Conferences are a great opportunity to learn mathematics, mainly by meeting others in your field. In this post we’ll look at some ideas on how to make the most of attending a conference. The original version of this post was based upon my trip to Strasbourg but since then I’ve been to a few more conferences and have updated this guide significantly.

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According to the activities page, I should be in Strasbourg right now. In fact, I am in Strasbourg! Here is a typical city picture:

Now, my intention is to write a series of blog posts briefly summarising the conference. This post is just a summary of summaries, and the upcoming posts will be the actual summary of the talks. The first one should appear today or tomorrow at the latest.

Now before you think I should be a better tourist and hence I should be outside sampling the delicious *noisette* ice cream that costs three euros, I actually need to summarise what has happened so far so that I understand the upcoming lectures. Otherwise I won’t get much out of the lectures, some of which contain much new material, and that would be a shame indeed. However I have a few extra days here during which I promise to be the most involved tourist imaginable, perhaps even visiting every single shop in the downtown area.

This interview is a start in what I hope to be a series of posts illustrating the * human* side of mathematics. Mathematicians as a group have distinctive cultural features. We have our own specialized humour and shared experiences that bring us together and make us laugh. A week ago, I read an interesting article by John Swallow entitled “Mathematical Community” in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, which reminded me of the unfortunate truth—very few people outside of the mathematical community really knows what being a mathematician is about.

I hope that this will change, and I feel that it is very important to inform the general public about the work of mathematicians. And by this I don’t mean the technical details, but the culture and the general ideas that we work with every day. As part of this initiative, I thought I would interview a few of my fellow graduate students at McGill. My first interview is with Benjamin Smith, who is a PhD student in geometry.

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