Season: Crescendo.

1. What mathematical activities? What level of rigor?

Everything is building. I’m writing papers, the research is coming together. I’m seeing new vistas, with new leads to follow. And there are other projects – writing for blogs, applying for jobs, teaching, etc. There are moments of pure rigor and moments of rigor-less scheming.

2. What relevant interactions with other mathematicians?

As many as possible – with my advisor, with other grad students, with others in my field.

3. How does it feel, what is the mood?

I’m unnervingly busy. There’s too much to do. It’s exhilarating but tiring. I’m anxious, and slightly worried about where this is heading, worried that I’ll burn out. I want to be available to allow the math research to grow and spread as it wants to, but it’s growing faster and faster and demanding more and more.

4. What state of mind? stable vs. chaotic? focused vs. dispersed?

My mind is constantly on, and needs to be constantly on. There’s no chance to be dull or to drop the ball on anything; I feel like I’m performing 24/7. I’m asking for an on-demand delivery of focus or dispersion, stability or chaos, and my mind is indulging me. For now.

There’s a constant noise in the background, of unattended-to things, of lists.

Occasionally I find myself staring at stable geometry – staircases, buildings, trees – and finding comfort in the solidity of their existence.

5. What type of self-reflection during the experience, and did it help?

I notice a growing demand for personal time, to process my experiences. I need to find new time-management schemes. I need to consciously leave behind certain things – research directions or interesting projects. I’m aware of the threat of burnout, and am able to mindfully shift to new modes, to rest or actively refresh the different parts of my mind.

I’m amazed at just how much I can push my mind – how much new and old information I can juggle at once. It helps to appreciate this, to be grateful and positive.

6. An everyday metaphor for the experience?

It reminds me of building a sand castle. If you want to go higher and higher, your castle needs to get a bigger and bigger base. But the relationship is not linear; consecutive increases in height require larger investments in the growing base. I also have the image of pinching a sheet of fabric and pulling it up. As my research progresses, I need to call on a larger and larger circles of knowledge. As my various projects continue, their demand on resources seems to increase quadratically or exponentially.

In terms of state of mind, I think of a cup that is full of water, that threatens to overflow. I’m constantly intentionally emptying the cup, and more water is constantly pouring in. The situation can be sustainable and reach an equilibrium, as long as the emptying and filling rates are balanced.

7. An example of a good day and a bad day?

On a good day, I get a lot done and have the time to appreciate it. Sometimes the math itself fuels me and no effort is required.

On a bad day I push myself too hard, or feel like the math is in control of me and I can’t say no.

8. What did you do when you were stuck?

Rest is always good, or giving myself a pep talk, or positive affirmation and gentleness.

9. When and why did it end?

This season is going on currently. I hope that after I get these few papers out, write my thesis, and get a PhD and a job, then there might be a decrescendo season.

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One Response to “Season: Crescendo.”

  1. Peter Says:

    Be wary when you can’t stop thinking about mathematics at night — that’s dangerous to your health.

    I really like your approach btw. (It’s just difficult to comment on your posts most of the time).

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