Thursday January 31st

The Most Amazing place in the Whole World

I spent my week in the most amazing place in the entire world….MSRI

What is MSRI

  • It’s pretty much a utopia for researchers, particularly those interested in Mathematical sciences.

  • I stumbled upon MSRI and IAS through Numberphile, and other videos I found while learning about Mathematics and Haskell.

  • On a whim, I applied for a grant and to attend their workshops, particularly for their workshops that pertained to Category Theory. I was surprised to discover that I had been accepted for two grants for both workshops.

This is what Maths utopia looks like

First time there

  • It was my first time at MSRI. I was super nervous. I had also never been to Berkeley before.

  • On top of that, my bus cancelled 20 minutes before it was scheduled to leave, and I had to rely on a random stranger to help me book a new ticket with his phone so I could get on a totally different bus. It somehow all worked out, and two hours after my original expected time, I was in Berkeley, on the Hill shuttle, headed to MSRI.

The Place

  • The building was decorated with posters of people I have looked at from afar, inspired. At one point, I saw a gentleman stand in front of a poster, and realized it was the same gentleman in the poster! There are blackboards everywhere, and you can see people furiously turning coffee and tea (available at all hours) into Derived Algebraic Geometry.

A Poster from Numberphile, which is supported by MSRI

Knuth is a supporter of MSRI

The people

  • The people I met were incredibly kind. On the first day, I joined a group of about ten of us for Tibetan food in downtown Berkeley. We ended the day by playing Jenga and eating Gelato in the Gourmet Ghetto.

  • MSRI itself feels very intimate; it’s a place where you can meet the giants of the Mathematical Sciences casually and have a discussion about research you are working on. It’s ideal because if you have cited or have been reading their work, you can simply ask questions and work on blackboards over tea or coffee.

By the second day

  • I ended up hanging out with a plethora of people who knew me by name. We took a group photo. I was incredibly inspired to no longer be a programmer and just focus on Tropical Geometry instead. Could I pursue Tropical Geometric Programming Languages Research, I wondered?

Photo courtesy

By the third day

  • A group of seven of us took a 50 minute hike from MSRI all the way to downtown Berkeley, had Thai food, and then went to a bar for a drink. I was heartbroken by the time I had to pack my bags and head out. The people are incredibly passionate and kind at MSRI. They love research and mathematics, and are incredibly intellectually curious, with incredible wit.

A view from our hike

The entire walk was about an hour long

The conference itself

  • I was fortunate enough to be sponsored for the two conferences; one was focused on women in research, particularly with an interest in Derived Algebraic Geometry and Bi Rational Moduli Spaces. We were fortunate enough to be able to speak with several researchers both in academia and in industry. One moment (on the first day) that stuck out for me was that I was able to speak with Kristin Lauter. She is a mathematician/ computer scientist who works for Microsoft Reseach in Redmond on Cryptography.

There was a poster session

  • Unlike CS poster events that I have attended, there was no cash prize, and there was less of a focus on the school the person was attending. Posters were also not sponsored by industry (Google, Mozilla, etc), although most who presented posters were reimbursed via grant money from NSF and the NSA.

In conclusion

  • I definitely plan to return. Coming here has made me realize that I’m more excited by research than I am learning frameworks in programming, or anything like that. It was absolutely worth it for me and I plan to become a member and attend as many events as I can. I also think that I can learn (if I don’t become converted 100% to become a Mathematician) from that community; I leave humbled, but inspired.

  • I have been splitting my time in between learning about the Linux kernel, some Haskell, an ACM wiki project (I made my first edit last week!), the NASA project and at MSRI. The research community at MSRI really resonated with me. I’m excited to return next week!

Notes from Mathematicians having a discussion during one of the scheduled breaks

Written on January 31, 2019