Learning Assistant takes on Park City Math Institute

Staff at Park City Mathematics Institute

For the past three weeks I have been immersed in mathematics at Park City Math Institute (PCMI) – a unique program that brings together over 300 individuals from all various parts of the mathematics community. I had the good fortune of being able to learn from, not only fellow undergraduates, but also graduate students, post docs, professors, and K-12 teachers. I even ran into our very own Dr. Alice Seneres, Director of Integrated Academic Support Programs, who was participating in the diversity workshop.

Park City, Utah is both naturally and culturally rich. It is situated in the picturesque Wasatch Mountains and the city is renowned for annually hosting the Sundance film festival, as well as having been home to the Utah Olympic Park. It also proved to be an inspiring setting to intensely work on mathematics. Each year, PCMI chooses a topic of interest and invites world-renowned experts in the field to give colloquiums/lectures; this year was no different, with lectures given by Terence Tao (Fields medalist), Persi Diaconis (MacArthur Fellow and former magician), and many others.

The focus of this year’s program was random matrices and the Undergraduate Summer School (the program I took part in) took an in-depth look at their application to number theory, statistics, and particle systems. The program itself is very flexible and is designed to enable participants to attend lectures and activities both within and outside of their enrolled program. In addition to program-specific events, the organizers were thoughtful in also including cross-program activities to encourage networking across all domains – after all, math is a much more collaborative field than most people realize.

My typical day started with a hearty breakfast at the local restaurant. At 9:40 am we would have the first of the two lectures, with a break before and after (during which we could work on previous problem sets or attend some of the graduate lectures). We would then have lunch and the second lecture of the day immediately after. The afternoon would mostly involve working on that day’s problem sets and reviewing the things learned with the aid of the professors and their teaching assistants. PCMI also organized various after-lecture programs such as pizza problem solving sessions and estimathons – undergraduates, grad students, and teachers alike would battle it out in teams, vying for bragging rights. Sadly, the undergrad team came out near the bottom, so I guess that gives us a great excuse to come back next year and try again!

More Information

For anyone with an interest in a mathematical career, I would absolutely recommend applying. The intensity and rigor of the program is akin to what would be experienced in graduate school and provides an unparalleled experience: learning cutting edge mathematics with a group of motivated, like-minded peers. To learn more about this year’s program or to apply for next year program on harmonic analysis go to their website at https://pcmi.ias.edu/.        

By: Francesca Falzon