming up, and enjoyed a lot of the work this week!
- I also got my certificate from one of the projects I worked on over summer! I loved the accompanying message!
Things we learned about this week
- I saw a talk on the Langlands Program (learned about adeles, which I didn’t know about before; that may be because I have heard the word “adelic” but not “adele”.).
- Saw a talk on Primitive Euleurian Polynomials. I missed the first five minutes because I was trying to book a flight and the page crashed lol. I needed to book that particular flight to work around my schedule and not miss class. Fortunately, it worked out in the end.
- Our Category Theory seminar is basically drawing diagrams and arguing about things, which is hilarious and fun.
- I attended the Quantum Computing book club; we covered Hadamard matrices, Tensor Products and the Bloch sphere, which was interesting because when I look at Matrices right now I can’t un-see spectral graphs stuff.
- Amazing sessions covering vector bundles, sections, Christoffel symbols (finally! A mentor at NASA had mentioned this to me years ago and I had a very very vague idea of what they might be based on application, but it was covered in context this week!) and we even learned Einstein Notation and some Gauge Theory!
- I drew a lot of Graphs (I am taking two Graph Theory classes and a Category Theory independent study class). The class is helpful as both prep for oral exams and research I am currently working on. I have been working weekly with a professor on writing on the blackboard, and I was even given a book on Combinatorial Puzzles this week! I feel like every time I go to their office, I end up leaving with a book!
- In short, I am really enjoying grad school, and my peers.
And that’s it!
Written on September 24, 2022