For two weeks in February, I took off from Bates and hung out at ICERM (the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics, at Brown University). This semester’s program is in Complex and Arithmetic Dynamics, an area I have become interested in recently, since the 2010 Arizona Winter School. In this post, I will recount some of my experiences during what a friend of mine called my “math retreat”.
ICERM works mostly on the semester program schedule. A topic is chosen and visitors are invited/apply to attend. There are long term visitors, who stay for the whole semester, which include anything from well-established mathematicians to postdocs and graduate student visitors. There are also short term visitors (like your truly) and workshop participants (explained more below). Their weekly schedule looks something like this (scroll to the bottom). On top of having research groups, seminars, and short courses through most of the semester, there are also three focused workshops, which are organized very much like a conference. The week before each workshop there are special introductory talks for the people at the institute. I attended the first of this semester’s workshops on Complex and p-adic Dynamics. Even though of all three workshops this was the least related to my areas of research, it worked out nicely with my schedule (it landed on the week before Bates’ February break). I had a ton of fun attending the talks and learned about a lot of new things. One of the talks even inspired me to think about a new research idea with a person in attendance at the conference. The complex dynamics talks (even though the most unrelated to my research) were packed with pretty pictures and sometimes even cool videos!
I wrote a post about how just being at this conference inspired me to submit a paper I had been working on for years. And that was only after the first week! Imagine being there for a whole semester, immersed in research, hanging out with the likes of Joe Silverman and John Milnor (OK, I didn’t hang out with them, but they were around!). The second week I was there was much calmer, but more like what it would be to be there for the whole program. Also, this is when I really started thinking about possible research problems. It was fun meeting with someone and speculating about what we could possibly work on. I haven’t had many chances (since my thesis) to try and find a new research problem, and I enjoyed this very much. Especially since we did eventually find something to think about (or rather, two things!).
I think one key feature that helps ICERM be such a great place to work in is the space that it is in. It is situated on the top two floors of a building which has floor to ceiling windows that wrap all the way around. From any office you have a great view of Providence (see the photos attached). The main lecture hall seats 100 people, and has projection screens and a glass wall that serves as a whiteboard (pretty effectively I must say). The main lobby also has a wall of whiteboard, and people will just hang out there talking about math, especially after talks or during tea time (which happens every afternoon). There are also blackboard walls all around the lower of the two floors (which is also the area for offices of visiting mathematicians and graduate students). Anyway, I think the pictures convey the space pretty well.
I absolutely loved being a part of this institute, even for just a couple of weeks. Of course, it set me back in my teaching a little (but only a little, surprisingly). This math retreat definitely recharged my research batteries and even inspired what I hope will be fruitful new projects. As far as retreats go, I think this was a big success.