039. A Day in the Summer

tldr: summer is busy but nice

One of my favorite blog formats on the MIT Blogs is the classic “A Day/Week/However-long-time-period Peek into the Life of an MIT Student”. But, between never actually being on campus last fall, and a terrible sleep schedule this past spring, I never felt like writing one. The last thing I wanted was a prefrosh getting the idea that zero hours of sleep at MIT is good or normal.

I also felt like nothing cool was happening in my life with online school. Sure I attended zoom lectures, but beyond that I mostly did homework, got sleep when I could, and went down to dining. I had fun, but it wasn’t exactly exciting or extra. This summer feels a little bit different though, with healthier practices and getting to focus on super cool things. This was what I did last Friday.

12am-2am: Okay, not off to a great start with the sleep schedule per se– but this was more Fun than anything. In 12 hours I am going to meet my UROP advisor and talk about a project to work on. I have never met him before!

See, in the months leading up to summer I had no clue what I would be doing, and was getting [nicely] rejected from programs left and right. In a frantic attempt at having something cool to do, I cold-emailed numerous mathematical analysis professors asking if they would be available for a summer reading program. Cut to two weeks later, and Professor Larry Guth and I were working out the details for a UROP.

Larry was and is very busy, so I was paired up with one of his graduate students, Yuqiu, to read the book “A View from the Top” by Alex Iosevich. This book is beyond cool– it’s made to be accessible to high school students, and attempts to connect various parts of math and math research. We started with the Cauchy-Schwarz inequality and then explored some of the many cool ways it can be applied. I had learned what the CS inequality was before, but never understood why we cared. This book has made me more appreciative of the mundane things in math with (seemingly) no major/interesting purpose. Yuqiu and I started reading June 3 at two chapters a week, and now five weeks later I get to meet Larry to talk about a mystery project. All I know so far is that the project might use material from Chapters 2-4 of the book, so I spent these few hours reading these sections again.

I feel beyond nervous. I picture the meeting being like one of those weird Google interviews, where they ask you to estimate the number of windows in New York City and you start to have a mental break down. I really want to impress Larry and show that I am not completely incompetent when it comes to approaching problems, but there isn’t (in my opinion) a great way to prepare for that 12 hours before the meeting. So, here I am, reading Chapters 2-4. Afterwards, I watched Season 4 Episode 1 of Atypical which just got released, and went to sleep.

10am-12pm: This summer I am also tutoring for my local community college. Remember 3 paragraphs ago when I cold-emailed professors? I also emailed the Fresno City College tutorial center coordinator to see if they were still hiring for summer, and they were! Gotta love being able to make some form of income. I am tutoring for Math 3A and 5A: College Algebra (like pre-calculus) and Calculus 1 (limits, derivatives, and an introduction to integrals). Because it’s a Friday, basically nobody is here (i.e. on this zoom call). Literally, the only people on this call are tutors. And while I do wish I had some students to help, I am glad to get a day off from explaining how to apply the rational root theorem to sixth degree polynomials.

To pass the time, I updated my UROP notes (sections read, exercises completed, that sort of thing). I have also been editing an essay for Angles! Angles is an MIT magazine with stories/essays written by students in a CI-HW class, and one of my stories was selected for publication! I actually posted this story on my blog before (033. Drops) if you want to read it. Do be warned though: I am currently in the process of revising the piece, so the final product will be ever so slightly different than it is now.

I also started working on my blogs for the MIT Blogger Application which I encourage anyone slightly interested to do. Not to be too meta, but this is actually one of the blogs for the application. Hi “AOs, senior bloggers, and a few blogger cruft”, I hope you enjoy my garbage.

So two hours have passed, and no students showed up. This has been a very productive way to start off the morning, and an even better way to distract myself from the impending doom that is my UROP meeting in 30 minutes. Going to watch episode 2 of Atypical.

12:30pm-1:15pm: We had the meeting!! (This of course, was written after the fact.) It went so well, it was 45 minutes of solid, good, conversation on how to approach this problem. This is the point where I insert a trigger warning for nerdy talk, I am just so excited for this project !!!

[start of nerdy talk:] If we know that a function doesn’t ever increase or decrease, it follows nicely that that function is constant. To put that into mathematical terms, if the derivative of a function is 0, then the function is constant. But what if that derivative of a function is close to 0? For functions of one variable, if the derivative of a function is close to 0, then the function is close to constant, but it starts to get trickier the more variables there are. All of this is in layman’s terms of course, but this is just the basic idea. [end of nerdy talk.]

If you are really interested please hit me up and I would love to more talk about it, but we haven’t really gotten anywhere with this problem yet. Apparently this problem has been solved before, so this is more of a “here is a problem you likely haven’t seen, can you solve it/how far can you get”. When the project is over I am going to try and write a blog like this one to summarize it all nicely (with super nice pictures!).

In any case, I am just glad I didn’t mess this meeting up. I am hopeful that this project could turn into a Fall UROP, but that is for future me to worry about.

2pm-4pm~: I was going to go to a coffee shop to continue working on the project but that just, didn’t happen. I don’t know why, but the bus didn’t come to my stop a single time between 2 and 4. After walking out to the but stop a few times in 100 degree heat, I just ended up staying home. Given that my phone overheated from being outside for 10 minutes, I imagine it probably wasn’t great for me to be going out anyways. My mom said she’d come and pick me up at 4 to get a drink, so I spent these 2 hours relaxing. I watched episodes 3 and 4 of Atypical while playing Fallout 4. [Watch me finish this season in 2 days.] During the school year I get so stressed playing video games, it feels like I am just wasting time doing something unproductive, so it has been nice playing this summer.

This was mostly it for my day. My mom took me for a quick coffee run [How I lived without Dutch Bros for almost 9 months, I will never know], and I typed up the notes from today’s UROP meeting.

This summer feels like everything is still as intense as MIT normally is, just slowed down. There are still a million deadlines and applications and emails, but now at least I get to sleep in a little. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to return back to school and hang out with friends, but this has been a nice summer “off”.

When I think about what I might be doing in the following summers, my mind jumps to REUs (undergraduate research at other universities), math programs (like PROMYS), and studying abroad. This feels just like my high school freshman summer: it feels like this is the last summer I get to truly do nothing, and yet I am doing so much. I am very excited.

Published by Paige Bright

Hi- my name is Paige Alexandria Bright. I am a rising junior at MIT interested in mathematics and philosophy. I have been writing this blog since the beginning of COVID. Lets see where this goes.

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