What Is Research?

May 19, 2008

Spring quarter

Filed under: Regular updates — vipulnaik @ 11:20 pm

This is a bit late in the spring quarter to be blogging. Already, seven out of the ten weeks of “education” for the quarter are over, so what’s left is three more weeks of learning, then one final exams week (and we don’t have any exams, so that’s basically free time, except possible one take-home). So how’s this quarter been different from previous quarters.

In some important respects, this quarter has been considerably more relaxed than previous quarters. The main gain this time was that the complex analysis instructor, Professor Wilhelm Schlag, decided not to assign us the regular weekly homework assignments. Instead, he’s providing us class notes with a list of problems with solutions. The idea is that we are supposed to attend class, read the notes at home, and solve the problems he’s given. There was a take-home midterm and there will be a take-home final.

The other two instructors are giving weekly homeworks — Professor Webster gives regular weekly homeworks in differential geometry, but these tend to not be too long. Professor May gives weekly assignments, too, some of them with hard questions, but the first-year office has now achieved maximal skill at doing assignments using the maximum of teamwork and with the minimum of individual strain.

Assignments in the two subjects are due on Wednesday and Friday, which leaves the weekend relatively unfettered.

So it’d seem like I’ve been goofing off, right?

Well, not quite. There’s always a lot of stuff to do in the coursework, even without assignments, though I don’t always do it. Still, it’s there to fill my plate when it gets too empty. But I’m also working on some other things; for instance, I’ve been working on setting up a permanent home for the subject wikis I blogged about earlier (I’ll get back to that in a later blog post). That’s been the main occupation, but I’ve also been doing some general reading and learning that’ll help me in later life. Most pertinently, I’ve decided on my advisor. I plan to work with Professor George Glauberman. He’s given me some material to read (from Daniel Gorenstein’s book) and I’ll be working on that over the coming week.

So how’s spring quarter been different from the preceding quarters?

I remember that during the fall quarter (September – December), I was pretty keyed in to assignments; they were the mainstay, and most of the free corners of time that I’d get, would be devoted to trying to solve assignment problems. This changed a bit towards the end, when some aspects of the subject matter themselves became more interesting, and I prepared some write-ups in topology and algebra (links can be found from my Chicago home page). During the winter quarter, I was less hyped about assignments, though the work continued to be hard. By this time, the first-year office had evolved a more stable strategy of assignment-solving, too, which meant that people solved problems together in optimal-sized groups (the optimal size being four), wrote down the solutions on the chalkboards in the first-year office, enabling easy copying.

During the winter quarter, I also started working a little more on academic stuff that wasn’t directly related to the immediate needs of coursework, which includes the subject wikis in topics like group theory, topology, and commutative algebra. I also started reading on some other things that weren’t directly related to mathematics and academics, and spent some time (though not a very significant amount of time) watching TED videos. I also started going more regularly for daily jogs, something that had suffered during the Fall quarter.

In the spring quarter, I’ve been more relaxed, and have continued the tradition of working hard but not in an assignment-dictated or course-determined fashion. I spent a reasonable amount of time with various parts of the coursework, but I’ve also been thinking of other things. Partly, this could be attributed to fatigue with the assignment system. Let’s hope it doesn’t backfire and I get smoothly through the remaining three weeks of assignments and coursework.

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