Swarthmore summer research orientation

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Welcome, Swarthmore students, to your summer 2011 Math Images research experience! This page is meant to introduce you to the Math Images project and to the work you will be doing, and to help you feel comfortable as you set off on this great adventure.

Getting to Know The Math Images Project

There are two good ways to get oriented to the Math Images project that complement each other quite nicely: using the orientation and help pages that are part of the Math Images website, and exploring on your own.

Helpful pages on the website

The Tour of the Math Images project is a great way to begin learning about the Math Images project. Once you have a feel for the project as a whole, and you start to have more specific questions, the Help Page will be a good place to start searching for answers.

Also, see Your Part in the Project below for links to pages that will deal with your specific role in the project.

Exploring on your own

Another good way to get a sense of the Math Images site is to read a bunch of existing pages.

There aren't yet enough pages on the site to simply search for any math topic you find interesting, and assume a page will be there. Here are two ways to find existing pages:

  • The pages written in the summer of 2010 are not necessarily our best pages, but they come the closest to following our most recent standards for writing style, page organization, and layout.
  • To see a list of almost all well-developed pages created to date, including pages from earlier summers, choose any of the options in the "browse images by..." section of the sidebar on the left-hand side of the page. Note that if you choose to browse the thumbnail gallery, a maximum of 5 randomly chosen thumbnails will be shown for each field. Click on the field name to see a complete set of thumbnails for that field.

Your Part in the Project

Every way in which you contribute to the Math Images project will be valued, but here are likely the two main ways that you will be involved.

Developing Pages

Your number one role in the Math Images Project will be creating Image pages for the site, a task that involves learning new mathematics as well. The value in this cuts two ways: the Math Images website becomes a more valuable and comprehensive resources for the public, and you have the opportunity to explore images and mathematics you find interesting as well as finding ways to communicate mathematics clearly and creatively.

Developing pages involves all of the following steps:

  1. Choosing a topic or image
  2. Doing research
  3. Creating the page
  4. Revising the page (a lot)
  5. Finishing the page

The Page Building Help page is a good place to begin learning about the process. It links to several pages, including a reflection on the writing process by Swarthmore's student writers from the summer of 2010, written with you in mind.

Both of these pages, however, have been tweaked to target the general public. As a Swarthmore student, you will get a great deal of support extra support in the writing process. The revision process will, as a result, be quite extensive. See the Page Development Process at Swarthmore page to learn more about this.

Thinking about the Site as a Whole

It is inevitable that as you work on pages you will notice issues that affect the Math Images website as a whole. You may see ways the site's programmers could make certain technical challenges easier. You may find that certain information is hard to access on the site or that the site should be restructured in some way.

There will be plenty of chances to discuss these issues during whole-group meetings, which happen at least once per week. Gene, the sort-of founder of the Math Images project, and Maria, the main programmer for the site, both do a great job understanding these issues and finding useful solutions. You will also solve many of them as a group.


The S11 page is designated as a main hub for communication among Swarthmore researchers this summer. In the past, it has worked well to keep a list of current projects and their up-to-date statuses in the main communication hub (see S09 and S10). But you are encouraged to develop any model of communication over the summer that works for you (collectively).

New areas of focus for the summer

More peer feedback

This summer, for the first time, students will play a major role in providing feedback to each other, instead of instructors doing most of the feedback. We think that you will be able to do a great job helping each other design interesting, attractive, sophisticated pages, and that the process of giving each other feedback will make the summer feel like a more valuable experience to you.

You won't be thrown to the wolves on this, so to speak. At the beginning of the summer, instructors will provide a lot of feedback on pages, so that you can get a sense of how pages tend to work. As the summer continues, you will play an increasing role in providing feedback, but instructors continue to be available for help, and they will ultimately sign off on your pages.

As you provide feedback, you will have not only your own insight to draw on, but also the site's writing references.

Documenting Institutional Knowledge

Every summer, many questions are raised and decisions are made on matters that have nothing to do with individual pages. Standards for labeling or formatting equations are developed, technical challenges emerge that affect many pages, discoveries are made about good ways to do certain formatting, etc.

In the past, we have not done a good job documenting our questions or insights. This year, as they come up, we would like to document them on the wiki.

Moreover, we would like them to be documented in such a way that they are findable later. Any documentation we develop should be reachable from the Help page by link-hopping, most likely via Page Building Help and Site Development Help.

The process of getting help and feedback and doing lots of revisions is hugely important in making good pages and in making this summer educationally valuable.


Here is a (partial) cast of characters who may or may not be relevant to you this summer.

Gene Klotz: The visionary behind the Math Images project, Gene has perhaps the best sense of the big picture of anyone involved. He will probably lead group meetings, though "lead" is a loose term: you will quickly learn that Gene will give you a huge amount of latitude. He will also make at least 60% of the total jokes in any group meeting, no matter how many people are there. While he knows lots of math (you know those PhDs...), in the past, Gene's role in providing direct feedback on writing and ideas for pages has been limited. Perhaps that will change this summer?

Steve Maurer: While he's not off running a math camp for middle-schoolers, Professor Maurer will be of tremendous help locating and understanding mathematical content and providing feedback on your writing. He knows a huge amount of mathematics and about how to communicate it. Be careful, though, when he starts talking about how he and you are having a "friendly exchange": that means his printout of your page is about to become a bleeding mess of red ink!

Ann Renninger: While Gene insists on calling her "Renninger", Ann, as everyone else calls her, directs research trying to answer small questions like: "What do people enjoy and not enjoy about pages on the Math Images website?" Ann, along with Gene, is also heavily involved with the grant-writing that gets this project funded. She helps make sure we're doing what we got funded to do, and gets feedback from you at the end of the summer that can help secure future funding. She will be at some group meetings and at least once will responsible for tasty treats coming from her kitchen or the 320 cafe.

Inspirational words from last summer's crew

And now, some final thoughts from the researchers from the summer of 2010: Becky Painter '13, Iris Hee Rhang Yoon '13 and Xingda Zhai '13.

This will be a valuable summer

From Week 0, when you may have had no idea what you were doing, to Week 10, when you have learned so much and have so much to say about this project to the future generations (like we do), you will have grown enormously as a serious learner. This project has offered you the opportunity to explore every aspect of scientific research, and hopefully spurred you on to do more research in the summers to come. In addition, you should have realized that learning exists outside of classrooms.

Moreover, it has inducted you into the wonderland of scientific writing and honed your skills as a science writers, many of which will come in handy in the future when you write your lab reports, draft your papers, present your findings, apply for grants, and communicate with fellow researchers and the general public. By getting involved in this project for your freshman summer, you are already ahead of everybody else, who are simply enjoying their first college summer partying away on the beach. You now have MIP under the research section AND the publication section of your resume. If you feel like doing so, you can start a wikipedia entry since you are so well trained in its syntax by now and whenever you apply for future researches, Math Images Project will always impress your application reviewers.

Work well, but stay sane and have fun

Be in the lab on time and always try to work in the lab. You are more productive that way. Take your one-hour lunch break, go outside of the lab and stare at distant objects. Your eyes need some focal length changes. Summer is not all about sitting in front a computer and doing math all day. Summer is a time to adjust and recharge. Establish a daily routine. Allocate some time to workout in the gym, swim in the pool, or run in the crum; put aside some time for reading; cook yourself a wonderful dinner; watch some movies and ensure that you get eight hours of sleep. During weekends, you can bike to Philadelphia with a friend if you have a bike and explore the city; go to museums and theaters; check out the Philadelphia Free Public Library and explore the parks and arboretums within the 10 miles of Swarthmore, etc. Also, get together with your fellow researchers to celebrate the completion of the fifth week. This is the summer when you get paid to live the life of a true intellectual in an utopia, so live like one!