I will be heading off later this week to the Academic Sponsors’ Day at MSRI, going as Shmuel’s proxy for uchicago. I’m not sure to what extent (if any) there is for me to make policy suggestions, but any comments you would like me to pass on to MSRI management would be appreciated. Post them below!
There is one program at MSRI that (from my mostly second hand observations) seems as though it could do with some improvement. MSRI regularly holds a number of summer schools. For example, this summer, Kevin Buzzard is giving an introduction to the theory of automorphic forms. I would have loved to been able to go to such talks when I started out as an graduate student, and I really wanted to send some of my current students to this. The problem? Firstly, there are a severely limited number of places. I’m not entirely sure I understand this, but I can imagine a few reasons. However, MSRI (apparently) goes to extreme lengths to be as “equitable” as possible in admitting people from as many different sponsor schools as possible. The result? I am told (internally) that the University of Chicago will be at most able to send two or three students in total to the seven or so different programs available. The result is that the only people uchicago sends to these programs are basically advanced students who are about to graduate and aren’t in any sense the target audience. On the other hand, these programs also tend to admit students from schools with much weaker backgrounds who aren’t even comfortable with basic concepts from algebraic number theory. This seems to be a very stupid way to choose participants for any program, even if it is purely in the name of fairness. What does a Harvard number theory student have to do to be able to attend an introductory course on automorphic forms — prove the Sato-Tate conjecture?
Apparently at least one lecturer plans to give their 20 courses in the order 1,11,2,12,3,13,etc in order to try to please at least half the people half the time.
One wag suggested that schools from weaker programs should consider it in their best interest to only admit students from places like Harvard, since then at least the programs would be training their future professors ([Caveat: I heard this second hand, so it may well have been in jest]). Presumably the reason behind MSRI’s policy is that the spoils of MSRI programs should go equally to (students of) universities that fund MSRI (sssuming they contribute a similar amount.) However, there seems to me to be a very natural alternative solution to this problem, namely, to continue having “advanced” summer courses but also introduce some deliberately introductory courses tailored to people from schools with less background. Students from schools with more advanced programs could be barred from the lower level introductory programs (since they could be more easily reproduced locally) and then, when it comes to the more advanced topics, there wouldn’t be the restriction to admit at most one student from each school. In particular, the selection criteria should concentrate (in part) on who stands to get the most out of each program.
Please add any further suggestions or complaints below