A week at the Clay Math Institute

A Penrose tiling in front of the new Math Institute Building. My favorite anecdote is when someone saw Roger Penrose looking at the tiling pensively, as if trying to check that it was correct.

A Penrose tiling in front of the new Math Institute Building. Apparently someone saw Roger Penrose looking at the tiling pensively, as if trying to check that it was correct.

Last week, I attended Sage Days 53: Computational Number Theory, Geometry, and Physics, at the Clay Mathematics Institute in Oxford. Like most workshops, for which I have already professed my love, it was an extremely productive and positive experience. I was able to finish something I was trying to do for months, talk to a few of my collaborators in person, and learn more about developing code for Sage. In this post, I will share some of my experiences during the past week.

Working hard after a talk. From left to right: David Harvey, Ursula Whitcher, Andrey Novoseltev, and Jan Tuitman.

Working hard after a talk. From left to right: David Harvey, Ursula Whitcher, Andrey Novoseltev, and Jan Tuitman. Picture courtesy of organizer Jennifer Balakrishnan.

One thing I am always surprised about when I attend workshops is how many new people I meet, especially since I feel like I attend so many (this is probably not actually true). In this instance, because I don’t attend a lot of conferences across the pond, I got to meet quite a few new people. But at this workshop, unlike others, it seems to me that I did a lot less networking and a lot more working with my collaborators. I think that’s totally fine, especially since we got a lot done for the amount of time we were together, but maybe it would have been nice to talk to other people more.

The awesomeness of the white-board coffee table. I want one for my place now. Left is Ursula Whitcher, and yours truly on the right. I didn't know this, but I was on the verge of figuring something out.

The awesomeness of the white-board coffee table. I want one for my place now. Left is Ursula Whitcher, and yours truly on the right. I didn’t know this, but I was on the verge of figuring something out. Picture courtesy of Jennifer Balakrishnan.

A nice feature of workshops is that you have a much more flexible schedule each day. In this case, we had two talks a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The rest of the time was dedicated to coding, working, and at the end of the day we would share our progress with the rest of the group. This means that you end up working quite a bit. At a conference with lots of talks you are usually exhausted at some point and feel no guilt about skipping some talks and taking breaks. Here, because it’s all work time, you actually work very hard and use all of your free time. This was great, but also means I didn’t get to see much of Oxford. No worries, I’m sure I’ll be back sometime.

The view from the lounge. Left to right: Wouter Castryck, Jan Tuitman, and Alan Lauder.

The view from the lounge. Left to right: Wouter Castryck, Jan Tuitman, and Alan Lauder. Picture courtesy of Jennifer Balakrishnan.

Another reason I didn’t get to see much of Oxford was how close our lodging was to our work building. We were staying at Somerville College, the old women’s college named after scientist¬†Mary Somerville,¬†which was a short walk to the new building for the Math Institute. The Andrew Wiles building, which also contains Andrew Wiles‘ office (and has already been a source of confusion for delivery people), is a really cool modern building embedded in between some really cool older ones. The work space was nice and open, and really great for group discussions. My favorite was the lounge with comfy couches and white-board coffee tables (pictured here).

A different view of the lounge.

A different view of the lounge. Picture courtesy of organizer Volker Braun.

So, in short, this was a great workshop, with good people and at a good location. I got lots of work done, although I’m behind on all of my grading and my students did not seem too happy that I left them for a whole week. In the end, however, it was totally worth it.

 

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