Saturday September 25th

More Mathematics and Growth

This week, the study buddy-buddy

  • This week, I started out attending a talk by Elizalde on “Descents on quasi-Sterling permutations”. Every Monday, we have a talk by either a local or visiting Combinatorics scholar, and this was my second week attending. I’m very much looking forward to this week’s talk, too!
  • The talk was also very accessible; he started by speaking about what Stirling permutations and Stirling polynomials are began to show us a number of examples, including the distribution and graph representation, and the concept of non-crossing matchings in thinking about quasi-Stirling permutations.
  • Later in the week, I attended 2 Number Theory talks; one on a generalization of “Elkie’s Theorem” and the other on “Computing cusp forms over function fields”.
  • I also got to meet some other people in the department, some of whom apparently remembered me from around the department, which was really cool.
  • I also had two study group sessions; both were fun, and it’s become much of a habit, where we meet and work through different ways of approaching problems. As I had noted, someone in Quora repeated what I had said in a post, which is that you just need to be able to stick with a problem (in particular, look at Gross’s answer, in which he says that “What has struck me is that math students are willing to commit to the grind, arguably more than CS students.”).
  • I’m beginning to think that it really is sort of an American culture thing to associate Mathematics as wizardry, for which one either can or cannot know its secrets, but I’m open to having my mind changed on that discussion. There seems to be some inherent pride in that, when in many countries in the world, students learn to do Mathematics without ascribing an ego or talent to a capacity to do it. You learn if you put in the work, and you solve problems by sticking with them, turning them inside out and not willing to give up. What often is described as “a lack of capacity”, as it turns out, is often a failure by the very institutions to prepare students properly, as noted by another Quora commentor. 100 percent on that. And that can be fixed if professor and student are dedicated to resolve this. I also think it’s dangerous to push this idea of being this magical thing that is bestowed on a select few, when it is used actively to exclude others. Because the truth is that it is a skill needed in some capacity in many disciplines, and by actively discouraging others at various levels, we lack finding those with the skills to perform with these sorely needed skills. As someone else mentioned in an article, too, the lack of a broad variety of perspectives and people who practice, also, can dissuade the next generation’s crop from pursuing a field, if they begin to fall in love with it, but feel isolated in their discipline.
  • That being said, in Pure Mathematics, I haven’t felt that way so far; in fact, I’ve never felt more included in a discpline, and I’m super happy about that. This week, I turned to one of my advisors and asked “What if I started over and did a PhD in Pure Maths instead?” and she laughed and said “oh, we would like that!”. I’ve never felt so included in a discipline; I think less about whether I fit in, or whether people will speak to me or make me feel included. I don’t feel put down by anyone in my classes; I feel encouraged and happy, and work long hours because I enjoy the material. I can imagine collaborating with so many people, and it all feels very organic and natural. I don’t think about the names of schools or who is inaccessible or forms cliques I will never be a part of; I just think of topics and which ones are interesting, and feel like reaching out is easy when a topic excites me. I was telling my Combinatorics professor this week that “it finally feels like grad school”, to which she smiled and said “great!”.


  • I went to my first Discrete Maths Day, and it was a lot of fun!
  • We played Quads, and I got to meet a bunch of people from the Combinatorics field in the Northeast, as well as see my professor give a talk!
  • I also got to hear our group talk about problems on their minds, such as rebuilding compressed graphs using error correction, graph isomorphism-checking, group state transfer, zero forcing sets and persistent homology, while learning about k-covers in set theory and Sidon sets.

I forgot to mention

  • I joined an Extremal Graph Theory group. Yeahhhhh. Or rather, I was invited. We meet before my Abstract Algebra class, and then have more discussions on Wednesdays. So it looks like now I’m this Combinatorics/Graph Theory/ Number theory mathematical cryptography researcher now haha. Nice!

Also next week

  • Next week we’re having a week of Post-quantum talks. It’s going to be super-exciting! :)

Reading an article

  • I was reading an article that resonated a bit with my past. In it, someone commented that: “As someone who has a PhD in mathematics, I have seen that the senior members of the community bend over backwards to help their favorite students, but let the rest struggle.” It continues, “As in most areas of life, the favorite students are not necessarily the smartest or the most hard-working.
    Usually, the favorite students are the most loyal, and the senior members of the community can trust that they will continue to push for their agenda”
  • This is a reality of graduate school (and in the working world, too!). Because I grew up in a household that values meritocracy and transparency, even though we haven’t always experienced it, it’s a value that we hold. And when I began graduate school, I foolishly believed that this would be, as the pedagogical research institute that values only the merit of one’s work (hahaha a lie), the way that things would be.
  • Almost immediately, I was met with the fact that this is not so. However, rather than soaking up energy thinking about it (energy that you so dearly need to complete your degree!), over time, I learned that it’s better to focus on what you can change, what you have impact on.
  • Academia and research are rife with politics. There will be favourite schools, favourite labs, favourite professors, favourite students, and you will lose your mind trying to figure out why or how this was decided, and by whom. It honestly has taken me a long time to realize it doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s petty and pathetic that some are only able to get by with these mechanisms, and I have gained so much respect for those who have gone on to succeed in spite of it.
  • A friend of mine who is a superstar postdoc but was not a favourite in their lab during their PhD, told me that honestly, “the favourites” tend to struggle more when they are faced with having to operate without their crutches, so it’s better to be set up for independence as early as possible. It’s a blessing in disguise if you are not, and you should treat it as such. I say this as consolation to the 95% of you who are not the decided “favourites” of your labs, or your institutions. Some days, it may make you want to throw things. Do like I did this week instead, and book a massage. Treat yourself and then get back to the grind.
  • It took me a long time to realize that if in your heart you love the work you are doing (and you should! Don’t waste your life on grad school for something you’re not passionate about!), it doesn’t matter. And even though it’s taken me a while, I have to say that it bothers me less now.
  • But man, did it take a while. I am one of those who cannot sit by and see it, and many times my frankness and sly wit has gotten me into trouble. Queen of shade here. And I still do think it, but it matters less that I see favours passed around, while openly people speak of a meritocracy. I am wiser, but even better, I reserve my energy to be upset about it on other things. I use it on trying to open more doors for people who don’t have the benefit of favouritism, or nepotism to aid them, or a closed back door to an opportunity. By reserving my energy, I also realize why it’s even more important for me to finish. If I let it get to me, they would have won.
  • Anyways, I have to study for a test now :)

And that’s it

Written on September 25, 2021