Michaelmas Term Week 6

Talk: How to Write an Essay 1: How to Read a Paper

It is a very good idea to take advantage of the option to write an essay in lieu of one exam.  This is not just because the essay option is usually a safer option.  Keep in mind that the point of the year is to transform undergraduates into working mathematicians.  Getting the experience of writing a substantial mathematical paper before you attempt a PhD thesis is a wise investment of time and effort.

This talk will describe what is involved in the essay option, how to choose an essay topic, how to request an essay topic if there is some theme you would like to write on which has not been offered as an essay title, what sort of support you can expect in preparing the essay.

This talk will be one in a series of events geared toward guiding you step by step through the process of reading mathematical papers, getting to grips with the ideas therein, and perhaps preparing a talk on the topic and writing an essay that will demonstrate your understanding of the ideas and your ability to apply them, perhaps even to questions not dealt with in the paper.  This is what we are looking for.

The lists of essay descriptions will have been published online.  You will now begin the process of choosing an essay topic, and reading the papers that are referred to in the essay descriptions.  Reading mathematics is not easy, but there are tricks of the trade which make it easier.  The talk this week should help you get started.

Even before you attempt to read more than the description of the essay online, I strongly suggest you ask our friendly research students about the topics.  This will save you a lot of time.  You should also contact the essay setter.  Essay setters have different ways of handling initial discussions with students who may wish to write on the topics they have set.  Some will encourage individuals to come and talk with them directly, others will arrange a time when they will present the topic more formally in a short talk, before meeting with students individually.  Expressing an interest in writing an essay does not commit you to writing or submitting that particular essay, or any essay at all.  You will not have to make that choice officially until late April/early May. Of course, if you do want to write an essay, you have to choose and start far earlier than that to have time to complete it, but should it go horribly wrong you have the option of abandoning it and not submitting, until the time that you have officially declared which examination papers you will be taking (see Easter term, Week 1).