A Mathematical Conference for the apprentice

Mathematics conferences are unique in many ways, and even within mathematics they will differ between research areas. This article is designed to help you attend your first several math meetings. If you start attending math conferences early in your mathematical career, and attend them on a regular basis, you will begin to build a network of colleagues in your research area. This network can have a profound influence on your entire mathematical career. Attending conferences will also help you broadcast your research to other mathematicians in your area of specialty and learn new mathematics. In turn, you will be establishing yourself as an active member of your research community.

Like professional conferences in other disciplines and professions, math conferences serve to bring together mathematicians who are all interested in a common topic. Contrary to popular belief, mathematicians are not solitary workers. In fact, we are very social and rely on collaborations, both formal and informal, to make progress in our respective fields. For this reason, mathematicians gather on a regular basis across the world to present new mathematical ideas, to discuss research themes and open questions, and to interact with colleagues who work at different institutions. You do not necessarily need to have a thesis advisor or a dissertation topic in order to attend a research conference. In fact, there are no prerequisites for attending most math conferences. Once you have decided on an area of interest, you can, and should, start searching for meetings that suit you.

The 18th International Mathematical Conference 2013 will take place in Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB), Dhaka, Bangladesh from 20 December (Friday) to 22 December (Sunday) 2013, is jointly organized by Bangladesh Mathematical Society (BMS) and Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB). Bangladesh Mathematical Society (BMS)(Bangladesh Ganit Samity), the sole professional forum of the mathematicians of Bangladesh founded in 1972 . The prime goal of Bangladesh Mathematical Society (BMS) is to promote mathematics education in Bangladesh at all levels from school to university. Another goal of BMS is to enhance research work in pure and applied mathematics as well as other mathematical sciences. BMS organizes various seminars on mathematics teaching and mathematics education occasionally. Besides, BMS organizes International Conferences in every two years at different universities of Bangladesh. The First BMS Mathematics Conference was held in Dhaka University in 1974, the Second in Dhaka University (1980), the Third in the Chittagong University (1981), the Fourth in Rajshahi University (1985), and the latest was Jahangirnagar University  (2011). The objective of the conference is to provide a forum for mathematics researchers from Bangladesh to foster links and collaboration among themselves and with mathematicians from other parts of the world through the discussion of issues, exchange of ideas and the presentation of research findings.

A typical workshop for graduate students and recent Ph.D. is run by several senior researchers and includes talks targeted toward beginners in the field. There will usually be a series of talks on one subject, and in addition there may be some new results or open questions presented. Attending workshops aimed at junior researchers as a graduate student is beneficial on many levels. First and foremost, since the conference is aimed at beginners in the field, you should understand more of the talks. Workshops can supplement what you have learned in your graduate courses and can also introduce you to new research areas. Another benefit of attending workshops is that you will meet other graduate students in your area of specialty. These students will be your colleagues for many years to come, and some will also become coauthors or friends. For this reason, the environment of a workshop is often very conducive to interacting socially with other participants. The application to give a contributed talk is usually not competitive; applying means submitting a title and abstract and graduate students are always encouraged to apply. Keep in mind that, although it may seem intimidating to give a talk at a conference attended by experts in your field, presenting your work is a vital part of being a mathematician, and it is easiest to begin practicing as a graduate student.

Now that you’ve arrived at the conference, take a look at the schedule if you have not already seen it posted online. If there are parallel sessions (meaning that two or more talks take place at the same time in different locations), mark the talks that you want to see based on the research you did before the conference. Even if there is only one session of talks occurring, put a star next to the talks that you don’t want to miss. It is no secret that mathematicians skip talks, and no one will be taking attendance. Nevertheless, as a graduate student your goal is to network with the participants, so you want to be presented as much as possible. As a young researcher you will probably spend most of your time at conferences attending talks. As a more senior researcher, however, you may find it more beneficial to spend less time at talks and more time interacting with other mathematicians. Nonetheless, conference talks are always a touchstone for generating conversation among participants.

If you are giving a contributed talk, make sure that you have prepared well for your presentation. Make sure to have the proper technology (e.g., lap-top, flash drive, or transparencies) and a backup. It is always a good idea to email the organizers before you travel to confirm what will be available in the lecture room. Stay within your allotted time and make sure to thank the organizers for the opportunity to speak. Pay attention to who is in your audience, and introduce yourself to these participants either right after your talk or during another break in the conference. Try to engage these people in a discussion about your talk. You might want to ask them if they had any questions, or you can continue where your presentation left off by discussing what research questions you will be exploring next. Even though giving a talk can be nerve wracking, having a large audience or several questions at the end of your talk is a good thing. When participants ask questions, it means that they find your research interesting. If you get a question that you cannot answer, write down the question and who asked it, and try to find an answer when you get home.

Research talks are the focal point of most mathematical conferences. However, as a participant you should consider the time in between and after talks as equally important components of the conference. Mathematicians have their own unique culture, and many of their cultural rituals happen outside of talks. All conferences have scheduled tea breaks during the morning and afternoon. This break of twenty–thirty minutes is a time set aside for informal discussions and caffeine consumption. Mathematicians will often talk about the results presented in the preceding sessions. As much as possible, integrate yourself into these discussions. At tea time, join a group and introduce yourself. Be assertive and eager to talk about yourself and your research. When others are talking, listen carefully to what is being discussed. Try to get a sense of what they deem important. For instance, did they find one talk particularly interesting? Or did they find one result very surprising? As a graduate student it is often impossible to see the big picture of your research area. Partaking in these informal discussions may help you better understand the history and development of your research area, as well as point you in the direction of what problems are interesting to active mathematicians. Another opportunity for informal interaction with conference participants occurs in the evenings after the talks have finished and there may be an organized banquet or party.

In summary, as a graduate student your goals at a research conference are to meet as many mathematicians in your area as you can and to promote your own research. Remain upbeat and enthusiastic about your research and take every opportunity available to discuss your mathematical results and activities. The mathematicians you meet at conferences will have a huge impact on your mathematical career. These men and women may, in the near future, write you a recommendation letter for a job or be a postdoctoral mentor. In the longer term, these colleagues could potentially write a paper with you, support your job application to their institution, rate your grant application, peer review one of your research papers for a journal, or write a letter for promotion and tenure. In summary, your entire career will be shaped by the opinion of mathematicians in your research area. There is no benefit to “sucking up” to these individuals, but you should make every effort to meet mathematicians in your specialty and share your research with them. These encounters may seem inconsequential, but they can have a huge impact on the entire span of your mathematical career.

K.M Ariful Kabir

Lecturer of Mathematics

Department of Physical Sciences

Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB)

Ariful Kabir
Author: Ariful Kabir

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