Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hello from Houston

An update from Chris in Houston...

Hello from Houston,
This summer I am staying at Rice and doing a math research program with 3 other students. We are working with two faculty members throughout the summer, both of whom are incredibly helpful. I can't believe they take the time to do what they do with us. The specific topic we are working on is called "algebraic geometry," which is a sort f advanced topic and is usually not explicitly part of the undergraduate curriculum (this is because a lot of the concepts rely on "algebra,"
which is an advanced-undergraduate or graduate topic typically).
However, Rice has been having undergrads work on it for several years, so the department has become pretty good at teaching it to undergrads and there are already a lot of resources and previous groups' papers to look at.
I am spending the summer with my roommate, Patrick, who grew up in Atlanta. He is a "mathematical economic analysis" major and is very bright and nice; we get along very well. Over the summer, he is working with an economics professor, helping him design a course on "general equilibrium models" in tax policy. He is very interested in the presidential election (he is for Obama, but I think more interested in the political process then completely sold out for Obama) and reads a ton of political blogs about races in each of the states, polling trends, etc.
My typical "workday" this summer goes as follows: I arrive at the math building by 9. At 9, we have a meeting with one of the faculty members during which we present our answers and ask questions from the previous day's work, and then the professor introduces a new topic. For the first 3 weeks, as we are learning the basics of algebraic geometry, this has usually been based around problem sheets with several problems for each new topic. However, as we are moving along in the summer, the problems have become more open-ended and will soon become completely so.
Once the morning meeting is done, we usually work on the problems for the rest of the day, meeting with the professors again during the afternoon to go over any questions.
The four of us all share an office on the 4th floor of the math building. For one thing, I greatly enjoy this because I always rave during the school year that the 4th floor of the math building is the happiest place on earth (every single math professor resides there; there are silly pieces of abstruse mathematical artwork adorning the walls--certain types of knots, solutions to differential equations, minimals surfaces). Secondly, it is fun sharing an office because the four of us communicate constantly on the problems and are always posing guesses and then finding counter-examples, or thinking things through on the chalkboard. Another interesting coincidence is that, out of the four people in our group, two are from Portland, one is from Seattle, and the fourth is from Wyoming. I hardly know any other people from the Northwest at Rice. We swap stories lauding the Oregon Coast, the Tillamook Cheese Factory, the Seattle Center, and the wonders of Fred Meyer (which doesn't exist in the South). Additionally, it is fun joking around with people who have pretty similar personal eccentricities (that is, nerdyness in terms of music, language, math, science, etc.)
I get off work at 4 (although I and the other group members usually do some additional work each night). Patrick and I spend about half of our evenings playing video games/watching sports (we have been excitedly following the NBA playoffs and the US Open) and the other half doing something athletic (playing tennis or basketball or swimming).
Rotating sports allows me to realize that I am out of shape and practice in each of them.
The last thing to mention is that the summer on-campus housing is not at beloved Wiess college (the residential college I stay at during the school year), but rather at Jones college. This is quite a change for me, primarily because the residential colleges are divided into two groups, the "South" and "North" Colleges, who are on opposite sides of the campus and have separate campus cultures. Wiess is South; Jones is North. I had only been to the North colleges twice before I moved in this summer (although they are only a ten-minute walk from Wiess). So it is strange approaching the academic buildings from the wrong side every morning. Even worse, Jones' dormitories are much less comfy than Wiess' posh dorms (Wiess was rebuilt in 2000 so the rooms are very nice). My bedroom has brick walls and I share a communal bathroom with everyone on my floor (we have private baths at Wiess). There aren't really enough kitchens to support so many people cooking for themselves (since during the school year we are provided food); Patrick and I mostly live off of applesauce, canned peas, and Costco lasagna. So my summer stay has only convinced me to feel sorry for all of the people who must suffer through the North colleges during the school year.
Another thing to note is that the summer research student housing is somewhat humorously dominated by Asian Americans.
So that's pretty much what's going on in Houston. Hope everything is going well with all of you; I am curious to hear.


Janet Fraser said...

for our Asian American friends... he means no harm... only that he is the minority now...

tyler said...

"Rotating sports allows me to realize that I am out of shape and practice in each of them."


Melinda said...

I love the insight into your world, Chris. It sounds like a great and memorable opportunity. Daniel sure wishes that you were here to challenge and expand his guitar skill though.