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At JMM 2019!

January 18, 2019

I registered for this year’s Joint Math Meeting by claiming to be Press so I think it’s only fair that I blog from the conference.

I got here Wednesday, met up with my BFF Aaron Abrams, and we promptly dashed to a fancypants reception to meet up with my buddy Ken Ribet. And yes, both of these wonderful men were wearing knitted hats that I knitted for them in the blistering Baltimore weather. Ken happens to be the outgoing AMS President so has lots of fancypants receptions to go to, and he was kind enough to let us in. The highlight, besides reminiscences with him and others, was when I got to write on a board about how Ken has been a great mentor to me since I was 18, welcoming me with open arms into the warm and wonderful community of mathematics. I also got to (re)meet Francis Su, who is awesome.

Then, yesterday I was honored to receive the MAA Euler Book Prize along with a bunch of adorable nerds receiving all kinds of mathematical honors onstage. It was fun, and afterwards there was a reception, which I went to. Then after that I ran over to a Budapest Semesters in Math reunion, and then the MAA dinner for prize winners. So that’s pretty much three more parties, bringing my total to hour as of last night. If you’re wondering what else I did besides party, the answer is I totally checked out the Exhibitor Hall and went to lunch with an editor from Cambridge University Press and a friend of mine who might write a book. Yes, we went to a pub.

This morning so far I’ve been to the HCSSiM reunion breakfast, I’m having drinks with Ina Mette, AMS editor, and I’m looking for receptions to crash later (please leave a comment if you know of any good ones!).

Finally, tomorrow I’ll be giving the Gerald and Judith Porter Lecture, which will be great in part because I got to meet Gerald and Judith Porter last night and they’ve very cool. Also, the title of my talk is “Big Data, Inequality, and Democracy”, which are three topics I love talking about. I’m considering inviting the entire audience to the aforementioned pub afterwards.

Besides my alcohol consumption, I have a few comments to make.

First, math nerds are and always will be unbelievably adorable.

Second, unlike many past years when I’ve visited JMM, I am less pessimistic of the future of mathematics. I was quite worried, for many years, that MOOCs and other “flipped classroom” type scenarios would take over calculus teaching. I’m no longer so worried about that, because I simply haven’t heard of it working on a broad scale.

Third, on the other hand, from the little I’ve understood talking to people, the other effect I’ve been worrying about, namely the slow replacement of tenured faculty by adjunct staff, doesn’t seem to be abating. So I will say that the profession of academic mathematics is not a growing or improving field in terms of quality of life for the median Ph.D. grad.

Fourth, I’m kind of surprised how slowly the world of publishing in math has changed, and its flip side, the world of credentialing. It seems like there’s just as much gaming, counting, and other kind of dumb metric stuff going on as ever. I guess it’s because I’m on the outside now looking in, but I’m wondering when people will start seriously contributing to things like the Stack Project – and figure out a way of giving credit to people for those contributions – because it seems like the obvious future of mathematical contributions. Tell me if I’m wrong.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 20, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    1) Smart+weird+kind = adorable.
    2) Tentative conjecture given with much more authority than it deserves: Lecture is good at helping average students pretend to know calculus, and at helping exceptional students actually know calculus. Flipped classroom methods increase knowledge of calculus at the expense of ability to pretend to know calculus when you don’t, and it’s also more resource intensive. So it’s great for above average but not exceptional students at schools with lots of resources. It’s not going to catch on at the average non-flagship state university because they don’t have resources and because they consider getting students to pretend to know calculus already a success.
    3) https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/an-open-letter-to-the-mathematical-community
    4) If we wanted to be a tiny cog in some big project, we would’ve become physicists. I think we tend to underestimate how much many of us are drawn to mathematics because, in mathematics, we mostly each work on our own thing, even if frequently our own thing overlaps with some other people’s own things enough that we decide to work together for a while.

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  2. Kristine Kukich
    January 24, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    https://www.ft.com/content/5039715c-14f9-11e9-a168-d45595ad076d

    Cathy – Found this and thought of you. Hope you’re having fun at the conference.

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