The light after a year of darkness

The following article by Andy Tran is an excerpt from Nemesis News 2021.

2020 was a challenging year that started with widespread bushfires, leading to a promptly relocated and reorganised 2020 National Maths Summer School (NMSS). And this was followed swiftly by a global pandemic that saw the entire world brought to its knees. Lockdowns, travel restrictions and economic recession flipped society upside-down and interrupted all aspects of our lives. But NMSS must go on!

NMSS 2021 will remembered as the first (and hopefully last!) time that the school was held virtually. It is no simple task to convert the NMSS experience to an online format, and it was thanks to the extensive planning and preparation from the Director and staff that NMSS 2021 could even happen.

Many of you would probably be wondering if an online NMSS can live up to a physical experience? Perhaps students missed out on sitting in a lecture theatre, hanging out in a common room and sharing meals in a dining hall. But Zoom became a lecture theatre, Discord became a common room and students still found a way to stream their cooking and eating! Although this may sound underwhelming to the unenlightened reader, NMSS 2021 came with its own set of unforgettable memories.

The main goal of NMSS is to give the students an opportunity to think deeply about simple things. Communicating over Zoom certainly presented a new set of challenges, in fact I may have said “you’re still on mute” more times than “that’s a good question, you should think about it”! Nonetheless, the students tackled the lectures and tutorials with resilience and enthusiasm and suffered embraced the tutors’ open-ended questions.

Another fundamental part of NMSS is the social side. Being able to meet enthusiastic like-minded students and making lifelong friends has always been an important corollary of NMSS. Here, the Experienced Group (13 students who attended NMSS the previous year and are invited back) did an overwhelmingly fantastic job in setting up the social scene. Within a day of the camp, the common room (aka Discord) was bustling with games of Mafia, Among Us, Chess and plenty more with a Puzzle Hunt, Assassins and memes in the background! 

So, did these students get the full NMSS experience? I think so, yes. They learnt some interesting mathematics, they thought deeply of simple things, and they learned what it was like to share a passion with others their age. And they definitely made lifelong friends on their new discord community. 

Let’s hope nothing goes wrong in 2022…

I want to finish by commending the Experienced Group of 2021 for their passion and dedication to NMSS 2020 and 2021, two “abnormal” years in the history of NMSS. Although they would not have experienced a “typical” Canberra NMSS, they overcame great challenges to ensure that NMSS traditions are passed on.

Andy Tran

Feb 2021