Mathematics Advanced Study Semesters at Penn State University

From Alice Medvedev of the California Institute of Technology:

What did you like about the program?
unusual course material; professors! and TA's; love&care during and afterwards;

What didn't you like about the program?
slow pace: very mixed group of students, what's challenging for a sophomore isn't for a senior

How was the environment for women?
they make a point of inviting women; happy, i think.

What type of program is this?
Fall Semester program at PennState

Did you receive a stipend/wage or did you have to pay to participate?
pay in-state tuition, room&board

If you did research, how independent was your work?
yeah.

What was the format of the program?
3 courses, each comes with ~weekly homeworks, oral final, independent project; project may be reading or original; a seminar by program director about olympiad-like problems; a weekly coloquium by professors from all over: excellent!

Do you recommend this program?
yes; the experience will be drasticaly different depending on your background; you can't do without basic calculus/linear algebra; if you're over-prepared, courses will be easy, but all the more time for projects


From Jackie Anderson of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

I attended the MASS program at the start of my sophomore year (Fall of 1998). To say the least, it was tough. I highly suggest a solid year of abstract algebra and a solid year of analysis if you're planning on attending. I think we used abstract algebra in all three of my classes so I learned it quickly!

The program only runs in the fall right now although there is always talk of having a spring semester also. The program consists of three 4 credit classes and a 3 credit seminar. I could have lived without the seminar since the time would have been helpful for studying.

Attending this program really ignited my interest in number theory. We had a course entitled Number Theory: From Fermat's Little Theorem to his Last Theorem. We covered a lot of ground in this course learning about elementary number theory, elliptic curves, and just began talking about modular forms. The very nonstandard courses, like this one, that are taught at the MASS program are what make it so interesting. I'm sure not many other schools have offered such a focused number theory course at the undergraduate level.

The environment for women isn't bad. When I was there, my roommate and I were the only non-Penn State women in the program, but all the people were great. Most of us got along well which is good since you're with each other most of the time. The year after I was there, I believe that there was only one woman participant, but this past year there were many more women.

I would recommend this program to someone who is interested in some nonstandard courses and is prepared for a semester solely devoted to mathematics. That is not an understatement!


From Lucas Sabalka of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

MASS is the Mathematics Advanced Study Semesters, held at Penn State University and sponsored by an NSF Vigre grant. MASS has two parts: an REU and a study semester. (I don't know much about the REU...) The study semester occurs in the Fall, when students attend Penn State and take 15 credit hours of mathematics. Students take three main classes and a lab, on varying subjects, as well as attending a colloquia series directed for them. It is a very difficult semester with very difficult classes, but I learned a heck of a lot of math from it, and I had a great time. After settling in, the 10 or so people in the program with me all made great friendships and had a lot of fun. The mathematics is really advanced, the studying is really intense, and the Black and White shakes from Ye Olde College Diner are the best. The Vigre grant makes it possible for PSU to offer their tuition to students for the rates they would normally have paid at their home institution.