photo provided by Stefan Dawydiak
I’ve been in Moscow now a month, studying away from my home university, UBC, with the Math in Moscow program. Moscow is an enormous city, five times Vancouver’s size, making daily life convenient, if crowded. With the entire city forty minutes away by metro, exploration requires only a few free hours. Russian is helpful, as English signage can be rare, but far from essential. Our first days were facilitated by Russian guides, and since then we have exploited the universality of pointing.
Mathematical exploration has also been at our fingertips. I’m taking courses on combinatorics, topology, Galois Theory, and representation theory. There are no enforced prerequisites; any student may try, for several weeks, any courses they like. The program also finds supervisors for reading courses.
From the first day, it’s been evident that the program’s priority is individual students’ learning. My largest class has 8 students, my smallest, three, which allows curricula to be malleable to student interest. In representation theory, for example, we propose our own definitions before being given standard ones. For example, we discussed as a class for some time when two representations should be considered equivalent. (We approached but did not quite reach invoking the idea of a G-linear map.)
While such class sizes are rightly every student’s dream, the informal atmosphere and high student involvement take getting used to: I feel I will get more out of each class with every week. I think this environment is a valuable bridge between traditional lectures and a relationship between colleagues, and this transition is an explicit pedagogical goal of our professors. With 18 students living and studying together, another immediate benefit is the rich collaborative environment after class.
It is this spirit, together with the mathematics I’m learning, that I hope to bring back with me.
Please note that the Math in Moscow program has been suspended for 2016 and is currently under review.