*Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.* (Plutarch)

Modern mathematics is very much a collaborative activity rather than an individual one. You need to know what’s going on elsewhere in mathematics, and what other mathematicians find interesting; this will often give valuable perspectives on your own work. This is true not just for talks in your immediate field, but also in nearby fields. (For much the same reason, I recommend studying at different places.) An inspiring talk can also increase your motivation in your own work and in the field of mathematics in general.

You also need to know who’s who, both in your field and in neighboring ones, and to acquaint yourself with your colleagues. This way you will be much better prepared when it does turn out that your work has some new connections to other areas of mathematics, or when it becomes natural to work in collaboration with another mathematician. Talks and conferences are an excellent way to acquaint yourself with your mathematical community.

(Yes, it is possible to solve a major problem after working in isolation for years – but only *after* you first talk to other mathematicians and learn all the techniques, intuition, and other context necessary to crack such problems.)

Oh, and don’t expect to understand 100% of any given talk, especially if it is in a field you are not familiar with; as long as you learn *something*, the effort is not wasted, and the next time you go to a talk in that subject you will understand more. (One can always bring some of your own work to quietly work on once one is no longer getting much out of the talk.)

See also Tom Korner’s “How to listen to a maths lecture“, and Katherine Ott’s “Weekend Getaway Guide: A Mathematics Research Conference” from the Feb 2011 issue of the Notices of the AMS.

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26 June, 2008 at 4:22 pm

这等牛人也在wordpress上写blog！ « Just For Fun[…] one does need to work hard, learn one’s field well, learn other fields and tools, ask questions, talk to other mathematicians, and think about the “big picture”. And yes, a reasonable amount of intelligence, patience, and […]

31 March, 2009 at 2:57 pm

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11 December, 2012 at 1:13 am

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21 May, 2013 at 3:44 am

Bisogna essere un genio per fare matematica? - Maddmaths[…] duramente, conoscere bene un settore, conoscere altri settori e altri strumenti, fare domande, parlare con altri matematici e pensare al "quadro d'insieme". E sì, sono anche richieste una ragionevole quantità di […]

19 July, 2013 at 8:58 am

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14 September, 2013 at 1:35 am

fadekePlease I want to get a maths text book which 1 will I get

28 September, 2013 at 8:40 am

shamsherkhanhow to listen

1 January, 2016 at 1:19 am

gninrepoliI did not know where to write. On page http://wiki.math.toronto.edu/DispersiveWiki/index.php?title=Conferences typo. Instead of “Jan 13-17, 2016” you need “Jun”.

[Corrected, thanks – T.]22 June, 2016 at 1:10 am

Smart Imposter Syndrome – G-Notes[…] does need to work hard, learn one’s field well, learn other fieldsand tools, ask questions, talk to other mathematicians, and think about the “big picture”. And yes, a reasonable amount of intelligence, patience, […]

12 March, 2017 at 5:06 pm

Advice from Terence Tao – Math taught and learned[…] Here is some advice from Terence Tao about attending talks and seminars: https://terrytao.wordpress.com/career-advice/attend-talks-and-conferences-even-those-not-directly-re… […]

4 January, 2021 at 11:48 am

AnonymousHello,

I am going to ask an informal question to you. When some one attending math lectures then whether student should understnad that metrial from the text book and notes at first. Precisely what I want to mean that when instructor give some reading assignments, some section from text book and notes, then whether student should look at the book and notes first and then listen to the lectures or at first listening lectures and getting the idea then we should look at the book, notes and wiki articles ?

I know it’s vary from one person to another one but which one you prefer most from your perspective.

Thank You.