Undergraduate Activities in the Department
Every year, several students (mainly but not necessarily math majors!) organize social and professional activities. Everybody is invited, and each activity is announced in all math classes and posted on the Clubs’ Bulletin Board (outside the tutoring room, MCS 144). Here is a brief description of the organizations and some of their ongoing activities. More information (leaflets and postings) is available in the math office (MCS 142) or through the advisors.
MAA Boston University Student Chapter
The MAA (Mathematical Association of America) is the world’s largest organization devoted to the interests of collegiate mathematics. There are currently 330 Student Chapters with approximately 3,500 members. Ongoing activities include: producing a newsletter each semester, featuring interviews, articles, and mathematical pictures (all past issues are available in the math office); organizing evening talks where students can see mathematicians in action and learn about their research; organizing career and internship workshops, with special focus on NSF-funded “Research Experiences for Undergraduates” programs (summer of junior year); getting together for problem-solving sessions; and competing in the prestigious North American William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. Each spring we have an event or exhibit to mark “Math Awareness Month” (MAM), and our activities have been praised and disseminated by the MAA! We are putting materials on the Internet (http://math.bu.edu); also, more information on MAM is available from the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics. The BU Chapter is also registered with the SAO (Student Activities Office), which sponsors some of the events. In the past, the SAO sponsored the production of a student-designed math button. Faculty advisor: Emma Previato
Each year, several Boston University students participate in the Putnam Competition. The Putnam is a prestigious mathematics competition administered by a national committee. All registered college students (U.S. and Canada) are eligible participants, for a maximum of four times.
At each participating institution, the exam is given on the first Saturday in December: there are six morning and six afternoon problems; the students may work for a maximum of three hours in each session. While the exam is extremely competitive, it also involves relatively little knowledge of advanced mathematics, and students with a knack for problem-solving can often do quite well. A list of the top 500 students is mailed the following March to each department supervisor (Emma Previato at BU), and may serve as a recommendation in a student’s academic or technical career. Three students (chosen by the supervisor), besides competing as individuals, compose the BU Team, and their cumulative scores serve to place BU among all participating institutions.
The only requirement for participation is that you give your name to the supervisor by early October. Consider signing up for the sake of the experience alone, as the problems are challenging, surprising, and often bring together separate areas of mathematics. Throughout the fall, informal coaching sessions are conducted by Professor Previato and other faculty, usually on Sunday afternoons. For scheduling information, please consult the math societies’ bulletin board outside Room MCS 144, or write firstname.lastname@example.org.
A description of the competition and a sample exam are available for the asking in the Math Office, MCS 142. In addition, you will find in Reserve in the Science & Engineering Library the two Putnam books with problems and solutions: The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition Problems and Solutions, QA43.W54 (1938–1964) and QA43.W542 (1965–1984); these are the best way to obtain a sampling of exam problems and to prepare for the exam. Another recommended browsing place for problems, highlights of recent discoveries, history, and teaching anecdotes (accessible to undergraduates but requiring a little more mathematical sophistication) is the journal American Mathematical Monthly; the more recent Putnam problems and solutions appear in the October issue each year.