PRIMES: Michael Zanger-Tishler's Story
Most adults look back at high school and think about their prom or the homecoming football game as the highlights of their youth. Not me. The best part of my high school experience has undoubtedly been conducting research with PRIMES. Nothing else I have done in my life so far has changed the way I think quite the way PRIMES has.
I am a student who has loved math since middle school and was drawn to it because of math competitions. When I was younger, the quick and elegant solutions to the contest problems were enough to satisfy my intellectual curiosity. As I entered high school, however, I was no longer as engaged in participating in contests. I felt that my success was mostly predicated on not making careless mistakes and learning quick tricks to aid in solving problems. When I heard about PRIMES I was ecstatic because it offered all of the things contests didn’t. First, there was the chance to work with professional mathematicians and see what mathematics actually involved on the academic level. My mentor, Tue, met with me and my research partner once a week and did so for as long as we wanted. He met with us on weekends, over the summer, and whenever we needed the time. He conveyed a love of math that was contagious. Second, there was the chance to think about the problem for a long time, rather than just for five or ten minutes. It was really cool to always be thinking about one problem, and I often came up with ideas at strange times in strange places. I was at a Celtics game once and scribbled down a theorem we ended up including in our paper on a napkin I had from my soft pretzel. Finally, there was the chance of actually discovering something completely new and not just solving a problem prewritten to have an integer answer between zero and a thousand. I do not know if I currently posses an accurate word to describe the pride one feels discovering something new, but “awesome” would be the first word that comes to mind.
One aspect of PRIMES I did not appreciate fully until our annual conference in May was the ability to interact with students who were just as good at math as me. It was something I had not expected at the beginning of the program because coming from a small school, I had always been the math guy who everyone looked up to. However, it was one of the most important moments for me during the program when I realized that there are a lot of people who know math and care about math just as much as me, and wanted to learn with me. Often for high school students, I feel that this experience does not come soon enough and it is great because it gives you role models and peers to learn from and emulate.
PRIMES is a unique experience. It is not easy, but it is rewarding beyond belief and definitely is something I will appreciate for years. When you start to visit colleges, you notice that almost every university promises research opportunities and tells you how for many students, this research can be a defining part of their undergraduate education. I smile to myself whenever I hear this, because I know that I was fortunate enough to have an experience like this in high school. PRIMES is an amazing program, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.