Saturday, August 1, 2015

Math, Michigan, yeeee.

Bonjour mes amis!

It’s been great hearing about others’ summers so far on this bloj!  The posts [in addition to Daniela’s reminders to post :)] have inspired me to chronicle some of my own adventures/experiences this summer.  (Especially since I’ve not committed to keeping my journal updated, it makes sense to record some of this stuff somewhere.)

Greetings from rural southeastern Michigan! (Taken from my parents' backyard.)

Anyhow, I’ve been living in Ann Arbor, MI (henceforth abbreviated A2) doing a math REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) at the University of Michigan (henceforth UofM).  An REU can be thought of as a somewhat more structured UROP during the summer; a number of colleges receive funding from NSF to give a stipend to undergraduates who are mentored by professors for about 10 weeks.  I’ve been working with a group of about 9 undergrads under Professor Danny Neftin, who is a postdoc from Israel and is very nice, and Professor Mike Zieve, who is both a very good mathematician and…well…quite a character!  (In fact, I think it’s more or less the norm to have some great characters when working with math people, and that’s definitely been exemplified in the REU group.)  It’s great fun!
REU Group Meeting in the Undergrad Math Common Room

We’ve been working on the Hurwitz problem, which is, at it’s core, both an algebraic geometry problem and a topology problem.  We’ve classified a number of “putative ramification types,” giving reasons for why they’re not realized as the actual ramification type for some branched cover.  (For further explanation, you can read the report I’m working on or the paper we're going to publish.)  It’s been an interesting problem, and it’s a different sort of thing from what is normally done in REUs because the problem and its methods aren’t really contrived for undergraduates to be able to solve:  we’re simply working on what Prof. Zieve has been working on.  It’s given me a taste for what math research is like, which has both inspired a greater interest in it as well as given me some things to try to improve upon such as breadth of math knowledge, problem solving ability, and comfort “exploring” a mathematical situation.  Thus, although my personal results are fairly trivial, I’m happy that I’ve gained so much from the experience.
The math department has a piano and a ping pong table,
both of which are in frequent use.

In addition to research, the Zieve REU group has had a few forays into the world outside of East Hall (which houses the UofM Math Department).  First, we went on a picnic to a park a few miles away from downtown A2, which was awesome.

Picnic at Gallup Park

At the group meeting a few days before the picnic was planned in more detail, Professor Zieve simply said, “I was told we should go do something as a group.  I have a grill, charcoal, and an inflatable kayak, so...we should do something.”  We kayaked on the inflatable kayak and got a frisbee lesson from Professor Zieve (who is in the the pink shirt in the photo) and his Ph.D. student, Trevor (on the left side of the photo, holding a paddle).  We also played some soccer, which was awesome; I played all through high school and have been missing it lately.

More recently, Professor Zieve treated us to dinner at a Chinese buffet, which sounds like it might be kind of disastrous, especially considering almost half of our group members are from China.  However, it turned out to be the best Chinese buffet I’d ever been to, and the Chinese students didn’t care–it was free food in mass quantities after all, and we're college students.

A guy in my REU group, Carsten,
wearing one of the free ninja outfits.
Earlier this week, we went to a Korean BBQ restaurant, which I had been to a couple times before (when I was in high school).  It was pleasant, but the best part was that afterwards, we went to Ninja Training at a nearby martial arts place.  We got a free lesson with free “ninja uniforms,” and Professor Zieve was absolutely giddy about the whole ordeal.  We’re planning to wear our uniforms during the final presentation for the rest of the UofM math REU students after we’ve completed our last free lesson, at which point we'll get our white belts.

Overall, I’ve had a lot of fun with the other people in my REU group–from teaching some of them to cook to listening to long upperclassman rants about grad school applications to becoming ninjas.

As for my living situation, my apartment building has sketchy elevators, but I really like my suite,
and it’s kind of fun being on the 18th floor of one of the tallest buildings in A2.  Also, because I have an extra room (no one else subleased the second bedroom), I sometimes have guests like Kelly, James, and Kelly’s mom!  They were road tripping from Pennsylvania to Colorado/California, so they stopped by, spent the night, and took me to breakfast in the morning.  It was so cool!

I really hope they replace these soon.

Kelly, James, and Kelly's mom on the UofM Diag!

Since my hometown is a 45 minute drive away from A2, I’ve also been able to see some of my best friends from high school to watch movies, have bonfires, go for very long walks through farmland on dirt roads, etc.  My parents come up to take me out to dinner from time to time, which has given me a feel for what life would have been like had I gone with my original plan and only applied to UofM for college.
Five-ish miles from my (parents') house, taken when I was walking around with
my friend Caleb.

My friend Caleb in my apartment.  I think maybe he's shooting up dat insulin
(he has type 1 diabetes)

Plus, I’ve gotten to explore the beautiful UofM campus.  To me, it’s the perfect combination of basically-city and not-exactly-city (I hesitate to say urban, rural, or even suburban for various reasons).  Ann Arbor is what I still consider a decent sized city although many people would call it small (and they have a point…I live in one of the tallest buildings in the city, and it only has 19 regular-height [as opposed to super tall ones like in the Green Building] floors [well, actually 18 since they skip the 13th floor]), but the UofM Central Campus (where the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is) lies smack in downtown A2, so I can simply walk out of the math department or the undergraduate library (the UGLY) doors to grab lunch or dinner at decent restaurants.  Central Campus, especially the heart of it--the Diag, seen in the photo of Kelly, et al.--is home to the fattest, laziest squirrels I’ve ever heard of.  UofM North Campus (where the College of Engineering and the School of Music are), however, is a 15 minute bus ride away and feels like a totally different college.  The buildings are beautiful, and North Campus also has lots of nice patches of woods around.  There are literally short hiking trails that connect some parts of the campus and branch out into the woods; I see deer around there constantly and a wild turkey occasionally.  The spread-out nature of UofM’s campus is perfect for “exploration running,” which is my favorite kind.  I basically just run in one direction until nothing looks familiar and I’m slightly lost before I try to find my way back.  (Sorry I don’t have photos from my runs; perhaps I should invest in an arm band to carry my phone with me for that purpose.)
View over the Law Quad.  Notice the big faraway M that marks the Michigan
football stadium.  Taken from a window of the Grad Library.

Because of all these experiences, I’ve been very grateful to be in a different city and at a different university for the summer.  Visiting Brown with Daniela and Jelise in the early spring hinted at the idea that seeing other colleges can expand one’s perspective on college life, but this has been really marvelous.  I now have some math goals set for this year, some changes I want to make to my life at MIT, and plenty of new perspectives on careers in math.  I hope everyone is having great summers!  Can’t wait to see you guys again soon!
A little Ann Arbor-Cambridge connection: Trader Joe’s!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you have an awesome research group. Glad it's been a good summer, and thanks again for hosting us!