Virtual Talks

3 min read.

This past weekend the Midwest Dynamical Systems Early Career Conference was held. It included a number of plenary speakers and poster sessions, all virtual of course. It was lovely! I’m collecting these as a note to myself and others of why virtual conferences can be a great asset to the mathematical community and an idea or two on how to improve them.

The organizers did a fantastic job of organizing the day, using the new breakout room features effectively, and choosing fantastic speakers. I contributed a poster and short video to accompany the poster. You can view the poster here and the video here.

I hope that conferences in the “after times” will include a virtual component.

There was one particular moment during the first talk of the day where Mark Pollicott off-handedly described the “Circle Method”; a technique in analytic number theory used to study asymptotic behavior of a series. I’ve come across the term before and seen “explanations” of the idea, but they hadn’t really clicked. However, in his off-handed remark, Pollicott shared the idea/mechanics behind the Circle Method in the same way you would share your understanding of a topic with a colleague at a chalkboard. Suddenly the idea clicked.

It can be difficult to discern the intent/idea/mechanics behind a technical piece of mathematics purely from a paper or standard textbook. Being able to tap into that understanding is one of the great benefits I think comes from Math talks. Unfortunately geographic and time restrictions hinder us from attending many talks. Virtual and recorded talks like this can be a great asset in spreading the ideas and intuitions we can’t (don’t?) include in our papers.

One other thing I want to note to keep in mind for the future is to create a named breakout rooms (through Zoom) after the talks for each of the speakers. Participants then have time to collect their thoughts and ask the speaker more directly. This also gives participants an opportunity to speak to someone that they may not be able to in a non-virtual setting. Conferences are also social events and we like to catch up with familiar faces, we are human after all.