Art, Creative writing, Grad School, Math, Outreach, Research, Stories, Uncategorized

Work day of a mathematician

 “What does a usual work day of a mathematician look like?” (grade 8 student)

“Unlike writers and novelists, mathematicians do not even publish their work too often. What do they do all day?” (grade 9 student)

“What do professors do when they are not teaching undergraduate courses?” (grade 11 student)

“How do researchers manage their time when they do not have strict deadlines to follow?” (grade 11 student)

“How do co-authors work together when a lengthy research project needs to be completed?” (grade 9 student)

These are some of the questions questions that I often hear from high school students and even from junior undergraduates.  Most students do not observe mathematicians at work too often, so their questions are perfectly valid.  Every student knows what a shoe maker, a chef or a painter does because they see the direct products of these people’s work.  The situation is different with mathematician because often the outcomes of mathematician’s work cannot be immediately observed. Thinking about problems and experimenting with various solutions could take days, weeks or even months! Many attempts to solve a problem could fail.  Extreme persistence is needed to keep going forward and to avoid quitting. So, really, how do mathematicians keep themselves on track every day? How do they stay productive and motivated?  The answer is different for every mathematician. For example, here are some strategies for balancing academic work and hobbies that professor Andrei Kolmogorov and his co-author professor Pavel Alexandrov practiced:

First, they chose a pleasant setting to work in.  Both professors adored nature and often spent 3 to 4 days of the week outside Moscow in a cottage near a small river. Second, professors placed great value on physical activities to keep their minds fresh.  Their day usually started at 7am with various sports-related activities.  Both preferred taking walks and hikes every day after lunch (2pm) and short walks before bed time (10pm). Third, Kolmogorov and Alexandrov dedicated lengthy unbroken time periods to their research (usually from breakfast till lunch and from 3pm till dinnertime).  Fourth, both researchers did not neglect their shared hobby – music, and dedicated some time to listening and discussing various records every day. Fifth, professors aimed to get about 10 hours of sleep every day.  That often included short naps during the day.  Of course, when their research was going especially well, they altered their schedule and often spent entire days discussing the solutions to the posed problems.

In summary, in order to stay academically productive and motivated, try following these five simple suggestions:
1)      Find comfortable setting to work in
2)      Find common interests that you share with your co-author and dedicate time to pursue these interests
3)      Exercise regularly and get plenty of fresh air
4)      Get enough sleep!
5)      Organize your day in a way that will allow for lengthy unbroken work periods
6)      Be flexible in your planning and don’t hesitate to change your routine!
What do you think of these tips? Would you dare to try living several days by this demanding schedule?

Note: most of the information about professor Kolmogorov’s work habits was taken from the interview published in the “Quantum” (Квант) magazine in 1983.

The original version in Russian can be found herehttp://www.kolmogorov.info/kvant-sosinsky-beseda_s_andreem_nikolaevichem.html

The image is taken from http://vivovoco.rsl.ru/VV/JOURNAL/NATURE/04_03/KOLMOG.HTM

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