Description Math
499 was created in the mid 1990's, and called Math 400 until the fall
of 2004, when the University renumbered all its offerings. (The
testimonials therefore refer to it as Math 400). Each
week one faculty member addresses all the firstyear Mathematics
graduate students (and other interested people) for about 45 minutes.
Some professors give engaging lectures on specific topics; others
provide. Graduate students are required to provide feedback on the
talks.


Graduate Student Testimonial I
enjoyed attending Math 400 and listening to professors from different
areas of mathematics. Although it did not change my original intention
of studying logic, it did help me reaffirm my choice. As far as
changing my behavior regarding the doctoral program, I believe my
progress thus far would not have been too different without it. I
do believe that Math 400 is a positive aspect of the doctoral program
for two reasons. One is that it provides a forum for students to meet
each other and to know professors in the department, which is very
important for a successful graduate career, especially during the first
year. The other reason is it acclimates the new graduate student to
attending seminars, which is a major part of graduate study that is not
present in undergraduate programs. Over
all, although it has not dramatically changed my career path, Math 400
has attributed to the quality of my experience as a graduate student. Zhou Dong July 1, 2004



Graduate Student Testimonial Math
400 was a valuable part of my introduction to graduate school and to
the program at UIUC. The exposure it provided to the research interests
of many professors in the department was particularly helpful because I
did not initially know what I wanted to study. I appreciated the
introduction to various options, the insight into the history and
motivation of subjects and to connections between them. Additionally,
Math 400 helped illustrate what math research is like, what sorts of
questions are asked and how people proceed to study them. I also
learned about techniques that make a talk effective, and some things to
avoid. Lastly, being required to attend a seminar helped me get used to
attending talks, something I might not have felt as comfortable doing
as a first year student. In all these ways, Math 400 was instrumental
in my transition from undergraduate to graduate study. Sylvia Carlisle July 3, 2004


Graduate Student Testimonial Although
Math 400 is conceptually very appealing, in my opinion it does not
quite reach its goals. The class has two purposes: to expose incoming
students to a variety of areas of mathematics (to orient themselves for
their graduate career), and to force an introspective search about what
makes a good instructor. In practice, the latter purpose has been
deemphasized to make the course not be a burden, while the former has
not been achieved (again in my opinion). The weekly seminars are often
interesting, but little interaction between speaker and audience takes
place. Each talk is too isolated an exposure to a prospective advisor.
Students instead tend to use requisite classes to explore different
areas of mathematics, and higher level classes to choose advisors. I
think perhaps a less informal class at a slightly later point in a
graduate's tenure would be more effective. Lucas Sabalka July 3, 2004.


Graduate Student Testimonial Good points: 1)
Students get to see a much larger section of the faculty than they
would otherwise by going to class. Depending on the speaker they may
get some idea about the research being carried out at UIUC in a
particular area (and the opportunities for graduate student research). Some
speakers have used the opportunity to advertise a topics course the
following semester, in the spirit of "If you want to find out more...".
I think this is quite a good way to get students into topics courses,
and away from the comp focused mentality that currently exists. 2)
Even if a student has a reasonably clear idea of the area they want to
work in and perhaps even the person they are going to work with, it is
good to see what other people are doing. I found a number of the
analysis/logic talks interesting when I was taking Math 400. Bad points: 3)
The style and approach that different speakers take to giving this kind
of talk varies a lot (eg. general survey of an area vs focusing on some
specific problem/example). This on its own is not bad but it often
leads to a lot of variation in the level at which talks are pitched.
Weaker students often tune out when the level is too high or the talk
gets too techinical. It would be good if a signifcant portion of every
talk was understandable by an average senior undergraduate student. 4)
The current system is rather inflexible. First year students are
required to take Math 400 during their first two semesters. In some
cases (especially for students coming in with weak backgrounds) it
might make sense to postpone this for a semester or two. They are more
likely to follow the talks and get something out of them with some
graduate level mathematics under the belt. Even students who are
reasonable well prepared for graduate school might benefit from a
semester delay since there is such a lot going on in that first
semester (adjusting to teaching, graduate level courses etc.). Michael Bush July, 2004



Faculty Testimonial In
my three years as a faculty member at Illinois, I have given three
talks in the Math 400 seminar series. My experience with this series
has been very positive. This series is clearly an excellent way for
students to learn about areas of research and about potential advisers.
The talks offer a broad view of what research mathematics is like, and
are therefore an excellent complement to the introductory graduate
curriculum. As
a junior faculty member, I have also appreciated the exposure which
this series provides. Many students who have attended these talks have
gone on to take courses with me. Some of these continue to attend
research seminars in my area, and several of these have gone on to do
research with me. Of course, some of this may have happened without
this series. But it is clear that the series creates and facilitates
such connections. Therefore I feel that it is a valuable addition to
the graduate program. Scott Ahlgren July 2, 2004


Faculty Testimonial I
have given a lecture in Math 400 each year since we began this idea.
Preparing engaging talks that introduce graduate students to my area of
research has been a delight. Each year I look forward to my week in
Math 400. Nearly all of the student replies are positive and make me
feel good; on the other hand there is little tangible followup. No one
was ever come to work with me because of my math 400 talk. I get the
feeling that, by the end of the year, few students even remember who
said what in this series of talks. In
theory Math 400 seems to be an excellent idea. I have discussed it with
both graduate students and faculty, and the consensus is positive.
Graduate students see many faculty members they do not see in courses,
simply because the department is so large; as a result their training
is broadened. One
suggested change to Math 400 has been to make it required instead for
second year students. This suggestion has both positive and negative
elements. John D'Angelo July 3, 2004


