on the maths front

I’ve changed my PhD to a Masters. Not officially, yet, but that is now the plan. And there was a thing I realised just the other day.

I think I’m getting better at distinguishing between the things I am good at and the things I enjoy. Sometimes they overlap, but not always, and it’s kind of freeing to realise that just because I can do something, it doesn’t mean I have to. (EDIT: I still like maths. In case anyone was taking the wrong message away from that.)

So anyway, just thought I’d let you know. It seemed the sort of thing to blog about. Here, have a picture of me from Berlin.


what’s up with the phd?

I don’t post about my work much for a whole lot of reasons (the main one being that I’d rather talk about the actual content but you really need an undergraduate degree in maths for that to be interesting reading) but today I thought I’d break that streak a little bit. I’m nearly half way through, so why not?

  • That’s the main scary thing: being nearly half way through. I feel like I haven’t learnt a lot, and haven’t done very much, but when I look back at who I was and what I knew at the start, I know my feelings lie to me.
  • Knowing that my feelings lie to me has probably been essential in not quitting. Moving interstate helped too. Something’s got to be pretty horrible for you to quit after dragging your husband halfway across the country.
  • I’m having a good week. That needs to be said when it happens because so often I forget that any good weeks happen.
  • I am still struggling to work out what the point of my phd is, where the research is going, but I have more of an idea now and I’m less worried about the fact that I don’t know the things I don’t know.
  • I’m looking forward to this year of research. After that I guess it will mostly be panic and writing but this year is looking interesting.

Yeah that’s all for now. I just like to remind the blog part of myself that she is doing this whole phd thing.

I’ve been away

I went to Sydney for a maths conference.
And then to Brisbane for a wedding.
I returned to Perth and then headed off to Adelaide for Christmas almost immediately.

It’s been pretty crazy in my head lately. There’s been so much going on, so many things to do, places to be and people to see. All of it was great but also tiring and today we returned home to 40C, a car with a coolant leak and an air conditioner that is out of action. The photos make the present a little easier and I’m hoping for some relaxation on the horizon.

I’ll be back in a few days with NY resolutions, something I am newly keen on.

Young Writers Prize

I did not make the shortlist and I must be getting thicker skin because that doesn’t bother me too much. I know my work has improved significantly since I sent it to them and I knew from the start that my topic was a bit too Australian to translate well internationally. I am obviously disappointed but it is safe to say that my world is not ending.

In other news, I gave my talk at Combinatorics12 this afternoon. It went well. I have ideas to investigate and a conference dinner to attend.

Life is good.

Italy in summer.

The beauty of Italy in summer took me a little while to see. Everything was dingier and more ordinary than photography books had led me to expect. Yes there are incredible cobble-stoned, tiny alleyways but they are lined with garbage bags. Yes there are hundreds of white houses in the cities but they don’t have grass like nice houses in Australia: just dust and tiles. Yes there are lots of old buildings but they are dirty and falling apart.

It didn’t help that I was exhausted from 17 hours of flying. It didn’t help that I’m not really a fan of crowds. It didn’t help that it’s just plain hot. Once I got a good sleep and really looked around I realised that this place is incredible after all.

The beaches are warm, maths is going well, the food is beyond exceptional and most days I wander around barefoot. (This house has grass because it’s out of the city.)

Love from Ischia.

the four colour theorem

How many colours does it take to colour a map? The title probably gives you a hint.

When I was a kid (no, I don’t know how old exactly… around 10), my dad set me and my brothers a challenge. Could we create a map which required more than four colours to colour it in? Here are the rules:

– no two adjacent “countries” can have the same colour,
– if two “countries” meet only in a point then they are not adjacent, and
– each “country” must be completely connected (Alaska, for instance, couldn’t count as part of the USA)

At the time I had no idea that this was a world famous mathematical concept, I just thought it was a frustrating problem. We didn’t find a map requiring 5 colours and, indeed, we couldn’t have. It was proved in 1976 that 4 is the maximum number of colours needed and, importantly, it was proved by using a computer.

In 1976 this was revolutionary, groundbreaking and contentious. Lots of mathematicians refused to accept the proof because it couldn’t be checked by hand. It has since been proven by a computer program we know to be reliable but it was a point of argument among mathematicians for many years.


stage fright? not me.

I like a big stage. I love to perform and my favourite way to experience a crowd is from the stage. But there are times that I have trouble with speaking in front of people and I’ve been called shy more than once. I get nervous when I’m not given time to prepare or when something is so casual that I’m not even expected to have prepared for it.  In middle school the idea of being in a conversation with five people was incredibly stressful. I was always stuck for things to say and terrified I would say the wrong thing. Speaking in front of the whole school would have been a much easier task. It could be the adrenalin of the situation, or maybe it’s that you don’t need to make eye contact with anyone, but there is definitely something about being on stage.

I’m going to be travelling to Europe soon and, while there, presenting my work at two separate conferences. The actual presenting-the-work aspect does not worry me at all and even if they ask me questions after the talk I think will cope. However if they ask me questions over dinner I suspect I will get very nervous.

I know I will need to constantly remind myself to stop, breathe, and remember that one person’s opinion of my opinions will not destroy my life.