14 Hours of Math

So, I just spent 14 hours on a math modeling competition.

I cannot begin to tell you how mentally exhausted, and yet mentally uplifted I feel.
I had a LOT of fun. And I’d gladly do it again… and again… and again!

To begin with, I do not recommend doing such a math contest unless you actually like the subject. It can give you a good push or something to talk/write about in terms of college, but it’ll be pure torchure unless you’re ready to spend 14 hours on math (plus you might not do well).

Oh and when I say 14 hours, I mean starting at 7 am to 9 pm. And if you don’t turn it in by 9 pm time stamped exactly, then you just spent 14 hours making a model for nothing.

Luckily they do accept partial answers, so you can turn in an unfinished paper to be evaluated just in case. It’s so much better to turn in an unfinished model then nothing at all. Especially when you invest 14 hours. So in this case, being a perfectionist may not pay off…

So onto the actual competition. Now I don’t know if I’m allowed to disclose the actual problem we had to model yet. I haven’t been advised about that, so I won’t try.
I do have some big-picture things to say and encouraging points in case you’re interested in similar contests.

First of all, you’re not alone. Literally. I don’t mean you’re not the only nerd, but that you have teammates. In this competition I had 4 teammates. In another one I did earlier this school year, I had 3. I won’t guarantee that all math modeling contesta will give you teammates, but at least the ones I’ve been apart of have teammates (and that’s 2 … so you don’t have to listen to me).

Now believe it or not, it can be both a help and a detriment to have a small or large number of teammates. It can help because with all the different viewpoints and minds, a lot of good ideas go floating around. In addition to this, it keeps you from being focused on one thing.
The number one error you could do in such a competition would be to get caught up with one little detail or aspect, dump way too much time into it, and then end up regretting it.

And that would really suck.

Now the thing to be wary of with teammates would be a lack of organization or even over-discussion of modeling methods. Although it’s always good to talk about things and not always helpful to create rigid groups, don’t let it go overboard. Talking too much can eat a ton of time and open groups might prevent efficient resource allocation.
Keep ideas flowing and energy high.

On a general note, make sure to pull back every so often an really ask yourself what am I accomplishing it right now and is this what I need to do? I know it sounds stupid and people might tell you similar advice for a lot of things, but in a high-pressure situation like this, it’s quite crucial. You might stumble upon a brilliant idea and a beautiful model, but it might just be extra stuff — details you dont need — while you miss answering a crucial question outlined in the quesiton.

My suggestion to easily avoid this is to just reread the problem you’re given every so often. Often times they will have bullets or questions outlined for you to answer. Just go over it, quickly think of what you have so far, and then evaluate your situation from there.

It’s really easy. Takes 1 minute tops.

Oh and one big thing: simplify, simplify, simplify. I cannot emphasis this enough. I was lucky to have a group that was on task, concise and understood the time restraint for my first competition. We were a little less on task due to complications with my second group, but we were still on time. Either way, you need to understand that if you’re doing a 14 hour competition, they’re expecting a solution that can be produced in 14 hours. They aren’t asking you to factor in EVERY SINGLE variable or EVERY SINGLE possibility. Those are what strengths and weakness sections are for (or other sections where you talk about what you omitted).

You are NOT EXPECTED to address everything. And you can’t.
So go simple.
Of course… not too simple.
Yep. I’m going to be that way

On a happier note, despite all the mind-numbing hard work and willingly sacrificing your Sunday, it can be a lot of fun (at least I had a great time). So much mental stimulation and energy occurs in that room that it is very enjoyable. You’re talking to each other about this and that, sometimes going a bit off topic or making a joke in-between, while also working on your model together. Plus, despite what you may think, we don’t just sit in front of computers or notebooks silently and think for 14 hours. We joke around, we break for lunch, and we have fun. It’s really a great Sunday.

Just… for nerds.

And I LOVE that.

Plus you feel smart and accomplished afterwards.

(We wrote a 15 solution paper. Yeah. How’s that for getting something done).

Til next time ^.^

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