Hey There, Grad Student, You’re in Good Company – Part 1


Guest post by Tai-Danae Bradley, a second year PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center and founder of Math3ma.com.

By Tai-Danae Bradley

A while ago at my blog Math3ma, I wrote a post in response to a great Slate article reminding us that math – like writing – isn’t something that anyone is good at without (at least a little!) effort. As the article’s author put it, “no one is born knowing the axiom of completeness.” Since then, I’ve come across a few other snippets of mathematical candor that I found both helpful and encouraging. And since final/qualifying exam season is right around the corner, I thought it’d be great to share them here for a little morale-boosting.

The first comes from a fantastic post written by University of Illinois at Chicago’s recent PhD Jeremy Kun (also blogger at the excellent Math ∩ Programming) in which he answers the question What is it ‘really’ like for a mathematician to learn math? In short, his answer is contained in the post’s title:  “Mathematicians are chronically lost and confused (and that’s how it’s supposed to be).”

Of course, he means this in a good way and elaborates by sharing this colorful metaphor of mathematical research by Andrew Wiles: Continue reading “Hey There, Grad Student, You’re in Good Company — Part 1” »

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The Man Who Knew Infinity (Mathematical Movie!)

Hi! For this post, I thought I would take a break from posting math riddles and take a brief moment to draw your attention to an exciting new movie premiering in the United States this week – “The Man Who Knew Infinity”, a biography of Srinivasa Ramanujan directed by Matthew Brown, based on the book of the same name by Robert Kanigel. Starring some serious screen talent – including Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons – “The Man Who Knew Infinity” chronicles Ramanujan’s life and mathematical talents, mainly focusing on his time spent in Cambridge and his relationship with his mentor, G. H. Hardy. I had the good fortune to be able to attend an advance showing of the movie with several other graduate students, and it was a great experience. Read on for more details!

Continue reading “The Man Who Knew Infinity (Mathematical Movie!)” »

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Dance Your Dissertation: Behind the Scenes

Three years ago, our former editor Diana Davis created the following math youtube sensation, conveying the main ideas of her geometry dissertation to the general public through dance, music, and some highly-skillful video editing. Today, we unlock the magic behind it.  First, watch the video if you haven’t seen it:

And now, an exclusive behind the scenes interview with Diana Davis about how she put this incredible project together without any prior experience:

Continue reading “Dance Your Dissertation: Behind the Scenes” »

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Traversing Mountain Passes


How can you (mathematically) avoid walking in deep puddles? Photo by Alexi Hoeft, used with permission.

Suppose you need to walk through a wet parking lot. The lot is covered with puddles and you would like to keep your shoes as dry as possible. If you know the depth of the puddles at every point, how do you choose the path that minimizes the maximum depth of the puddles you cross? A hiker might want to solve a similar problem if they want to avoid fatigue by seeking low elevations. How do you traverse a mountainous area while remaining as low as possible?

To make the problem more formal, say the area of interest is X=[0,1]\times[0,1] and the elevation of the ground (or puddle depth) at each point (x,y) \in X is f(x,y), with f:X\to\mathbb{R} continuous. Choose areas that are acceptable start and finish points and call them X_0 and X_1. If you want to walk from the north end of the square to the south, then you could choose X_0=[0,1]\times\{1\} and X_1=[0,1]\times\{0\}. The problem can be stated as Continue reading “Traversing Mountain Passes” »

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For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.

As the perhaps apocryphal story goes, the title of this piece is a six-word novel written by Ernest Hemingway as part of a bet while at lunch with a group of writers. The idea behind the six-word story, also commonly know as flash fiction, is, well, to tell a story in six words or less. A quick googling reveals thousands of such stories ranging from the rather dark:

Ernest Hemingway in 1939. Public domain photo, Wikimedia Commons.

Ernest Hemingway in 1939. Public domain photo, Wikimedia Commons.

“Goodbye, mission control. Thanks for trying.” ~aiken_~

to the lighter

“I leave. Dog panics. Furniture shopping.” ~Reed~

That said, there seem to be very few–I found two or three–flash fiction stories pertaining to math. With this in mind I want to propose a challenge:

Write your own six-word story/stories capturing the life, experiences, or work of mathematicians and graduate students, and post them in the comments below. The best ones will be highlighted in my post next month!

To give some sense of what I mean, and maybe to help get your creative thoughts rolling, here are two six-word stories I wrote about common experiences in the lives of math graduate students.

Working hard, checked arXiv. Start again.

From: Grad Admissions. “We are sorry…

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