Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Visiting the city

Part of the Fulbright scholarship involves visiting Boston for two one-week periods, one week in November to visit Northeastern University, and one week to visit MIT, to collect data, talk to the people in the WAC programme, and give a presentation. So, on Sunday I left our cottage by the lake and ventured out to the city.

I must admit it felt pretty daunting at first. I learnt something important: it is not necessary, or wise, to take a large suitcase for a one week trip when you have to lug it around on the unfathomable underground system.

I'm staying in a cosy b&b in Brookline. It's a great place. I get to have breakfast each morning with friendly and interesting people - for the last two mornings, a couple from Maine searching for the perfect cello, and today another couple from Los Angeles who are visiting a grand daughter in college - and my kind and helpful host, Meg. The houses in the neighbourhood are huge, gracious mansions.

Each morning I set off to the T (as the underground system is called here) and catch a train and a bus to MIT.

I spend my days interviewing mathematicians, sitting in on classes, and talking to the folk in the writing programme. There are 36 lecturers in the writing programme - 36!! - most of them focused on supporting the maths and science classes. As someone who is used to being a lone voice crying in the wilderness, this is pretty awesome! Given the amount of experience with science writing here, and the sophistication of the programme, I felt quite apprehensive about giving a presentation on my research - but it went well, I think. It certainly seems to have stimulated a lot of discussion - which is a good thing, right? And it's been very useful to chat about the programme and find that places as prestigious as MIT have the same battles over writing as we do at home.
These are the two wonderful women who have made this trip worthwhile in a myriad of ways: Suzanne Lane (director of the WAC programme) and Susan Ruff (lecturer in math communication)
 I've enjoyed sitting in on the communication-rich math classes (even though they appear to be speaking another language - well, I suppose they are). The students are very engaged - whenever I walk in before class starts, the students are generally standing at the blackboard, writing equations and engaged in earnest discussion.  One day, though, I sat by accident in an ordinary math class. It was fascinating to watch the teacher. He walked in, didn't look at the class, and just started writing on the board and talking softly  - seemingly to himself. Whereupon the class stopped writing on another blackboard, and sat down quietly, and began writing. There was no interaction at all, and the teacher didn't once look at the class throughout the entire period.

But the maths faculty I have been interviewing are fascinating to talk to and full of ideas about writing. I am learning so much!

While I'm not thinking about and talking about maths, I've been exploring the campus. The most entertaining thing I've found was the bookshop. I'd never thought before what a bookshop for a population of mathematicians, scientists and engineers would look like. Now I know.

I really wanted to buy this tshirt but can't think of anyone who would enjoy it!

Lots of light reading for mathematicians

books of maths jokes
Tons of cool, geeky tshirts
I thought the architecture of Brookline was impressive. But it was nothing compared with MIT.
This is my favourite building (where I each lunch each day) built by Frank Gehry

this is the side angle

the rows of trees give the impression of cloisters

Today I walked across the bridge over the Charles river, to see the building that appears to be a replica of the tower of London!
I'm so busy with work, I've had little chance to explore Boston - and I would love to. There's so much history here, it seems a shame to be missing it. But perhaps, on my next trip in November, I'll have a chance to get out and see more of the place which was so significant in the history of America's journey to independence.


  1. I was quite taken with Boston, too, Lisa. We did the Freedom Trail walking tour of the central city, and had dinner at an amazing restaurant aptly called the 'Union'; it has been operating as a restaurant continuously since 1826. That's a lot of food! We were quite inspired by the sailing ship 'Constitution' as well, but there are no tours on Mondays though (when we were there!).

    I loved the Gehry building, and did not realise that a whole other Maths world exists out there. It is great that your expertise plus new experiences are equating to new learning. This all tallies well with the 'whole person' dimension of life :-).

    1. Hi Jacqui: I'd love to walk the Freedom Trail - hopefully in November I will. I hope you're enjoying the sense of imminent freedom as semester draws to a close :-)