I was lucky to have the meetings on my doorstep this year, since otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go at all. I’m not bold enough to drag my two-month-old on a long trip with me, even if I could manage to arrange child care for an infant. And I wouldn’t want to be far from him for days at a time for many reasons, not least of which because I’m nursing. Though a few nights of uninterrupted sleep in a hotel room does sound like heaven right about now.
So I was able to make it to the meetings Wednesday and Saturday. I felt like I spent more time in the lactation room than in talks – which I’m sure I’ll write about another time – but it was still a pretty great conference full of ideas for new projects. I hit up some of the plenary talks, including one by Sarah Koch on the shape of rational maps. I have a vague plan for a submission to the art exhibition next year based on the “mating of the rabbit and the rabbit” map, just as soon as I can figure out how to google a reference picture of that fractal. I also got to keep my “real” research brain from completely atrophying with Lillian Pierce’s neat talk on the connections between torsion subgroups of class groups and phenomena like Fermat’s Last Theorem, and Jesús De Loera’s talk on optimization. The latter even inspired me to finally crack open Maclagan and Sturmfels’ book on tropical geometry, a topic I always love in talks but never had time to get into.
Laura Taalman’s talks are always worth a stop, and since I’m trying to figure out how to use our new departmental 3D printer to do something more useful than print doodads from Thingiverse, I went to her talk on the courses she runs using printers. She’s generous enough to put all her materials online, and I did the first assignment: follow a tutorial to make a penny trap from scratch. This was designed in TinkerCAD, which runs in a browser window and is completely drag-and-drop. One part got a little janky because I was too impatient to pause the printer to shove the penny in there, but as a proof of mild competence at printing it did fine.
I caught a bit of the MAA panel on mental health issues in mathematics, a session that was obviously long overdue. The room was packed, and the panel generously answered questions on mental health issues they face, and how colleagues can support their needs. I think a panel like this could occur at every national meeting without saturating the audience. I think we all know the need for mental health support is great in our profession. We just don’t know what to do about it. A panel like this is the first of many needed steps and I hope to see this conversation continue.
The day concluded with a math history session, and then Cathy O’Neil’s talk on big data and ethics, which reminded me that I still haven’t gotten around to reading her book that’s sitting on my shelf. In a way having my time at the meetings be so limited almost helped: I actually had time to digest the things I was learning and wasn’t just cramming it all in. I feel like I came out of this JMM with more concrete, actionable plans for future projects than I ever have before. In the future, I may need to schedule more breaks.