I was very honored to be a participant at this year’s NKS Summer School. We had so many great participants this year (not unlike previous years, of course), and the instructors were exceptional. We had our project presentations this Friday from 11am – 3pm in the Waterman Memorial Lounge on the University of Vermont campus.
For those who are unfamiliar with the school, it’s a three week-long training program in the latest methods of conducting research in NKS. There are usually around 40 participants and eight instructors, not including Stephen Wolfram.
In order to better acquaint you with the school, I’ll give an overview of what happened this year.
The first week we had several lectures a day (usually starting at 930am and ending at 9pm, with breaks for lunch and dinner), and project meetings with Stephen Wolfram which occurred during the day and after dinner. We were assigned NKS projects to complete using Mathematica, based on our and our mentor’s interests.
Many of the lectures in the first week include introductions to elements in Mathematica, with a few training sessions split into beginner and intermediate groups. A good number of the participants had very little experience with Mathematica, but by the end of the school they were much more proficient.
In my opinion, the weekend was the best time of all, when a good number of us would gather in the downstairs lounge of the dormitories to code, swap stories, and play music. Todd Rowland, one of the directors of the school, would float between groups, checking on our progress, joking with the large faction of young NYU participants, and making sure the veterans were kept on their toes. There were always at least two instructors available to answer questions, regardless if they were or were not your mentor.
In addition to our lounge gatherings, the weekends were often dedicated to a few fun activities, a subsection of the school visiting a state park a ferry ride from Burlington. The rest of us played frisbee or basketball in the afternoon, or simply read outside in the view of vast blue-green mountains.
We continued to go to lectures, though in the second week their frequency dropped off as we worked more diligently on our projects. Many of us went to downtown Burlington (which is reasonably European with outdoor cafes and bricked walkways) to watch the fireworks, exploding over the beaches of Lake Champlain. A chorus of children alternately jeered or sang praise, and later future directions of NKS research were discussed over a pint on a wrought-iron table of an outdoor tavern.
Increasingly we were absorbed in our projects, small successes and setbacks dotting our days and evenings (the latter which sometimes extend well into early morning). Good coffee was at a premium, and we sometimes made side excursions to Dorset Street or downtown to obtain espresso.
The last week was a blur. We had to compile our posters and talks, printer time being a valuable commodity. We discovered glue-sticks and construction paper don’t mix, and wondered if eight pages was enough to display our method and results. We presented our abstracts to our fellow participants, the directors of the school, and Stephen Wolfram, hoping we’d be able to use our entire allotment of five minutes. Ironically, many times those five minutes ended up not being long enough!
After the poster presentation on Friday, most of us already having left for the bus or airport, we made a final excursion to downtown Burlington. We quizzed each other on philosophy, poetry, and pop culture in a side-room of the tavern, and remarked on the night as we walked back to the dormitories. For some, there hovered a pervasive sadness, the end of sharing close quarters with those who we’d come to know far better than colleagues. Our stories, our interests, pictures of our children or travels, our music, and our ideas had been shared in some measure—truly it was a unique opportunity to deeply sample the experiences of a diverse group of individuals with similar interests, such as we’d likely not have again soon, or for some, ever.
How would I characterize my time at the NKS Summer School? Unexpected; too short; vibrant; stimulating; beautiful.
Would I recommend it to others, and whom? Yes, I’d recommend it quite highly, and to anyone who is generally interested the world around them, or in a new way of approaching the their studies, work, or private projects. I’d contend a young high school student, a businessperson, an artist, an academic, and a excited coder could each thrive—and my contention is strong, for they have this year and year’s past, and shall in the future.