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Thoughts on graduate school: an addendum May 18, 2009

Posted by Ben Webster in math life.

Of course, this process could go on endlessly, but I think there was an important point that Noah didn’t emphasize enough: talk to people.

There are a few categories of talking that deserve special attention.

  • You should make a point of going to conferences whenever possible (it can be extremely easy to get travel money for conferences as a grad student), even if they’re not exactly your field.  If you have something to speak about, and can get a speaking spot, even better.  If you’re wondering how one goes to conferences, there’s a simple algorithm. 
    1. read the AMS math calendar
    2. request funding for any ones that sound interesting
    3. rinse and repeat.
  • You should do whatever you can, non-annoyingly, to cultivate relationships with mathematicians, especially ones who are older.  They can give you valuable advice, serve as good references, and can be good collaborators.

I feel like it can’t be emphasized enough: mathematics is a social activity.  You’ll never learn it properly from books and papers, and you can’t rely on your advisor to tell you all the things you need to know.  Rather, you have to talk to the people around you, and make sure you have people around you to talk to.

Of course, different levels of talking are good for different people.  I’m a pretty sociable guy, and that shows in my mathematical work (it’s been almost 3 years since I’ve written a solo paper and don’t have any on the horizon), but even if you don’t want to collaborate with people, you really do need to talk to them about math.

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1. Mark Meckes - May 19, 2009

While the AMS math calendar is a good place to start finding out about conferences, students should also be warned it’s far from complete, and its coverage varies a lot from one field to another. Some fields have active (or not-so-active) mailing lists; you should also find out if your field and adjacent fields have them, and get on them. (All of this falls under the heading of things you can’t necessarily rely on your advisor to tell you.)

2. Peter McNamara - May 19, 2009

This topic of mailing lists is one that is presumably relevant to a number of readers of this blog. So I will ask, is there any reasonably complete list of such mailing lists out there somewhere on the internet? (And if not, then we should probably try to create one, for some appropriate definition of ‘we’.)

3. Joel Kamnitzer - May 20, 2009

A previous post (on “Secret listservs”) discussed exactly this topic.

(maybe some more computer capable member of this blog can be in a link)

4. Anonymous - May 20, 2009
5. Ben Webster - May 20, 2009
6. Advice for the (Would-Be) Graduate Students « Successful Researcher - May 22, 2009

[…] Update 2: excellent advice for the graduate students in math is available at the Secret Blogging Seminar, here and here. […]

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