Six Macalester students presented at a national mathematics meeting that brings together more than 7,000 mathematicians from across the country.
The following is excerpted from an article delMas wrote for the April 2012 issue of Math Horizons, a magazine published by the Mathematical Association of America for math undergraduates.
As the plane sailed dangerously close to the waters that border Boston, I felt a strange mixture of excitement and terror at the thought of the mathematics conference that awaited me when we landed. The 2012 Joint Mathematics Meetings would be my first experience at a professional conference and I had no idea what to expect. The reality was more exciting and exhausting than I could have imagined.
I attended the meetings with a Mac delegation of six students and six faculty members. Five of the students participated in the Undergraduate Research Poster Session and one student gave a talk. Participating students created posters that described their research projects in a complete yet concise manner. I was nervous about what people might ask me about my project, but found that most people were genuinely interested in my work and weren’t there to stump me. My project is in the area of algebraic combinatorics and focuses on describing a centralizer algebra. I had fantastic conversations with the specialists who came by my poster—I felt like we really understood each other.
I spent most of my time attending as many talks and soaking up as much math as I could. One of my favorite sessions was a “debate” on the merits of combinatorial counting proofs versus bijective proofs called “Clever Counting and Beautiful Bijections.”
On the conference’s first night I went to an undergraduate reception where we talked about math a little but mostly chatted about our lives, as students always do.
At a reception hosted by the Association for Women in Mathematics I met some graduate students. Because I plan to attend grad school it was good to hear the ups and downs of it straight from the students themselves. They talked about the trials of finding an advisor who fits your interests and personality and the frustrations of endless grading, but they also gushed about their work in math and their excitement for the world beyond grad school.
At night we explored Boston. One night the entire Mac crowd went out to dinner together and was joined by a few alumni attending the conference. We ventured out on our own later to experience some Boston nightlife, including going to Wally’s Cafe, the oldest jazz club in town, to hear some incredible music. The next night after dinner we went dancing at a club in Cambridge.
Although each morning it was a little harder to get up from such a full schedule, I wouldn’t have traded participating fully in the conference for any amount of sleep. The Joint Mathematics Meetings were a headfirst dive into the world of professional mathematics, but I think we all surfaced enthusiastic about joining the team.