The Conference Ends (JMM IV)

This is the final part of my Joint Mathematics Meetings journal. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 is here, and please review Part 3. (Not like there’s any significant continuing story here…)

Saturday, January 9

My alarm got me up at 07:00, and I found that Andrei must have already gotten up and was on his run. I equipped the black Eddie Bauer button-down, jacket, hat, and appropriate undergarments (ha). As I was packing my suitcase, Andrei had returned, and he was not leaving quite yet. Therefore, I was now on my own. I left the room at around 07:45, and took the elevator downstairs, losing the Elevator-Guess-Game again! I then proceeded to the convention center for one more time. I had misread the schedule, such that the Project NExT session wouldn’t start until 08:30 (I thought it started at 08:00). Therefore, I instead went to another talk.

The talk was about a modeling course involving many non-traditional case studies. Because in mathematics, many classes end up being based on only physics and engineering models, but there are plenty of interesting models in social sciences and even humanities. Differential equations, axioms, and more are the backbone of modeling. This can apply, for example, to arms races, voting, or stories from the Bible. I found the examples really interesting, and ideas are always good to take anyway. Interestingly, the Arrow axioms of democracy cannot all be satisfied without becoming a dictatorship.

Afterward, I went to 4C-2 and did the workshop for Project NExT. It was “Surviving the First Few Years After Your PhD.” I started in the discussion of Failures as a Teacher. It is important to find silver linings from failures, because everyone is going to fail at some point. If I join Project NExT, I may have more slack from my peers to be experimental in my course design. Surveys may also be useful to get feedback from the class. In general, reflection and ideas for improvement lessen the decree of failure.

The Money and Questions I Didn’t Know I Should Ask sessions were both more geared toward tenure-track faculty, with ideas about grants, professional development, and more. I took no notes on these sessions since there were worksheets given, but I gained some important insights, including the fact that I am not in dire straits in this situation. This is quite reassuring, and I figure that a “suboptimal” job is more optimal than unemployment at this point. No, I’m not calling my job suboptimal either. I just worded that sentence poorly.

In terms of Reappointment, it may be useful to put student statements in my application and tenure-packet materials. Whenever you get a comment, it should be something to reflect upon. They also mentioned that in a cover letter, you should personalize it and may want to tie the mission statement in if possible. This is especially true for teaching-focused schools. In general, documentation of what worked and what didn’t will get me a long way. It’s going to be an adventure, but this session has given me more confidence.

I accessed The Conference Center from the Skybridge and the Poster Room. Although the weather is very nice today and there’s no need to avoid the outside, I wanted to take the shortcut. It was 10:00, and I was in the room where Ben’s talk would be. First, there was a talk about Hamiltonian water waves. It was based on Euler’s equations and high-frequency instabilities. The goal was to linearize and use the theorems of spectral stability. The individual steps somewhat made sense, but since it has been a long time since I’ve worked with wave equations, I have forgotten a lot about them. Still, it was interesting.

In Ben’s talk, he considered the non-linear Schrödinger (NLS) equation. Instabilities were found with the spectral elements in the right-half-plane. His work was analytical, because the NLS is an integrable system. Using a “separation of variables” ansatz, various types of waves were found on the boundary of the parameter space (given a certain geometry?). Wave profiles (or stability profiles) ended up looking like butterflies or figure-eights. I have to say that I wasn’t clear about it, but then again, I try to get too far into the details and I can’t do that effectively in 20 minutes. So there.

I then returned to the convention center for my last talk of the day. It was Sarah (whom I had mentioned last night), discussing Individualized Modeling Experiences at Harvard. The idea of mathematical modeling is to introduce students to applied math. At Harvard, math students must take a bunch of core math courses, as well as this modeling course. It can be used toward a capstone project. In the class, students have both individual and group projects, and there is very little lecture component. The difficulty for the instructors, though, is the clustered grading especially toward the end of the semester when the students must give their projects. She gave a spun version of the student comments, focusing on the positives.

Joe and Mark were listening to this talk as well, and though Mark headed in another direction, Joe invited me to eat lunch with him. Naturally, I accepted. We went down to the first floor, and “picked up” Esteban by coincidence en route. We chose Goldberg’s Deli, as I got the challah dog, Joe got a turkey sandwich, and Esteban had already eaten. As we ate, we talked about the ideals of teaching versus research, and did a little bit of Noah-soul-searching. I think I still have a lot to discover, but I should consider the location of my possible schools as well as just the opening. No sense being somewhere where I’m more-than-likely to be unhappy. The food was pretty good, but the bread was a little doughy on the hot dog. Oh well!

As I entered the Sheraton for the last event I would attend during this conference, there was nobody coming down the escalator that led to the second floor. Therefore, even though I know that this was wrong, I went up the down just for the heck of it. After using the restroom and entering Metropolitan B, I was the first participant there. We only ended up with 6 people, as opposed to the original 12 that we had registered. Evidently some people already went home. Before we did group activities, we learned some ideas about facilitation for POGIL. Facilitation can consist of eavesdropping, questioning, managing time, quality control, providing closure, and more. The facilitator must be able to respond to different situations.

So, we read a case study of a POGIL classroom where the work and progress of 8 different groups were described. We were asked how we would intervene. Based on the information, my group deemed it necessary to intervene with the “dysfunctional” groups, since role-responsibility is an important learning objective of POGIL classrooms. Everyone should bear in mind their assigned role, such as Manager or Consensus Builder. If groups go at significantly disparate speeds, intervention may be necessary. There’s also a question: To team up weak students with other weak students, or with strong students? Either could help or hurt.

There are various ways to interact with groups, and we saw this through a sequence of video vignettes. Unfortunately, the videos were hard to hear because the audio system was not properly set up in the room. The instructor sometimes facilitated well, and sometimes got hung up on groups. I liked these exercises, as it seemed to apply ideas about POGIL in action. I would have liked to see one of the instructors facilitate us like they did on Thursday with another activity. But it didn’t work that way. We finished the workshop with a short discussion of the method, and follow-up questions.

It was 15:10, so I returned to the Grand Hyatt, and picked up my bag. Casey was running late, and was primed to pick me up at 15:40-ish. However, she missed the hotel and kept going downhill. Somehow, I managed to awkwardly run with my suitcase and messenger bag, without having the bag’s strap detach, catch up to her, and get in the car. Probably not the most prudent way to run a railroad, but it was “fun” (ha) to run. I didn’t knock over any pedestrians either!

I didn’t really feel like tourism because I was a little beat-down from the conference, so we just headed back toward Casey’s place south of downtown. The downtown area is FULL of RAGBRAI hills, and Casey talked about how Seattle drivers don’t know how to drive. She also discussed the major employers in this place, and I somewhat got to see the water, but that would have gone out of the way. We eventually found the freeway, and quickly got off. Her “apartment” appeared in short order.

It’s a house where she has the basement to herself. I took a load off, and we soon decided to go on a walk, as it is sunny with temperatures in the 40s. A perfect winter day! So we walked up a hill, later along an arterial road, and ended up at Jefferson Park. In this park, there was a nice walking trail, with playground equipment, soccer fields, a driving range, and a basketball court at various points along the perimeter. As we walked, we mutually gave our “catch-up” spiels, and then ideas of romance came up, based on her experiences with Brent. Such as being in tall buildings at night, older folks holding hands when walking, or small gifts of thoughtfulness. Casey’s basic definition of a romantic action: something that you can do by yourself which is enhanced by someone else’s presence. Interesting!

We walked up a hill and saw contour lines on the hill, marking feet above sea level (316, 318, 320, 322…) and at the top of the hill, there was a good opportunity for a picture, so we took a Casey/Noah selfie. As we continued walking, the discussion of romance continued with the five Languages of Love. I think that my languages are Quality Time (certainly!) and Physical Touch (strange as that may seem). Unlike other things, the Love Languages need not be a necessary nor a sufficient condition for compatibility. Casey talked about the Languages of family and friends, and it was an interesting discussion. We also marveled at the skies and the mountains that we could not have seen on a cloudier day.



Eventually, we returned to the house, and sat around for a little while before deciding to go for pho. We got back in the car and drove to the International District near downtown. After a bit of driving around, we found a free parking spot. Then, we walked under a freeway bridge, which revealed a bunch of tents and “Hoovervilles.” Evidently there are a lot of homeless people around Seattle, and this must be a hang-out for them. When we got to Green Leaf, we noticed a party of ten walking out. Thankfully for us, our party of 2 got right in.

We ordered a bread-with-chicken item (Mai something), and Casey got a noodle bowl while I got the chicken pho. The sandwich was quite tasty, and I enjoyed the pho, though it was much more filling and large than what I anticipated. While we ate and waited (because the service was quite slow), we talked about Brent, the family, her work, and how my conference went. She also commented on fashion statements and we discussed generational differences. What we bemoan on the new generation is probably similar to how the previous generation bemoaned us when we were young. It’s a sign of the times!


After we finally paid, we returned to the house. The rest of the evening, we watched the end of the Cincinnati/Pittsburgh NFL game. The Steelers led 15-0 after three quarters, but the Bengals then scored 16 unanswered points. The Steelers benefited from two consecutive fifteen-yard fouls against the Bengals, and nailed the go-ahead field goal with only a few seconds remaining in the game. Thus, Cincy snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Too bad!

Casey prepared for bed, as I had the TV on as well as my phone looking at a Bridge Base article about psychic bids. I wasn’t really watching the basketball game very carefully, and was just sort of vegging. By 22:50, I was ready for bed, even though I likely should have crashed sooner. That’s the end of the vacation/trip for all intents and purposes. Tomorrow, I will return to Menomonie, and then on Monday, it’s time for getting back to work!



“Engage!”: 13 days. (it’s a learning event)

NU at Madison: 27 days.

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