Top young math minds gather at undergrad conference

McGill math professor Jean-Christophe Nave was one of several inspiring and insightful keynote speakers at this year’s CUMC. (Justin Tang photo)

Some of the brightest mathematical minds in Canada gathered at Carleton University to network and exchange knowledge and ideas during the 20th Canadian Undergraduate Mathematics Conference (CUMC).

First held in 1994, this annual event offers undergraduates a unique opportunity to step out of the classroom and into the academic conference setting to learn and share their knowledge about mathematical research with like-minded students from around the world. This year’s event was held July 2-5.

“It gives you insight into what research in mathematics is like which isn’t something you wouldn’t necessarily get a feel for by just taking undergraduate classes,” says master’s student Arthur Mehta, president of the organizing committee for this year’s event.

Ehsaan Hossain, a fourth-year math student at the University of Waterloo, says the benefit of CUMC is that it offers different learning and networking opportunities than the standard undergraduate curriculum.

“I think that in a class, they’re trying to teach you something that you’re going to be tested on,” he says. “Here, people will introduce you to an interesting research area or an interesting problem and you can just ask questions about it.

“I think it’s always good to hear people give overviews of their areas of interest instead of always just learning the technical things,” says the 22-year-old.

Another benefit is networking, says Hossain, who has attended CUMC three times.

“You get to meet lots of people and when you find someone who’s in your own research area, you can talk about your subjects and then you have a connection with that person you wouldn’t have had just by going to class.”

CUMC was modelled on the Canadian Undergraduate Physics Conference and its programming is designed to foster a nation-wide undergraduate math community.

The 2014 conference was structured around student talks—which give each participant a chance to lecture on any math-related topic of their choice—lectures by keynote speakers and social events.

Some of this year’s notable speakers included Carleton math and statistics professor Matthew Kennedy and McGill math professor Jean-Christophe Nave. Carleton’s Shirley Mills also gave a talk on the emerging field of big data.

Academics aside, Mehta says what makes the conference special is sharing the experience with other participants.

“It’s kind of cool to interact with a bunch of smart people interested in the same things you’re interested in and you really are interacting with some of the top students in the country,” he says.

It was at last year’s conference that Mehta, 25, got the idea of placing a bid for Carleton to host the 2014 event. The university’s math society, says Mehta, was quick to approve.

“Carleton had two years of strong attendance, networking, socializing, and a big presence at these conferences, so it made sense,” he says. “In the end, we had some really hard-working, competent people on the committee and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Pretty much everyone I asked was happy with what we had done too.”

CUMC was also held at Carleton in 2009, making this the university’s second time hosting the event. Carleton is one of three universities to host the conference twice, and the only one to do so within five years. It also had one of the biggest ever turnouts with 196 registered participants.

These figures, combined with the success of this year’s event, says Mehta, also benefit the university’s academic profile.

This year, Carleton added a recruitment fair to the conference, which brought participants together with academic institutions as well as private companies.

“In my not-so-unbiased opinion, we did what was done last year but better,” says Mehta. “We had higher profile keynote speakers, and the Women in Math discussion had more interesting panelists than last year.

“Ultimately, CUMC isn’t about competing, but if you were to judge how good Carleton is at math, I think our ability to host a conference like this successfully shows that Carleton is comparable to some of the biggest universities in Canada.”


This entry was written by Dario Balca and posted in the issue. Bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

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