Conference madness, part II: Sage Days 50 – Women in Sage

Group photo of the ladies of Sage. Left to right: yours truly, Yiwei She, Kristin Lauter, Beth Malmskog, Amy Feaver, Michelle Manes, Christelle Vincent, Ursula Whitcher, Jen Berg, Aly Deines, Kate Thompson, Yasemin Kara, Anne Ho, Lily Khadjavi. Not pictured: Alina Bucur, Jen Balakrishnan.

Group photo of the ladies of Sage. Left to right: yours truly, Yiwei She, Kristin Lauter, Beth Malmskog, Amy Feaver, Michelle Manes, Christelle Vincent, Ursula Whitcher, Jen Berg, Aly Deines, Kate Thompson, Yasemin Kara, Anne Ho, Lily Khadjavi. Not pictured: Alina Bucur, Jen Balakrishnan.

Almost immediately after the Journees Arithmetiques, I went to Seattle for Sage Days 50 – Women in Sage. The workshop ran from July 10-15, but I had to leave early on the 14th (more on that later). Last year I attended the same workshop, and I described it in some detail on another blog post. So in an effort not to repeat myself too much, on this post I just want to share the things that were different from my previous Sage Days.

 

First of all, I traveled from Paris to Seattle in two days, making my jet-lag more confusing than usual. That first day and a half I was pretty brain dead, which was especially great given that I was supposed to co-lead one of the projects and give a talk on the morning of the first day.  It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t my best talk. On top of that, I caught two different viruses (which I will not describe here) which made things much more complicated. Anyway, those are the risks of travel, and I’m still quite convinced that the benefits outweigh the risks. But beware, math traveling friends, for this could happen to you (which is why it’s best not to clump so much traveling together if you can).

My working group left to right: Christelle Vincent, Yiwei She, Ursula Whitcher, and myself, looking confused. Cooking duo extraordinaire: Michelle Manes and Alina Bucur.

My working group left to right: Christelle, Yiwei, Ursula, and myself, looking confused. Cooking duo extraordinaire: Michelle and Alina. Photo courtesy of Beth Malmskog.

This was my first time leading a workshop project (OK, co-leading, with the brilliant Ursula Whitcher). I found it extremely gratifying to discover that, when you pick the research project, you are almost certainly going to know more than the people working with you. See, in the past, when I have participated in a workshop, I usually feel like I have something to contribute, but I’m always a little lost and get the feeling that I don’t know very much. Now I know it’s because it was someone else’s idea and, of course, they have been thinking about it for more than a week. I tried to keep that in mind when I would go on and on about the Dwork exponential like everyone else should know what it is. I think I was able to rein it in, and the people working with me were a lot smarter than I am, so they caught up pretty quickly. At any rate, I was quite happy to discover that I can lead (OK, co-lead) a project and that we can actually get some things done. I was so engrossed with our work I even forgot to take pictures! We didn’t quite finish the computations we wanted to do, but we made some big strides in the right direction. Having a co-leader was also great, since Ursula is an algebraic geometer, with plenty of good ideas for number theorists, and so we brought different points of view and skills into the mix. And like I said, it’s also very easy to lead really smart people.

 

Lily's working group, left to right: Aly, Yasemin, Jen, and Lily.

Lily’s working group, left to right: Aly, Yasemin, Jen, and Lily. Photo courtesy of Beth Malmskog.

I think what my group made the most progress on was actually developing Sage code. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t discover or code anything groundbreaking, and some of our code (as it was later pointed out to us) was quite sloppy. But for me, having submitted a piece of code for review felt like a huge accomplishment. And I think that is my favorite part of these Sage Days workshops: that you are training mathematicians to be code developers. We certainly have the math skills, and we know what problems we would like Sage to be able to solve, but many “classically trained” mathematicians are still quite afraid of writing code (especially that someone else will be able to look at). I think it also helped a lot to have Aly Deines, Jen Balakrishnan, and William Stein around to help us with all of our (OK, mostly mine) dumb questions. Oh, I almost forgot: you can now run Sage in the cloud (with spooky wizard voice)!

The last thing I learned is that when you rent a large house for sixteen people to stay in which has a large kitchen, some of your guests should be good cooks. You would think that’s not the point, but eating delicious meals after working all day, and even talking about math while you make a pizza, adds to the bonding and social experience of being at a workshop.  I also realized that I better learn how to cook or I won’t get invited to these things anymore.

Kitchen fun. It kind of looks like we're talking about math, right? Or maybe boys?

Kitchen fun. It kind of looks like we’re talking about math, right? I think we were probably talking about food… Photo courtesy of Beth Malmskog.

And this leads me to my last thought, which I guess is also a plug for women’s conferences. I mean, it’s just so EASY to just be around these women and think about math and write code all day. I wish it weren’t like that, but most of the time, you are only one of a few women at a conference, sometimes you get an inappropriate comment about your appearance, and less often but still possibly you get your own area mansplained to you. I’m trying to be careful here, because it’s true that these things don’t always happen, and I’m usually quite happy at conferences and workshops regardless of the dominant gender. But what’s nice about women’s conferences in particular is that there are things you don’t have to worry about at all. And because it is easy, it is also easier to focus on math and work, it’s that simple. I know I’ve said these things before, but it’s always a surprise to me just how easy and relaxing it is to be at these workshops.

How about you, dear readers? Do you have any jet-lagged, project leading, Sage coding, women conferencing, or other workshopping stories to share? Please do so in the comments section below.

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