Theatre People Learning About Math

Molly Logue, a junior majoring in Mathematics sent us a very well-worded and illuminating insight into the workings of academic mathematicians. It was in response to some questions from the cast. Here are her answers.

  • Throughout the show, there is a theme that mathematicians always do their best work at a very young age. (before 25) “After that you might as well teach high school.” Is this an exaggeration of something that is a factor in the academic community? Is it fiction? Is it absolutely reality? Do people have anxiety about burning out?
  • A: This is not really true from what I’ve seen. There are mathematicians of all ages doing cutting-edge math research. However, some of the best mathematicians are the geniuses that get their PhDs at a young age and do amazing research. At least at U of M, I haven’t found that there is really a fear of burning out at all. Many of my professors who are in their forties or fifties are still publishing research papers. On the flip side of that, I’ve read a lot of research papers by undergraduates and done research of my own that has influenced the mathematical community in some way.
  • How soon from the path of BA to PhD do people specialize in a particular mathematical branch?
  • It depends on the school. At U of M, a lot of people are already starting to specialize as early as Junior or Senior year. Most people figure it out within their first two years of grad school. Students at prestigious grad schools usual have a general idea of what area they want to specialize in before they get to grad school. The majority of my classmates in the Honors Math program already have an idea of what they want to study. But a lot of people change their minds over the course of getting a PhD
  • What does a PhD maths thesis look like? How long is it? What is it about?
  • A PhD thesis is on a very particular, specific piece of original research within a field of mathematics. They usually are organized in chapters with an introduction, conclusion, and abstract with appendices at the end. I’ve read a bunch of them and they tend to be around 70-100 pages. An advisor (your mathematical “father” or “mother”) helps the PhD candidate pick a problem and oversees the research.
  • What’s your favourite branch? What’s your favourite type of professor?
  • I like all kinds of algebra, which is a super broad category. More specifically, I like algebraic number theory, representation theory, and algebraic geometry. My favorite professors have been my algebra professors. It is a beautiful subject, but a bad professor could totally ruin it.
  • Is it normal to name-drop mathematicians? Is there a celebrity culture or not?
  • Definitely. Of course, there are the famous dead mathematicians: Euclid, Gauss, Riemann, etc… But there are tons of mathematicians living now who are famous. Several of my classmates were totally excited because they got to meet Mike Artin, a famous algebraist at MIT. There are definitely people who are well known in the math community. Even at U of M certain professors are famous for doing amazing research.

Thank you Molly!

Proof posters near the Engineering Arch.

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