It’s hard to believe the JMM is only just behind us. The semester’s already into gear and I’m grinding along with it. But three weeks ago, I was helping to prep for this.
The Hood math department has been heavily involved with the MAA for years and years, and once I got settled in, another faculty member suggested I apply to join a national MAA committee. Not knowing much about which committees did what, I asked for recommendations. After either applying or getting nominated, I wound up on the Committee for Undergraduate Activities (CUSA). And it’s been a ton of fun.
These folks know how to run a conference.
I never attended a JMM until I was on the market, so I certainly never had a big conference experience as an undergraduate. The work CUSA does to make these giant conferences beneficial to students is really remarkable. This year, the undergraduate poster session featured more than 400 posters, more than ever before. The Radical Dash scavenger hunt keeps growing too. I got to judge a couple entries this year, and the student enthusiasm was obvious from their photos. And then there’s the Estimathon, and the paper sessions at MathFest too. It’s easy to see what great mentoring all these students are getting by how many are willing to dive in to these activities at such a huge, intimidating event.
This was my first year being more involved with the undergraduate poster session. Last JMM, Hood was interviewing, so my time and energy were pretty limited. But this year I got to help Eric Ruggieri and Chasen Smith, along with the rest of CUSA, set up, find and train judges, and manage the literal thousands of people on the exhibition room floor. Unfortunately (yeah, that’s the word for it), I had to duck out to a prior engagement before the committee began the superhuman effort required to hand-tally the scores for all the posters. Somehow they make this poster session look easy, but I want everyone to recognize the incredible amount of work that went into that session. It was a privilege to help and incredible to watch it come together.
And thanks to all the attendees who were willing to judge, especially those who came back for a second group of posters. With so many students, we were worried we couldn’t possibly find enough judges, but the community really rallied together. Everyone I spoke to seemed to have a really good time interacting with the students and talking about their research. If you think you might have a little time to spare at the next conference, please don’t hesitate to click that button on the registration form! Judging is fun, a great experience for the students, and one more line for the service portion of your tenure dossier (like you need more of those).
The best part of the joint meetings though was seeing all my conference buddies. I’m really starting to feel like I’m a part of a massive, worldwide community. Even if I can’t remember a ton of faces, each time I go to one of these I see more and more familiar faces. I got to hang out with old friends, get caught up, and grab a few beers. I always used to feel like an outsider in mathematical spaces. I never felt like I knew as many people, or as many things as everybody around me. Don’t get me wrong, I still do. But it’s getting better.
And thanks to everybody who recognized me from this column and said hi! It’s really nice to know that vomiting my anxieties about my career once or twice a month here is sometimes useful to somebody other than me. Maybe I’ll see you again at the next one.