A remark

Course notes, for example the ones I post on this blog, should not be your sole reference for learning course material.

Perhaps I already said something along these lines, but I just want to elaborate a little. This coming September will denote the end of my fourth full year as an undergraduate, so I feel like I have enough experience to now state, with certainty, my stance on note-taking in pure mathematics courses.

As is probably made obvious by a quick glance at the Notes section, I have no problem keeping up with typesetting during a lecture when the instructor’s board work is somewhat linearly organized. However, for better or for worse, styles vary among instructors and this is not always the case. Some material, especially in a course like graph theory where proofs are almost always accompanied by sequences of diagrams which evolve as the proof unfolds, just does not lend itself easily to being typeset in real time.

I have slowly come to the realization that it is frequently impossible to produce notes which properly capture every single remark or quick explanation provided in class. Of course, a sufficiently strong student could (while reading course notes) fill in these intermediate steps and justifications themselves.

This is unfortunate for a person like me, who is admittedly a bit obsessive-compulsive to include every such detail the instructor writes down, even when I find them unnecessary for understanding (because who knows, maybe for someone else, that small detail would make the difference between understanding and wasting 10 minutes of their time in confusion). You may have noticed this about the PMATH 365 notes, and it may well be one of the prime causes of their general untidiness.

Which is esseeentially what prompted me to write this post. I am growing slightly tired of having my ability to follow a lecture be interfered with by my efforts to encode all of these details in a non-ugly way — especially in a course where probably everything we do is coming straight out of a textbook anyway. The situation is more complicated with courses where instructors present results that may not be as ubiquitous in the literature, for example graduate topics courses.

Regardless, as my Plan page indicates, this term denotes the logical (but not formal) end of my career as an undergraduate. All the courses I plan to take for the next year are either cross-listed as grad courses, or actually are bona fide topics courses (interesting choice of diction, I guess I may be inheriting some habits…) ahem, anyway, the point is that in spite of the remarks above, my notes will probably become more brief, effective as of next term. Henceforth, when elaborate proofs are presented in lectures and seminars, I may elect to merely provide a reference to the literature, rather than typesetting it all in detail — especially since the presentations in books and papers are almost guaranteed to be more elegant and readable.

TL;DR: I’m almost a grad student. I’m going to become a lazier notetaker and a better listener.


About mlbaker

just another guy trying to make the diagrams commute.
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