Reading Seminar 2018-19

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My (Daniel's) experience has been that reading seminars have diminishing returns: they run out of steam after about 8 lectures on a certain book, as everyone starts falling behind, etc. I was thinking aim broader (rather than deeper), covering 3 books, but with fewer lectures. My idea is to partly cover: Beauville's "Complex Algebraic Surfaces"; Atiyah's "K-theory" (1989 edition); and Harris and Morrison's "Moduli of Curves". We would do about 6-8 lectures on each. This allows us to reboot every two months, which I hope will be mentally refreshing and will allow people who have lost the thread of the book to rejoin. Anyways, it's an experiment!

Some notes:

  • Each book will have a co-organizer: Wanlin Li for Beauville's book; Michael Brown for Atiyah's book; and Rachel Davis for Harris and Mumford's book. Thanks!
  • I left some "Makeup" dates in the schedule with the idea that we would most likely take a week off on those dates. But if we need to miss another date (because of a conflict with a special colloquium or some other event), then we can use those as makeup slots.

We are experimenting with lots of new formats in this year's seminar. If you aren't happy with how the reading seminar is going, please let one of the organizers (Daniel, Wanlin, Michael, or Rachel) know and we will do our best to get things back on a helpful track.

Time and Location

Talks will be on Fridays from 11:45-12:35. This semester, Daniel is planning to keep a VERY HARD watch on the clock.

Talk Schedule

date speaker sections
September 7 Wanlin Li Beauville I
September 14 Rachel Davis Beauville II
September 21 ?? Beauville II and III
September 28 ?? Beauville III
October 5 Soumya Sankar Beauville IV
October 12 ?? Beauville V
October 19 ?? Beauville V and VI
October 26 Dan Corey Beauville VII and VIII
November 2 ?? Makeup Beauville
November 9 Michael Brown Atiyah 1 (Section 2.1)
November 16 ?? Atiyah 2 (Section 2.2)
November 23 NO MEETING Thanksgiving
November 30 ?? Atiyah 3 (Section 2.4)
January 29 ?? Atiyah 4 (Section 2.3, Part 1)
February 1 ?? Atiyah 5 (Section 2.3, Part 2)
February 8 ?? Atiyah 6 (Section 2.7, Part 1)
February 15 ?? Atiyah 7 (Section 2.7, Part 2)
February 22 ?? Makeup
March 1 ?? Moduli 1
March 8 ?? Moduli 2
March 15 ?? Moduli 3
March 22 ?? Moduli 4
March 29 ?? Moduli 5
April 5 ?? Moduli 6
April 12 ?? Moduli 7
April 19 ?? Makeup

How to plan your talk

One key to giving good talks in a reading seminar is to know how to refocus the material that you read. Instead of going through the chapter lemma by lemma, you should ask: What is the main idea in this section? It could be a theorem, a definition, or even an example. But after reading the section, decide what the most important idea is and be sure to highlight early on.

You will probably need to skip the proofs--and even the statements--of many of the lemmas and other results in the chapter. This is a good thing! The reason someone attends a talk, as opposed to just reading the material on their own, is because they want to see the material from the perspective of someone who has thought it about carefully.

Also, make sure to give clear examples.

Feedback on talks

One of the goals for this semester is to help the speakers learn to give better talks. Here is our plan:

  • Feedback session: This is like a streamlined version of what creative writing workshops do. Every week, we reserve 15 minutes (12:35-12:50) for the entire audience to critique that week’s speaker. Comments will be friendly and constructive. A key rule is that the speaker is not allowed to speak until the last 5 minutes.
  • Partner: We assign a “partner” each week (usually the previous week's speaker). The partner will meet for 20-30 minutes with the speaker in advance to:
      Discuss a plan for the talk. Here the speaker can outline what they see as the main ideas, and the partner can share any wisdom gleaned from their experience the previous week.
      Ask the speaker if there are any particular things that the speaker would like feedback on (e.g. pacing, boardwork, clarity of voice, etc.).

    The partner would also take notes during the feedback session, to give the speaker a record of the conversation.

  • This is very much an experiment, and while it might be intimidating at first, I actually think it could really help many of the speakers.