## You should have a website (and it doesn’t have to be hard)

Some months ago, a conversation among graduate students at Emory turned to the topic of updating websites. A few of us had yet to make one, so I joked that I could write a blog post on it, which was met with more enthusiasm than I expected. Later, I did some digging on the Emory directory and Google to find that only 6 out of the 37 PhD students currently at Emory have a webpage — a number that I’d like to see grow!

To be fair to my 31 currently website-less colleagues, several are in their first year (or their first year in-person) and may not have needed one to this point. Others may be seeking government or industry jobs, where having a personal website may be less critical. I’ve also heard “but I don’t have anything to put on it yet.” To these I would reply that it’s easier the earlier you start, it can’t hurt to have no matter what jobs you apply for, and you don’t need to put much on it for your website to pay off!

The thrust of my advice on websites to a beginning graduate student in math (and the advice that was given to me) is summarized in the title of the post: you should have a website. Below I’ll expand a bit on why it matters, what you might put on it, and suggest a few ways to get started.

## Why bother with a website?

The primary objective for your website is to make it possible for people – namely fellow researchers and potential employers – to find you and your work. The top answers on this Stack Exchange post put it really well; when you start writing papers and giving talks, people will look for you! Speaking personally (and reflecting what I’ve heard at countless career panels), I find information about fellow researchers through their websites. Most of the time, Googling “firstname lastname math” or “firstname lastname institution” will bring me straight to their personal webpage containing their research interests, links to papers, and contact information, so I want my website to do the same for others.

To those students concerned that they don’t have enough to share on a website, I’ll quote computer scientist Bastian Rieck from his excellent blog post on why academics should have personal websites: “everyone has something to share with the rest of the world.” It’s okay if that is just your contact information and office number for now! You’ll be doing yourself a favor by having a website in place when you do have preprints or talk slides to share in the future.

Ultimately, your website provides a way for you to communicate who you are to the mathematical community. While this can be partially done through your CV (which by the way should appear on your website!) or a LinkedIn page, a website offers much more control over how you present yourself, and the opportunity to make a memorable impression.

## What should be on it?

The contents of an academic website, and how they appear, vary widely and are largely up to your personal preference. I recommend taking a look at the websites and asking the opinions of graduate students and faculty you know and trust. You’ll likely get a lot of (possibly conflicting) answers, but you should be okay if you take the average of their advice. Below, I’ll suggest possible contents of your website, starting with the bare minimum.

### The bare minimum

Have something up there. It could just say your name and “I’m a grad student in math” and it would be a great start. Getting over the hurdle of putting literally anything on your webpage will make it so much easier to add more later!

Having said that, here’s what I would suggest starting with, which would all fit easily onto one page:

• Your contact information (probably email),
• A picture of you.

A note about pictures: I really do think having a fairly recent, professional-looking picture is important, as when people look you up and then meet you (or vice versa), they’ll be able to put a face to the name. Some people may feel anxious about posting pictures of themselves publicly; if that describes you then feel free to skip the picture, but don’t let it stop you from putting up the rest!

### The standard content

Having looked at lots of academic websites, most contain the bare minimum above as well as following information, in one form or another. This is the key content that fellow researchers and employers will be interested in when they look you up.

• Research: To start, this could be a sentence or two about your research interests. Once you have them, list any papers you’ve authored, including preprints, with links to the arxiv or the journal. You can optionally include links to your slides from when you’ve given talks, or even a video if the talk was recorded.
• Teaching: List the courses you have taught or TA’d in the past. If you’re currently teaching, you might include your office hours and links to the course syllabus for your students to find.
• Job market: If you’re on the job market, say so! You might also include your research and teaching statements for prospective employers to find.

Of course, there’s more to being a grad student than research and teaching. Do you teach math circle? Have you organized a seminar at your institution? Do you have a GitHub with code you’d like to share? Have you written any expository papers, or course notes you want to make public? Did you have an internship, and can you share anything about it? If you answer yes to any of these, find a place for them somewhere! Details like these paint a more complete picture of who you are as a mathematician.

### Having fun with it

At this point you could certainly stop. But since you’ve made it this far, is there anything else you wish to share with the world? Maybe you’re big on math Twitter or have some favorite math blogs which you could link to. Or perhaps you have hobbies or pictures to share that are entirely unrelated to math that you’d like to add – I say go for it! I myself have some pictures of myself ballroom dancing in college on my website. There’s no need for them to be there, but I’m proud of them and who knows – they could one day serve as a conversation starter! This is all optional of course, but I have found that the most memorable websites tend to be the ones which give some indication as to who the person is, behind all the preprints and courses taught.

## How to make it

Now it’s time to justify the parenthetical in the title: actually making your website doesn’t have to be hard. There are, however, a lot of options for doing so, which can be overwhelming if you’ve new to this sort of thing (I hadn’t made a website before grad school). This isn’t a step-by-step guide – you can easily find those elsewhere on the web – but instead some thoughts and resources which I hope help you to choose a platform and get started!

### Website builders

The fastest way to get your website up and running is to use a service like Google sites, Squarespace, Wix, GitHub, or WordPress (they also feature blogs, like this one!), and countless others. I only have experience with Google sites and WordPress blogs, so I can’t speak for the others, but I know they exist.

The primary advantage to taking this route is that it’s really easy. With a Google site, you could probably have the whole thing set up in 10 minutes, with zero experience. All of the platforms mentioned above offer templates that you can start with to further streamline the process. If you don’t have any experience working with HTML and don’t want to learn, or just want to get this done with quickly, then one of these services is the way to go.

Another plus of using one of these platforms is that they will host your site, often for free or for a small fee. As a graduate student, this can be really useful since you don’t have to worry about your website when you graduate and move institutions. A downside is that free hosting restricts your URL to a subdomain such as “sites.google.com,” or similar. If you have strong feelings about this, you could buy your own custom domain name for around $10 –$20 per year.

### Do it yourself with HTML

Another option is to code your website yourself with HTML and have your institution host it. I went this route because I thought it might be fun and useful to learn some HTML, and doing things myself provided the most control over the appearance of my website. If you’re the sort of person who learned LaTeX and vowed never to use a word processor again, this is probably what you want to do.

If you’re just starting out, there are tons of free online resources and tutorials for learning the basics of HTML and CSS. You don’t need to be an expert – I’m certainly not – but at minimum you’ll want to be able to arrange text on your page, make lists, include images and links, and change the appearances of all these things. No special software is necessary: you can use any text editor to write your HTML code and any browser to open it.

Once you have your .html file, you’ll probably need to put files onto a department server. If your department doesn’t share instructions for this, ask a colleague who has their website set up already to walk you through the process (it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes). I find it most convenient to keep all of my website-related files (.html files, style files, pictures, and pdfs) in one folder on my computer (backed up of course!) so I can edit them locally, then I just copy the entire file to our department server using the scp command when I want to update things. That way, whenever I have a new preprint or give a talk, I only need to add one line and enter one command to add it to my website.

Regardless of whether you choose a Google site or you write it yourself in HTML, make sure to get it linked on your institution or department’s directory page! People actually do use these directories, so make sure there’s a link to your webpage alongside your email and office number. Ask a colleague or your institution’s IT staff for instructions.

## Concluding thoughts

It doesn’t matter if you’re in your final year, frantically applying for jobs, or just starting out as a graduate student — you have something to share! If you don’t think you have much yet, you will later on, so setting up your professional website earlier will save you time and effort down the road (when you’re frantically applying to those jobs).

Wishing everyone a safe and pleasant winter break!

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## Reflections of a Third Year Ph.D. Student

With the fall semester officially over, I am now halfway through my third year as a Ph.D. student, and hopefully halfway through my Ph.D. As a first and second year student, I really thought that if I could just get to my third year, everything would be so much easier. Between taking classes, doing research, and studying for comprehensive exams, I expected that having less structure in the third year would be a blessing. Instead, I actually miss having such clear benchmarks of my progress in completing the Ph.D.

As an undergraduate student, you know that you need x number of units to graduate. Your department tells you which courses are mandatory and which you can choose from as electives. The requirements to complete the degree are generally very clear-cut. My first two years of graduate school were very similar. I knew exactly how many courses I needed to take, how many I needed to pass, and how many exams were required in order to complete the Masters portion of the Ph.D. I have found the area beyond that, however, to be very gray. Without clear benchmarks, it’s hard to wrap your mind around where exactly you are in the Ph.D. process. Even the time required to finish the degree just “depends.” I’ve tried to think of the third year as a transition period of sorts, one in which I need to make some progress with my research, but also one in which getting stuck or changing directions would not be too consequential. At the same time, I certainly feel more pressure to pick a research topic that will align with what I want to do after graduation and where I want to work.

I have been told that the last couple of years of the Ph.D. will fly by and that I will wish I could slow it down to have more time to write my dissertation. With this in mind, I am afraid of starting my fourth year. I find myself questioning how much I should know by now and doubting if my research is going in the path of least resistance to graduation. Without concrete indicators of progress from things like grades, it almost feels like blind faith is required to believe that you will get to the point where you know enough to be given the Ph.D. In the end, I know that it’s not magic, but hard work, that will get me to the finish line.

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## Going home for the holidays: how to mix math and family time + BONUS dad jokes for holiday de-stressing

Going home for the holidays can be hard when you’ve got a lot on your plate. Thus I present to you my most useful tips for getting the most out of mixing family time and graduate student responsibilities.

If possible, do not

Breaks are important! This is a concept I’ve covered in a previous post, but the breaks I was talking about there were on a much smaller scale. Time off from work, or vacation time, is proven to reduce stress, increase mindfulness, improve sleep, promote heart health and boost brain power. Therefore, if you can afford to dedicate your days to vacationing while on official break time, try to do so! However, in the likely event that work is unavoidable, accept that and make a plan.

Make time for break time

First of all, choose days that you will not do work. Major holidays and celebrations are easy ones, but you should also consider the days leading up to and following times with a lot of activity. For me, that means giving myself plenty of space surrounding travel time. The 13-hour drive from Atlanta to Delaware makes this essential. Also remember that designating time to spend with loved ones is important, but you also need to designate time to spend by yourself, relaxing. While I love my family, time with them isn’t usually “calming,” so make sure you pencil those days into your schedule as well!

For the days that you do work: plan!

Have some structure! Decide ahead of time what you will be doing on what days and for how long. Maybe you work best in the mornings and prefer to take time off in the evenings. Great! Plan that out! Setting a schedule ahead of time helps to alleviate the stress of not knowing when you can accomplish your tasks. Also, don’t be afraid to be flexible. Several days can be categorized as work days with the caveat that it’s only a work day if there is nothing better to do. So you have the option to work, but if a better plan comes along, you can change your mind and not feel guilty! These types of days are for lighter, more optional work (i.e. writing a syllabus, sending emails, tracking down citations).

Communicate with family ahead of time

Friends and family may not understand or may feel sad if we choose not to participate in traditions or outings due to some looming deadline they know not of, so make sure you give advanced warning about plans you may be skipping. Since attempting to explain the stress of qualifying exams to someone that has never studied for one cannot really do the feeling justice, it’s crucial to make sure your family knows you’ve set aside time just for them. It is also crucial that you set firm boundaries about how you plan on doing that.

Create an elevator pitch about what you do

This may sound weird, but most of your family likely does not comprehend the math you do on a daily basis. For those odd aunts and uncles who you see once a year, a few prepared sentences about your research area can be a lifesaver when a full explanation might be out of their grasp. For me this looks like: I enjoy computational number theory, which means I like to search for integer or rational solutions to equations using programs. This has some cool applications in cryptography, like in the way your phone exchanges data!” Is it entirely accurate? Maybe not, but my mother has spent four years telling her peers I study computational analysis and prime numbers, so do what you can.

Finally, be present when you are present (there is a pun here somewhere)

Try not to worry about work when you are with your family or relaxing. Winter break is several weeks long, and there will be time to accomplish what you need to. Stressing about your work instead of enjoying yourself is never a good way to spend a holiday.

+Bonus dad jokes for holiday de-stressing

Q: How much did Santa have to pay when he went to buy his sleigh?

A: Nothing. Because it was on the house.

Q: Why isn’t every man in a red suit with a beard Father Christmas?

A: Because correlation doesn’t imply Claus-ation.

Q: How do you find the value of taking Yule the the xth power?

A: You take the yule log!

Q: Why does Santa always enter a home through the chimney?

A: Probably because it soots him.

Q: What’s every elf’s favorite type of music?

A: It’s wrap.

Q: Why did the Grinch decide to go to the haunted house the other day?

A: Because he was searching for the holiday spirit.

More can be found here!

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As 2021 comes to an end, I thought I’d use this month’s blog post to share one of the cooler bits of math I’ve learned this year. It’s a paradox that comes from combinatorial game theory which, for those not familiar with the field, Wolfram Mathworld describes as “the theory of two player games of perfect knowledge such as go, chess, or checkers”. Before I can get into the paradox, I need to start with a definition:

Definition: A game G is somewhat finite if it satisfies the following four conditions:

• G is a two player game, with a Player 1 and Player 2 alternating turns. Each player has complete information about what moves have been made so far.
• G is not a game of chance.
• Every play of G ends after finitely many moves.
• There are no ties. Once G terminates, there will be exactly one winner and one loser.

To make the above definition more concrete, here are a few examples of somewhat finite games:

• “Player 1 loses.” In this game, the only rule is that Player 1 immediately loses!
• Chess, with the added rule that if no check mate occurs by Turn 50, black immediately wins.
• Player 1 picks a natural number n > 100. Player 2 counts from 1 to n!, and their move ends once they’ve finished counting. On the next move, Player 1 immediately wins.

So despite the silly examples, somewhat finite games seem fairly well-behaved. However, consider a game with the following rules:

1. The game starts with Player 1 choosing a somewhat finite game G.
2. Player 2 then starts playing G as the first player, and with Player 1 as the second player.
3. The game ends when G ends.

The game described above is called the hypergame. You can check that the hypergame is somewhat finite, which means that, during play of the hypergame, it is a valid move for Player 1 to choose G = hypergame. This means that, on Player 2’s next move, they must behave as the first player of the hypergame, and it’s again a valid move for Player 2 to choose G = hypergame. Then Player 1 is once again the first player of the hypergame, and can choose G = hypergame, and so on ad infinitum. But this implies that the hypergame is not somewhat finite, since we can force a game that goes on forever. Thus we have a paradox.

Paradoxes like the above are one of the things that first fascinated me when I got into math, and I hope you found this interesting, too. See you all in 2022!

(If my explanation of the paradox is unclear or you’d like to learn more, I’d suggest reading this paper by William S. Zwicker, who was the first to discover the paradox.)

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## Planning the Next Semester – Using the MOSH Technique

With winter break just around the corner, it is a great time to reflect on the past semester and start planning for the next semester. To prepare, I like to use what I call the MOSH technique. MOSH stands for mindset, organization, scheduling, and habits. In this article, I will take you through the MOSH method and give you tips for planning.

### Mindset

First, we have the mindset. This is the section where you reflect on your previous semester and get mentally prepared to take on another semester. I prefer to do this through journaling. I highly recommend journaling because it can distress and give you an opportunity to express emotions especially ones you may be suppressing. I suggest setting a timer for your journaling sections. I normally do a minimum of five minutes per question. I also have an addiction to buying expensive journals, so journaling gives me an excuse to continue. Here are some reflection questions to get you started on solidifying a healthy and prepared mindset for the next semester:

1. What happened this past semester? What went well? What could have been improved?
2. If you could snap your fingers and become your ideal version of a student, what would you be like (habits, schedule, temperament, results, etc.)? What is standing in your way of achieving this version of yourself? How can you overcome these obstacles?
3. Why are you pursuing your degree? What motivates you to keep going?

Organization

Proper organization can make a semester so much easier. It’s important to set up your organizational systems before a semester starts and even more important to make sure that the system works for you. There are two components when it comes to organization: physical and digital. For physical organization, you should clean and organize your office space, backpack, and storage system. For digital organization, I like to use Notion for organizing my life, business, and school goals, OneDrive for storing my digital documents, and OneNote for note-taking and homework assignments. Here are a few things to consider when organizing for the next semester:

1. Decide how you will take notes, do homework, study, read textbooks or articles, whether you use loose paper, notebook, tablet, or laptop, and decide where you will store the necessary documents.
2. Will you use a planner (physical or digital)? How often will you plan (daily, weekly, monthly? Set up or order your planner before the semester starts.
3. Organize your physical and digital space. Go through your office, backpack, and storage system to clean and organize. Then sift your computer to digitally organize remove unnecessary files and reduce unnecessary clutter.

Scheduling

Students’ lives are extremely busy so it’s important to dedicate time to set up a consistent schedule before the semester starts. You want to take your time to be thorough and include what you should be doing and what you must do, but it’s important to remember that you are not a superhero and that energy is finite so make your schedule realistic for your everyday life. I like to use Google Calendar to schedule my days. It is easy to use and compatible with all devices. You can also make reoccurring events, so it’s easy to plan out your whole semester. There are a few things that you want to include in your schedule for the next semester:

1. You want to add your class schedule along with office hours and any other meetings like lab meetings and seminars.
2. Add homework and study times into your schedule. This can encourage you to be consistent with your homework and study throughout the semester because sometimes it is hard to keep up with the amount of work that goes into classes.
3. Add personal time for your sanity at least one day a week off where you do fun things. It is also important to schedule self-care activities, exercises, meals, and time to check in or make plans with friends and family.

Habits

The backbone of a successful semester is good habits that support your success. If you are a person who has trouble with consistently enjoying your good habits and stopping bad habits, I recommend Atomic Habits, a book by James Clear. He details his method for building habits that will help you reach your goals by focusing on your mindset and systems. There is a video that describes Clear’s method in eight minutes if you don’t have the time to read the book. The following are a couple steps to building successful habits:

1. Reading list of all your current habits. You might have to track these for a few days. Identify good and bad habits. Identify habits you want to start or stop.
2. Create a system where your good habits will thrive and bad habits will starve. Clear mentions the following for developing a system: start small, stack habits, create starting rituals, sync habits with a reward, and score your habits.

A new semester can bring about a certain, uncertainty, and stress. I often feel like getting through a semester is like getting out of the middle of a mosh pit during a heavy metal concert. Starting a new semester by using the MOSH technique can quell some of those anxieties for the new semester and make your time in school more tolerable. You will be prepared and ready to take on a new semester.

How do you normally prepare for the next semester? Can you see yourself using the MOSH technique?

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