Human nature, how we teach math, and the birthday problem

I’ve spent a few weeks wondering what I can write about for my first post here. I’m a first-year PhD student with an endless supply of questions but without much wisdom or insight to share yet about my short graduate life. As a recent college graduate, however, I have spent years thinking about how my friends and peers perceive my mathematical interests and my career choices. And while I’m still learning about graduate life, I have a wealth of opinions about how we approach communicating math and statistics to students, clients, and colleagues interested primarily in other areas.

In college, I asked many other students to clarify why they don’t like math. I got two answers over and over again- it’s boring, and it’s too hard. The chain rule and the shell method of integration do not strike them as relevant to their future careers or to their broader understanding of the world around them. Moreover, they have been told from a young age that math is too hard, so why bother trying?
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How to Have a Great Math Staycation

Photo by Alexi Hoeft

The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ is one of many possible hosts for your math staycation. (Photo by Alexi Hoeft)

Thanksgiving is this week and the holidays are right around the corner, which means most of us will be getting several weeks off from formal grad school requirements.  But the time off is good for much more than just plentiful eating, quality family time, and Netflix binge-watching (a verb which, if you missed it, was recently added to the dictionary).  A fun holiday activity to add to the list: a math staycation!  (Shockingly enough, this marvelous term [according to Google] is not yet in use.)  

A math staycation consists of remotely (in space and/or time) attending a math conference by watching the video lectures from the convenience of wherever you might find yourself during the holidays.  

After deciding that this sounds like Continue reading “How to Have a Great Math Staycation” »

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Documenting the Academic Job Search – Part II

(Read Part I here.)

In a recent descent into a web-browsing shame spiral, I discovered a simple piece of advice on the Chronicle Forums:

Apply for the dang job!

The number and variety of postings on MathJobs makes it easy to be overtaken by doubt. Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Will people like me? It may be comforting to sift through fifteen browser tabs for the answers to these questions, but instead go apply for some jobs! Remember that “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” (Gretzky/Scott).

And if you’re done applying for jobs, consider some of these tips to keep busy for these next few stressful weeks of waiting.

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Prelims and Master’s Exams Tips

Hello there! I’m Shelby, a math PhD student at University of Illinois – Chicago. For my first post, I’d like to share some tips I’ve gathered on acing preliminary exams and master’s exams.

Not every math PhD program has preliminary exams (aka written qualifiers) and/or master’s exams. But for the programs that do, these exams can seem daunting to first and second year students. Both prelims and master’s exams are long in duration (varies by program, but around 3 hours from my knowledge) and span the topics of multiple courses. They require endurance, mental agility, and a thorough understanding of the test topics.

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The Oscars of Mathematics


Professor Ian Agol (Søren Fuglede Jørgensen, Wikipedia – Creative Commons)

Congratulations to Ian Agol for being awarded the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics, the so-called, “Oscars of Science” and mathematics [1]! Tech entrepreneurs Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner created the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics in 2014 to, “Reward[s] significant discoveries across the many branches of the subject.” The prize carries a 3 million dollar award, and was announced during a live televised red carpet ceremony complete with celebrities like Kate Hudson, Pharrell Williams, and Christina Aguilera.

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