“Bulletin Board”

 School of Mathematics - February 5, 2002

Report on my visit at IPM, January 2002

NOTE: Professor I. Swanson was a guest of School of Mathematics during Jan. 6-29, 2002. See Photos
Here is a report on her visit to IPM:

 NOTE: Professor I. Swanson was a guest of School of Mathematics during Jan. 6-29, 2002. See Photos
Here is a report on her visit to IPM:

I arrived in Tehran on January 6 and left on January 29, 2002. In between, I gave 10 lectures on tight closure, a mini course attended by both experienced researchers and graduate students. I also attended talks by several Iranian mathematicians. Many mathematicians gave me their papers to read and for requested feedback, and I was impressed by the active research and the sheer number of Iranians interested in commutative algebra. I am still working on the many papers I was given. This trip was an eye-opener for me: now I know about the active Iranian mathematical community.

I think that my ten lectures together with the 7 talks by Iranians was a good idea, and worked well. Many people showed up even for the last early morning talk! Many people talked to me before and after the talks about tight closure and about their own work. Time always flew fast then. I wished that people would come earlier in the day to talk to me: my mornings were pretty much left to myself! But I understand that people were limited in their time.

The facilities offered by IPM were fine. I have mixed feelings and impressions about the organization: since I was functionally illiterate and could not communicate with most people, I really appreciated all the driving and services I received from IPM; but on the other hand I am not used to being helped so much, in fact I prefer to be independent, so I was not completely comfortable with the arrangement. And then there were things that were never explained to me and I never asked (but probably should have): how I can get a visitor to my hotel (what is the magic password to get past the entrance gate); or how the ab e' jush/chai work at IPM (who brings it, and on whose initiative). My illiteracy and IPM's protection of me left me with little control over my activities. The routine was broken up nicely with the trips to the bazaar, the palaces, and at the end to Rasht and Shiraz. These were welcome breaks from days and evenings of only work away from my family. I am also grateful to the many Iranian families who invited me to their homes and shared their meal with me.

As I said, I was very impressed by the research activity in Iran, especially in Tehran. Iranian mathematicians work very hard, at several places, and it is not easy to commute from one place to another. I also saw a lot of determination to get things done, which is very good. But I also observed something not so good that may be based on my wrong impressions: it seems that the number of papers matters in Iran more than the content? I am only writing this as you asked for comments on everything, and I think that denser papers earn more respect. I do not know if this is a problem, but it may be something to keep in mind as the Iranian mathematicians are opening up to the outside world. Also, good English/German/French speaking abilities would be helpful. Several people who attended my talks do not speak much English, although they can write and read mathematical papers in English, and I wonder how much of my lectures they understood. I noticed that the better English speakers were translating sometimes. There was a lot of camaraderie among the mathematicians, another good thing.
You asked me to comment on everything, and here is something that may or may not have anything to do with mathematics: people do not seem to have time for themselves, for example too many were out of breath after walking up some stairs!

What was the worst part of my trip? The scarf and some tarof rules! I wish people could go through the door in the order of who gets to it first! And the best part of my trip was the discovery of a very different and yet not so different world -- people work and think similarly but in a different environment. The best were also Iranian fruits, especially sweet lemons, pomegranates and barberries. And also the best were the kind Iranian people, and the connections we established!

Irena Swanson

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