07 January, 2007

2007 Joint Meetings Poster Session

As I write, I'm sitting in the Napoleon Ballroom of the New Orleans Sheraton, location of the joint meetings of the AMS, MAA, and maybe SIAM (not sure). The meeting location is New Orleans this year, which means it's local to me. I volunteered to help judge the MAA's undergraduate poster session.

Judging these poster sessions is like reading about Leonhard Euler's mathematical accomplishments*: it lowers my mathematical self-esteem. I judged three posters, and I can honestly say that every one of the people I judged did original, interesting, and challenging work. (I've done interesting and original work, too, but that began only with my PhD studies. These folks are undergraduates.) I had a difficult time awarding scores. The guidelines were not particularly helpful: a 10 stood for doctoral-level work, a 9 for master's level work, an 8 for the best undergraduate-level work you'd ever seen, etc. Now, doctoral-level work is original scholarship that is important to the field. It's a little hard to judge "Poster Design" by those merits.

I worried that the high grades I awarded might be due to "grade inflation" of some sort. I toured the other posters afterwards, and now I feel relieved. I was lucky enough to judge three of the best projects at the session. I saw a number of good projects, but the three I judged were definitely among the best. (Later edit: one of these three won a prize. It was definitely the best of the three, but another one should have won a prize, too. I wonder if there is an bias against students who attend schools that can't afford the beautifully-printed posters that the large, well-funded math departments print regularly at their universities' print shops.)

While wandering around, I've run into a number of people I know. Five of my former fellow grad students attended the conference. One also served as a judge; the others are either job-hunting (the AMS hosts a special job-hunting event at these joint meetings), or participating in the MAA's Project NExT.)

The best surprise was spotting next to one poster a gentleman who sat through one of my Calc I classes some years ago. Has it only been 4, 5 years? It feels like more...! (Later edit: He also one a prize. Kudos to him and to his adviser!)

*It wasn't enough for Leonhard Euler to be a brilliant mathematician who, in the words of some, calculated as easily as ordinary men breathe. No, he also had a number of children, and used to do mathematics with one child sitting on one knee, and on child sitting on the other. He also went blind later in his life, but that did nothing to diminish his mathematical output.

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