One month gone

I had this grand plan that I would begin my days by leisurely blogging. Ha.

The semester is flying by! I am barely on top of the things I absolutely need to do everyday, and even then, I occasionally find myself with half a lecture prepared and twenty minutes to finish the other half. Fortunately, I work well under pressure. Unfortunately, I don’t do anything else well under pressure.

My job here is intense; the students are smart, motivated, committed, and genuinely kind and thoughtful. I’m used to having to exert great force to get students to come to office hours, visit a tutor, or take advantage of opportunities to help them learn. Here, many students don’t even need my intervention. Those that I have nudged to seek a little help have been willing and thorough. I really, really love this atmosphere!

The most difficult part of the job right now is figuring out how long things will take and then scheduling enough time. This weekend, for example, I would like to get my portion of midterm grading done. I also have a stack of writing assignments from my writing intensive linear algebra class to finish grading (we teach proof writing alongside linear algebra).

Next weekend, I’m going to the AMS sectional meeting in Louisville; I have to write that talk, and I should probably get my lectures for the beginning of the week prepared, too.

I’ve been managing to do some fun stuff, too. There’s a pub trivia night on Tuesdays here at the Little Pub on campus. I’ve joined a faculty team (“No Extra Credit”) and we’re doing pretty well. I go to the climbing wall a few times a week, which is really good for my mental health. Tonight I’m going to a jazz performance, and tomorrow there’s a “Fallcoming” picnic for the math department where majors, faculty, and alumni get together.

Today a student asked me to mentor his senior project.

I’m slowly starting to feel like I fit in here.

It was awful, but I’m pretty sure this is a dream.

I had my first pre-semester stress dream. I was teaching my first day of calc 1, and I had this really cool activity planned that would get students out of their seats and talking to one another, but it totally flopped. Not only that, but I couldn’t get the document projector to display the syllabus (which I had to borrow from a prepared student because I didn’t even have a copy of the syllabus), I barely managed to get the students to pay attention, and I forgot to assign the first homework assignment.

I went back to my office, and someone came by and asked how my first day went.

“Well, it was awful. But that’s okay. I’m pretty sure this is a dream. I’m supposed to teach Linear Algebra in an hour and I don’t even have the book. Also, this isn’t my office.” (It wasn’t. My dream office was in a hard-to-find turret attached to the math building. I shared this office with several of my coauthors and former office mates and a person-sized bat.)

There’s something to be said for being a mathematician, even while sleeping. I deduced the heck out of that one. Usually there a few little snags in the dream-logic that clue me in, even in sleep mode. (Take that, smart phone. There’s something you can’t do!)

Do you have stress dreams, and are you able to rationalize your way to the understanding that you’re in a dream?

Algebra: what is it good for? 1

You only get to say “absolutely nothing” if you sing it.

Today I’m headed to Hampshire College to talk about ideals, varieties, and their applications.  If you were lucky enough to sit through my job talk, you already know (or at least already dozed through) what I’ll talk about.  Starting with a 4 by 4 sudoku puzzle, I’ll define ideals and varieties and explain how they’re useful for solving problems (like… a 4 by 4 sudoku puzzle).

Now, I’m a commutative algebraist, so I love polynomials almost as much as life itself.  The first question you might have is, “What the hell do polynomials have to do with sudoku?” It turns out that you can work in a polynomial ring with 16 variables (or 81 variables for the 9 by 9 case) and model the “game space” for all legitimate game boards.  Have a specific board in mind?  Then add in a few more polynomials that describe the given clues.  This isn’t going to give you a local ring, but that’s okay.  Using primary decomposition, you can find the primary decomposition of your game board ideal, and this will tell you about the number of solutions (whether there are any at all, whether there is exactly one, or whether there are many).

It’s really cool stuff.  I admit that the talk gets pretty hand-wavy right around primary decomposition (analogy to factoring prime numbers), but I think it’s pretty compelling.

Anyway, my friend and former officemate Amanda Croll and I are going to work on writing up a nice, rigorous version of the paragraphs above.  I think it would make a nice piece for an undergraduate-friendly journal along the lines of Math Horizons.

But I digress a little.  One of the exciting trends in algebra right now is that, hey, lots of statistical models are actually polynomial models.  These models answer questions in evolutionary genetics, economics, quantum physics, and other cool areas.  Why use all the calculus machinery when you have lovely, classical commutative algebra and algebraic geometry at your fingertips?

A big thanks to Alex Kunin for inviting me out to Hampshire College’s HCSSiM program.  I’m so excited to talk about algebra! To a captive audience!



Although I’m a linux girl at heart, and will certainly run Ubuntu on my laptop, I requested a mac here at Hamilton because (a) they (reasonably!) don’t support linux for faculty and (b) that means that to run Macaulay2 and other commalg software, I needed a mac.  Having once tried to get M2 running on a windows machine….

Anyway, my office is suh-weet!  I’ll take pictures once I have some of my stuff in here (read: my books!).

Packing it all up and hitting the road 1

Yesterday, my friends helped pack up my “relocube” (review of the abf freight upack service to follow…) for my impending move. Luckily, my friends are masters of time and space, and the packing went quickly. Of course, I’ve been on crutches following the knee injury (bursitis, no infection; prognosis is pretty good once I find time to rest my leg!). So I wasn’t really able to do much except worry, nag, and totter around in the way of everyone. The day ended with a trip to The Mill to visit Tall Courtney (even though I blame her for my knee injury…just kidding!) and a trip to Ivanna Cone with Mom and Joan.

Today I cleaned out my gym locker, turned in my keys for the UNL math building, said goodbye to the amazing office staff and some of my fellow Coffee House regulars.  My moving help is coming by for pizza in half an hour, and I’ll bat my eyelashes and see if they’ll put the last few things in my car for me. Then a few last goodbyes, and tomorrow morning we hit the road bright and early (but first stop, coffee, duh).

Emotions are running high. I’m so excited for my new job, and I can’t wait to get to know my new colleagues, students, and neighbors. But I’m going to really miss my friends here in Lincoln. And although the math world is quite small and I’ll see my math pals around the math scene, it’ll be harder to see my Lincoln friends without inventing reasons to come back (or convincing them to come hang out and go camping in the Adirondacks and climbing at the Gunks…). Also, I’m gonna call out the entire Northeast and make the bold claim that there is no coffee of great quality within a half hour radius (please prove me wrong!) of my new home or my parents’ home. I need some recommendations for a home espresso set up. Also, I’ll be taking applications for live-in barista-butlers…

Thanks for the moving help is owed to (in order of arrival): my Mo mom, Gail; Ben; Marilyn and Gregg; Josh; Anisah; Lauren; Katie and Nathan; Beca; Colin; Tony; and Eric, who came just in time to watch the container get locked up.  Thanks to Joan for the help with laundry! And thanks for everyone who offered moral support. I needed it!



But remember, I’ll be back in August for graduation.