A question, from somewhere near the back: “Who’s talking? What’s the topic?”
First there was the glare, and ~ just in case the glare didn’t say enough ~ then came the lecture.
On Thursdays, after core hours, the halls would start to buzz as the crew shuffled from the informal coffee reception in the faculty lounge, the offices, and the classrooms, and that buzz would move with it’s own peculiar energy toward the third-floor’s small, auditorium-styled classroom.
There were faculty and there were grad students ~ and depending on the topic, there may have been some inspired undergrads or folks from other academic departments too. We’d be in there for an hour, maybe an hour-and-a-half, in a show of support for the speaker, the department, and for mathematics itself.
Well, at a minimum it was a show of support: I mean, there’s no question that the symposium was an opportunity for us to come together professionally as a community. But in reality, and more often than not, there would inevitably be something of interest for you.
The guest speaker was often a peer of a faculty member, likely a collaborator in some research. Sometimes, the speaker might be from industry or another department, highlighting some application of mathematics or an open problem they’re facing ~ a potential opportunity for research… The speaker might be a visiting alumnus, describing experience after graduation, and maybe even opportunities to join in. The speaker might be a graduate student highlighting an interesting problem or a prospective approach, or maybe practicing a talk to be delivered elsewhere, or maybe practicing standing at the podium and addressing an adversarial audience in preparation for a doctoral defense or even a teaching assignment.
The symposium was a lightweight way of introducing students to the foundations of academic community. There, we bring our thinking out from the shadows to see how it fares in daylight. There, we raise questions and we consider approaches. There, we solicit insight and find inspiration. There, we examine solutions with adversarial scrutiny. And there, we share and celebrate both individual achievement and collaborative successes.
For many, the symposium is the first glance into a world that exists alongside and a bit beyond the core curriculum, the exams, and the degrees.
But none of this happens without instilling the tradition.
None of this happens without celebrating the culture.
None of this happens if the doors aren’t opened for us.
And none of this happens if we don’t show up.
The cultures we create ~ and the cultures we ignore ~ will all be as present as you were as you take your place today at the podium.
Having set the stage, your time ~ begins ~ now.