Wednesday March 8th
The most perfect birthday and a Winter School
Hello from Tucson
- I have mispelled that word so many times; for the longest time I was autocorrected in mixing up the “c” and “s”. Now that I am here, I will never forget it.
- It’s been lovely! My fear upon coming here was that I wouldn’t know anyone, since most of the lab went to the winter school last year, but as it turns out, I knew a number of people, including people I had just met at the last workshop! So hooray!
Things I loved about the workshop
- The badges: they did not state what school you were from, so it felt more democratic. You could probably guess if someone was wearing an MIT hoodie or Jane Street backpack that maybe they went there or worked there, but maybe not. This meant that a lot of students easily made friends, and focused on what we had in common, and what was wonderful was how much the general culture of the whole winter school encouraged just being nice to each other.
- The talks: I loved that they write on paper, with an overhead projector, and the screen shows the papers preceding; this meant that if you missed some of the notation from the previous page, it was still up and you could reference it. The talks were also recorded, so one could look at them again if one missed something.
- The study sessions: I LOVED this. Every evening, starting from 7:30pm (but usually there were quite a few people even before then), we would sit in groups and work through the material together, asking questions, and it was really a sight to behold. You looked around you and just saw about a hundred students split up in groups of six to ten, writing on whiteboards, or looking at a TA answering a question on the whiteboard. And pretty much everyone engaged and wanted to learn. It was a good time. I wish I had done more of this earlier in grad school. As one of my professors said, “it’s a great way to learn”.
- Questions are encouraged: they stressed that the lectures were for us. I made friends with a lovely mathematician who apparently sang karaoke last night but also is defending this year and already has a tenure track offer! He’s a rockstar but also just really, really a nice person with a “radio voice”, as some of the professors noted. I appreciated that he so easily befriended me, because I learned a lot from him. He had attended the winter school from the first semester, and asked a bunch of questions during and after the talks. I do not have that level of confidence yet, but it inspired me. So I would like to work up to asking a question in an audience at that winter school, perhaps even as soon as next year. One thing he did that Taylor has also taught me in one of the first Number Theory seminars I attended on campus was for each talk, try to have one takeaway. What is the one thing you learned or remember from this talk? My friend ended up writing that for each of the lectures, and at the end of the day, or before each long break (say, for lunch or the end of the day), we would write all of them together, as a summary for the day, which I thought was such a great idea!
Things I learned
- So I made notes on a private repo and have the notes and my own notebook from the conference talks, but I also learned how fun professional mathematicians work in research, in terms of their methodology for working collaboratively. In one case (I’m sure more than one, actually), they sit around some couches near the lobby of the hotel drinking and swearing in Math terms excitedly and scribbling on notepads. And basically, the way they are working things out is by debating or going back and forth on stuff. To an onlooker, it might seem a little bit like sometimes they are arguing, too. It reminded me of what a friend over summer said; she used to be a Mathematics major in undergrad but switched to Computer Science for her PhD, and said that Mathematicians are always arguing. I just thought that that was the coolest thing. It seemed a lot more exciting to me than say, watching someone share a computer screen and go over code, even though there was definitely some code-writing, too.
- At the same time, mathematicians can be so wholesome. A friend of mine said he missed the first two talks because he decided to attend a church service in Tucson. The whole culture is just so much like home to me, and wholesomely respectable.
Finally, my birthday!
- So, the night before my birthday, I went to the study group as expected, and was already receiving birthday wishes (apparently, there was one other person whose birthday was also the same day as mine at the workshop!). Then, out of nowhere, our senator (yes, like, the Vermont senator!) showed up to our study session. And we ended up taking a group photo. So that was pretty wild and an early birthday gift, I guess.
- On the day of my birthday, I was flooded with birthday wishes from all over. I went to the lectures in the morning, but we had the afternoon off.
- There were a number of persons planning fun activities, so I chose to go to the desert museum with three guys. It was AWESOME. The ride alone to the museum worth it; the view was so scenic.
- I was supposed to chat briefly with my parents, so waiting for the ride to pick us back up, I was able to chat with them and show them a bit of the background where I was, which was pretty cool. And then our group was starving, so we went to get indian food! And then, we went to the study session for the evening, but people had gone on 7 mile hikes and stuff, and were pretty tapped out. So that was an earlier evening than most. But I was wrong.
- As it turned out, senior friends heard it was my birthday and I got chocolate from France that was mouth-wateringly good, and Michelle bought me a glass of champagne.
- Finally, we ended up going to a bar and Taylor bought me a glass of red port wine. By the time I realized it was after midnight, I stumbled home, because I was used to getting up at 4 to work out in the mornings (the gyms in the hotel are amazing!). Then I ended up chatting with my roommate, Meng, until 2am, so I got about 2 hours of sleep, from a full day of getting up at 4 all the way to 2am the following day. But it was an exceptional birthday.
- My feet hurt, though; as it turns out, I need to get better shoes, so I spent the last day resting them.
- The final evening, there was also a dinner!
- I’ve never felt so much like I fit with these people, and so much that like I just wanted to continue with this community, and these people. They just have the right set of values, disposition, and I’ve felt like I’ve grown so much in a way that I’m proud of since I started. What is funny is that before I officially was doing research with respect to this, I attended an open-source programme with mathematicians, and there were even some of these people here, too! (as it was Number Theory-related). So how cool is all of this!?
- There is so much work to be done, and I think that it shows in the culture. People want to help you, because there are problems to be solved. One thing I have also really enjoyed that I haven’t seen as much in Computer Science is how deep the knowledge of history is comparably. I guess it’s also an older discipline (i.e. Pure Mathematics), but there is a deep sense of and respect for work that has done before, and for attribution or acknowledgement of the work of others, and I like that a lot. I know that no field is perfect, but I really appreciate that about the culture. I don’t want to be made fun of (yet again) because I don’t want to talk about Chat-GPT and find it uninteresting, and because I think Cray machines are cool and that we should know our history more. Because we should.
- During the dinner, the vibe was so cool that I was able to carpool for an airport ride with two other PhD students (Sung Min and Alex), talk with Renée about postdocs and the whole tenure-track road, as well as Mathematics community-culture stuff and getting the most out of your Mathematics research experience, and one of my PhD friends, Alex, said that he has a theory that it’s because Mathematics is so large and there’s been so much done, that we can’t do it alone, so it’s important to have this culture of collaboration. I really liked that. Also, I sadly learned that Robert didn’t end up doing karoke after all, because the bar was closed for spring break (wonk wonk).
- What I also really noticed is that I felt like all of these students were absolutely brilliant, but they were so humble. So you could just have a conversation with anyone, and they would take the time to explain things to you in a non-judgmental way. I wished so much I had been a part of this community from the first day of my PhD! But I’m happy to have found them now.
- Also, the best part is being in the airport and hearing people randomly talk about Field Extensions or Preimages, or seeing someone pass by with a Sierpinski Triangle on a bag that says “Maths Research Symposium” on it. It made me feel like I was going to Hogwarts and overheard someone commenting to another person about “muggles” or something.
Here are some photos
A surprise visit from a US Senator from my state (!!) the night before my birthday!
- On the way to the desert museum!
- Two cacti chest bumping!
- Hummingbird that came really close to us!
- This is prickly pear. On the last day, I bought some coconut lavender tea to bring back with me, and sampled the prickly pear tea! The Prickly pear tea has no caffeine (yay!) and is best with a bit of lemon and some honey. It’s delicious!
- Brandon had a German Carnival hat! So had to take a selfie with him and the fancy hat during dinner!
- Our dinner event on the last evening!
- My parents sent me a birthday card from our two dogs! I loved that they made the dog toys I bought them over Christmas break to be binary :)
And that’s it
Written on March 8, 2023