MathFest Post-Mortem

MathFest is done, and I am easing back into my usual summer life (i.e. scrambling to prep for my courses).

The conference was a great success for me. The reason why I went is that my school had four undergraduates presenting, two of whom were my advisees. If you permit me to brag for a second, two of the four students (including one of mine) won MAA awards for excellent presentations, and my other student was very explicitly recruited to attend graduate school.

I met several new friends, and I met up with several old friends—including someone I have known for ten years online but only met IRL last week. I met with advisees from years ago who are now grown-up professors, which brings me such joy. I went to some cool minicourses.

TJ wrote that MathFest makes you feel like you belong to a community, and I agree with him. This was a very fun and nurturing experience.

But . . .

I have some misgivings about MathFest, all of which relate to the cost of the conference.

  1. It is tough for me to go to MathFest, as the registration fee alone is more than half of my travel allowance for the year—even at the Early Bird rate. As it turns out, I am spending more than double my travel allowance on MathFest. Fortunately, I am able to get other funding from my school to cover this (and my usual research conference in May, I hope, but that is not a sure thing). It is worth pointing out that I prioritize my research conference over MathFest because the former helps me develop research problems for the students, which is a prerequisite to me bringing research students to MathFest.
  2. TJ is right that there are amazing people at MathFest. I was continually impressed at what people were doing, and I was impressed at how thoughtful they are about teaching. I love being part of that community. However, regular readers of this blog know that I am concerned about colleges having enough money to survive (although I have some good news—for me, anyway—that I will write about later). MathFest is clearly worth it since I brought the students; would it have been worth it if I didn’t bring any students? I got some great ideas, but am I going to implement $1500 worth of those good ideas to make it worth it for my school? Again, I loved my experience at MathFest, but I am struggling with how to be a good steward of my school’s funds. In some sense, modulo my bringing students, it seems like my school just paid for me to go visit a bunch of awesome people for fun. Let me know if you have thoughts about this that will make me feel better (Again: I don’t feel bad, because I brought students. But I am not sure if I could justify going without students next year).

I guess that one thing that MathFest helped me with is this: I initially had doubts about whether my research conference was worth it It now appears that I think that they are, since I get more tangible things from it (i.e. research questions for undergraduates) for half the cost of MathFest.

So, please help me: make me feel better about paying a lot of money to go to MathFest.

4 Responses to “MathFest Post-Mortem”

  1. TJ Says:

    Well:
    1. It is expensive. It just is.
    2. I’m pretty sure the MAA loses money on each of its big meetings. (I don’t know the specifics, here.)
    3. “it seems like my school just paid for me to go visit a bunch of awesome people for fun”. Suuuuure. But your professional development is worth something, isn’t it? Even if you don’t notice it directly, I think there is value _to your school_ in you being connected to the wider network of mathematicians.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Thanks, TJ. I don’t mean to suggest that the MAA is ripping me off. It is just that it is relatively expensive compared to my travel budget.

      I definitely think that my professional development is important to my school, but I have a feeling like there might be more cost-effective ways to do it. For instance, it would be cheaper for me to attend the IBL Conference or SBG workshop at Grand Valley State next summer instead of MathFest, and I would still have access to (part of) the community.

      I loved the conference, and I am in the privileged position of having had a good year—I didn’t need a re-charge. I am sorry if I am coming off as negative—I am just trying to manage my travel dollars as best as I can.

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