Talks, Interviews, and Networking (JMM I)

Last Sunday, I managed to transcribe my notes from the four days of the Joint Mathematics Meetings into full paragraphs online. As is my custom for long trips, I will share these journals one by one over the next few posts.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My day began at 06:50 for the official part, but I was jarred a little bit from my sleep earlier, since Andrei got up earlier in order to go on a run. He was not in the room when I woke up, but oh well! To my right, I could see the tall buildings around the Grand Hyatt, and the still-dark skies. Wow, it’s just like Lincoln with not getting light early in the winter! I walked to the bathroom, and donned my suit jacket, suit pants, and a purple button-down shirt. Without donning a tie, I then had a few cookies and chocolates from the bag, before then going downstairs via the elevator, and guessing incorrectly which door would open. Oh-for-one!

In the lobby, I grabbed an apple from the check-in desk, and inquired about places to go for breakfast nearby. Their suggestion: Ruth’s Chris Steak House attached to the hotel. No thanks–I’d rather not spend THAT much for breakfast! So, I instead walked around the block to enter the Washington State Convention Center. My wool overcoat was plenty sufficient to keep me warm. On the first floor, there was a small coffee/bakery place, at which I got a blueberry scone. It tasted good, but was three dollars and fifty cents. I guess I should say: Welcome to conventions and big cities on the West Coast!


Big placards reading “Welcome Mathematicians!” appeared at the entrance to the convention center. A long hallway ascended three times via escalators, from the first floor with the nice fountain, to the second and third floors with meeting rooms and an overlook, and the fourth floor with a large open area and a currently-blocked-off atrium. (They wouldn’t open for another few minutes.) During the downtime, I explored the rest of the fourth floor, flashing my credential to get past an area that led to the Skybridge. Nothing was happening there yet.

Returning to the area outside the Atrium, the doors opened, and there was a “mad dash” (not really) toward the registration area, including the AMS Abstracts and the free meeting tote bags. Then, after finding that my first desired talk was in a different building (The Conference Center on the catty-corner), I descended the three escalators to ground level, took the two crosswalks on the electric-line lined Pike Street, and entered The Conference Center.


Inside this Conference Center, the pillars denoted the names of the level: Yakima was 1, Chelan was 2, and Tahoma was 3. Level 0 was not accessible by the lobby escalators, but rather I proceeded past and then saw the blue “SKAGIT” leading to Level 0. Such fun names of the storeys! Down in this Skagit level, I entered Room 1, and listened to a talk on quantum weak values. For this journal, I will give a brief summary of my thoughts from each talk, but may not have much with some of the technical talks. Here, the idea was to use the set of two-by-two Hermitian matrices, also known as qubit quantum ensembles. This talk included a lot of notation I had never used before, so I was lost. אלה חיים (c’est la vie)!

I remained in The Conference Center, ascending from Skagit to Yakima to Chelan, and entered Room 2. The talk was from a Japanese high school teacher about “Making Problem.” In it, she described her philosophy of student-generated problems in math classes, to be done after the basic concept has been mastered. She found that the formulation was harder than the solution for her students, and some of the problems had a Brockmann-like creativity to them. She also gave information about math circles. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time making sense of her use of English.

From one talk to another, in a different building! I reversed my path back to the Washington State Convention Center, and then went up one escalator, landing in Room 212 for a talk about bike routes as a motivation for a graph theory problem. More specifically, NED circuits were considered. Although I don’t have a lot of background in graph theory or combinatorics, it actually seems quite interesting, and may be a hobbyistic or undergrad research area that I could do with my future students! We shall see!

Then, I ascended to Level 4, and saw Chris in conversation with a few other professors, including Mike from Towson. We chatted a bit about the job search, and he gave me some recommendations. If I am looking for a postdoc, I may want to consider North Carolina State. I can also look at the Department of Defense or the DHS. So many considerations, but I should keep my options open.

After leaving that circle, I saw Jay and Katie. In our conversation, my possible lack of confidence with my current situation was unmasked. The key for the job interview process, just as Mom and Dad have said time and time again, is to SPIN, SPIN, SPIN your positives, and even spin the negatives as learning experiences! I can’t block myself, as difficult as it is to avoid. Come on Noah, you can DO THIS!

I did some more exploration of the area since there weren’t other talks at that point in which I was interested. In the Networking Center along the Skybridge, I got to see a slight view of the ocean (or is it Puget Sound?) on the left, and tall hills to the right. The skybridge showed a cylindrical shape, and on the left (south) side, I saw Tim and we had a brief discussion. He strongly recommended that I apply for Project NExT, given that I aspire to go into teaching-academia.


Next stop: Room 2A. From the networking center, I took a right after doubling back, and went down two escalators to end up in a side area of the convention center. The talk was “Anxiety and Personality Traits of Students in Developmental Math.” His definition of Developmental Math is basically remedial courses that bring students up to College Algebra (i.e. MATH-120 at Stout). The course was self-paced and mastery-based, and he made it a psychology nonexperiment by using the Anxiety Scale AMARS. His conclusion: Anxiety may not necessarily hurt the students’ progress, learning, or grades.

I remained in the room for one more talk before the talks ended for the morning. It was “Students as Partners in Curricular Design,” and given from Roosevelt University faculty. Their Calculus II class is project-based, and undergraduate research is important there. The themes of students’ work was the gain of soft skills, mathematical maturity, and learning how to give and take feedback. This approach led to good student engagement, and led to real applications often working with data. Maybe it will plant the seeds for some ideas later. That’s why I took notes, besides for this journal!

I returned to the lobby area of the fourth floor, trying to meet some new people. I also ran into Laura Stout, and in doing that, lost a group from LSU. That’s fine–I’ll find another group, and I did! Amber and Rishitha from Butler, and Myron and Dennis (though I forgot their affiliations). After some random conversation, we all agreed to leave the convention center and find lunch somewhere, at about noon. We headed downhill after exiting, and I also ran into Kaitlin and Yuxin. [I’m guessing that my readers right now are looking for a croquet mallet to bonk me over the head with, given all the names I am introducing. Ha!] Good to see them, and I’ll see them on Friday night or sooner for an ESAM reunion!

We continued walking downhill past the Sheraton, and noticed hanging placards for Sushi Kudasai, Jimmy John’s, Taqueria (???), and TCBY. But we saw no entrance! The placards were poorly placed, but we entered the American Eagle on the corner of the building, and were told to continue up the block and there would be an entrance. There we go! We went up an escalator and found the food court. Myron and I got sushi, while the others got Mexican. After a somewhat long wait for the Mexican, we found a small round table. I’ll skip the lunch conversations, but it was enjoyable to get some social contact in. I also registered Amber’s phone number, as there might be board games tonight! It may also provide a professional contact later. It was 13:30 when we returned to the convention center.

Back to the registration area! Entering the far exhibit hall, there were a bunch of exhibits from various book publishers and mathematical organizations. I picked up free pens, notepads, and candy, among other items. At the MAA booth, I also picked up the snaky sudoku with errata on the directions (and maybe errata on the numbers given). But I didn’t spend that much more time, since I had an important appointment in the exhibit hall adjacent.

That appointment: interviews with [redacted] and with [redacted]. [Remainder of paragraph about my interview experience has been redacted for public view.]

I returned to the exhibit hall to look at more exhibits, and found the WeBWorK booth. There appear to be some new features versus what I saw even three weeks ago at Stout, but I found out that there are multiple versions that are in use. That is interesting to me, and I hope that some of the improvements find their way to the Stout system. I was also recommended to seek out certain problems more than others… the ones that use “MathObjects.”

Then, I headed back to Room 2A for a back-to-back set of MAA talks. The first one had an instructor running an experiment in putting a “bombshell” problem (i.e. problem that many people did poorly on. The “bombshell” is my term, not theirs) from Exam 1 onto Exam 2, one from Exam 2 onto Exam 3, etc. About two thirds of the students improved on those problems, and the average improvement was ten percent. So maybe students DO learn from their mistakes. In the second talk, there was a report of a flipped College Algebra class. This instructor reported better test scores, but worse course evaluations (with comments such as “Seems like a lazy way to ‘teach’”). I don’t want to try a flipped classroom yet, because at this early stage in my career, I find that student evaluations could be important. I’d like to get the basics down first!

After this talk, I had 20 minutes before the next talk that I wanted to hear. I noticed a voicemail on my phone, and it was from eBits. Unfortunately, the call was bad news. My hard drive had experienced a catastrophic failure yesterday, so they will have to replace the hard drive as well as the operating system. DAMN! I have no choice in the matter, but that is how it will go. The good news is that I had my presentation and source code on a jump drive, or else I would have been REALLY SCREWED.

For the last talk of the day, I went to Jay’s talk about graph builds. It orders the edges of a graph and “builds them up.” The question asks if we can prove how many builds result in connected graphs, and I appreciated the graphical consideration of the talk. It uses Catalan numbers and quite basic geometry, actually! I was able to follow it for the most part, and it’s a fun problem! Again, I wasn’t sure about all of the terminology, but at least my mathematical maturity is leaps and bounds above what it was the last time I was at the JMM (January 2009) or where I was during my first year at Northwestern!

Whew, it’s 17:00 and I’m beat from talks. Therefore, I returned to the Grand Hyatt, where Matt and Andrei were waiting. We were going to go shortly to dinner. Meeting up with Laura and Andy, we went northbound and looked for a place to eat. After crossing the bridge overlooking the Interstate, we shortly thereafter found Machiavelli, an Italian restaurant. A strong cheese smell emanated inside, and it would have been an hour-long wait. Therefore, we didn’t wait (YAY!) and looked for another place.

Continuing down that same street, we found Terra Plata, but after looking at the menu, deemed it to be too-fancy food (and the prices were also really high). I’m not a foodie in that sense! Across the way, we found Serious pie., and decided to give it a go.

Sitting at the bar, we also ordered pizzas–I got a simple pizza similar to what I get at Lucette. We chatted about various topics, but I lost track of everything that was mentioned, both at the bar and at dinner. Clearly, the conversations were not the most important part of the trip, so I won’t reconstruct them either. The pizza tasted good, and I’m glad I asked for light cheese. As is quasi-customary for me, I requested the most dangerous drink in the place: dihydrogen monoxide! I’m a wild man and DHMO hasn’t killed me yet!

We all walked back to the hotel around 19:15, and I got onto Andrei’s computer after having installed LyX last night. It did not take me long to cull my presentation from Thesis Defense to Ten-Minute Talk, but I’ll want to rehearse it before too long. Not tonight, though. I had received a text message from Amber inviting me to play board games with her and some other people in the Sheraton Lobby, and that sounds like a lot of fun! So away we go!

Myron, Dennis, and ??? were also there after a few minutes. We decided on 7 Wonders, but had to explain the rules to Myron and Amber. I came in second place in the first game after having a lot of Military and a fair number of blue cards and Wonder points. In game 2, I sneaked up with a lot of Science cards, but it was too-little-too-late and I came in fourth of five. It was still a lot of fun, but we called it a night at 22:00. I walked back to the Grand Hyatt, while averting the gaze of transients (sorry), and when I returned, I brushed my teeth and got ready to sleep. But first, I completed the sudoku puzzle. It was a fun challenge!



Second Semester: 6 days.

NU at Madison: 38 days.

blog signature


Let's have a conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s