The life and self-reflections of a professional mathematician

Category: life

Christmas Proofreading

What do people in academia do during the break between two semesters? That is right, they hang out with their friends and families try to do as much research related activities as possible: write papers and proposals, review papers, read papers, work with their PhD students and postdocs more intensively, catch up with collaborators, brainstorm, etc. So far, this December is going pretty productive for me: I wrote two papers and formulated one problem I plan to work on in coming months.

xmasproofreadingProofreading is an essential part of writing

Hope you are having a nice end of the year too. I wish you Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas! Whatever you prefer :)

Last Lecture Music

After accomplishing a big and important task – be it a paper written in throes of creation or a course of lectures that drained all energy – I hear music. Today I gave the last two lectures: on Probability Models and Applied Linear Algebra. This is my music of the end of the Fall term: Goran Bregović – Bubamara. Sa o raomalen phuchena…!

L.A. team

 Senon Chavez, Will Kosch, Michael Herring, Dale Garrett, Kostia Zuev, Pevel Smirnov
LA team (Golden Gate Cup 2012)
L.A. floorball team, Golden Gate Cup, San Francisco
December 01, 2012

Monday and Coffee

Today, I wrote two reviews: one review of a research paper on uncertainty quantification and one review of a textbook that I used last spring. Both are positive (what can I do if both the paper and the textbook are good?) and, therefore, useless. Thus, the today’s motto:

Feynman on Bananas

When a researcher starts to think about something new, something he does not understand, he often feels confused and stupid. Doing research is unhappy business. Everybody has his own trick how to overcome this heartbreaking feeling. Mine is to watch the following video where Richard Feynman is talking about bananas :) When I see that even Feynman feels stupid, I feel much better!

A View From The Window

I was unpacking my luggage when I quickly looked in the window and suddenly, without any reason, a flow of scattered thoughts swept me off. The main stream of this flow was “this is a step back.” The thought was gone as quickly as it came, but even now I can feel its aftertaste.

A view from the window, The Elizabeth hotel, Singapore
May 19, 2012


Today, March 15, is exactly two years since I moved from Hong Kong to Pasadena. Time flies.

Recommendation Letter

“My letter of recommendation !” cried D’Artagnan,
“my letter of recommendation ! or, by God’s blood,
I will spit you all  like so many ortolans !”

A letter of recommendation is a cornerstone of academic life. It is needed when one applies for a graduate school; it is important when one tries to find a postdoc position; a very strong recommendation letter is a must if one wants to be competitive on a job market and hopes to find a faculty position at a university. People who know say that recommendation letters are even more important than applicant’s publications and CV.

Until recently I always was the one who asks for a letter. Several days ago, one of my former students who attended my Calculus class last fall asked me for a letter of recommendation. She needs it in order to apply for a scholarship. She was not only the strongest students in my section, but also one of the best students among all sections: she scored 195 out of 200 (the highest score!) on the final exam. I will try my best to write a perfect letter for her. To write is much more pleasant than to ask.


Initially we planed to fly to New York. Then the plan was changed, and we decided to go to Fort Ross in the northern California. Last minute, as always, changed our mind again and we ended up going east to sunny Arizona: to see Biosphere-2 and giant Saguaro cacti. Biosphere-2 is really cool, the Sonoran Desert is phantasmagoric (hi from Don Juan Matus).

These are 5 minutes from our 4-day road trip.

Christmas is All Around

What is the most exiting thing about Xmas and New Year for me? It is definitely writing and mailing out postcards to all my close relatives, good friends, and dear colleagues. This year we will send 21 Xtmas postcards: 9 to Russia, 3 to Ukraine, 3 to Hong Kong, 3 to United Kingdom, 1 to Germany, 1 to Sweden, and one to USA!