Came across something cool today searching for some test writing material for math contests. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m trying to get back into the swing of things with creating problems for middle/high-school aged competitions that are medium in difficulty (similar to AMC/AIME type of difficulty). Anyways, I stumbled across this preface to the book Putnam and Beyond, written by my former math instructor at Texas Tech University, Razvan Gelca.
One of my biggest regret after graduating college was how I did not push myself harder to try earnestly at the Putnam Exam. At the time, I overextended myself with my coursework (trying to pull off a Mathematics and Engineering dual-degree, all within four years time) while neglecting some of my extra-curricular activities. If only I knew then what I know now about how classes are, effectively, pretty useless when it comes to the “real-world,” I would have focused more on qualitative accomplishments (like discovering new ideas, the value of research to find answers, etc…) rather than trying to maintain a high GPA. Although I never truly embarrassed myself on the exam (I didn’t ever record the dreaded final score of “zero,” for example), I certainly should have focused my attention more and worked longer hours practicing.
The Putnam Exam is one of the few math contests I feel genuinely strive towards recognizing inventiveness rather than regurgitation of math concepts. This “flicking on of the light bulb” of new ways of approaching problems is really what I cherished most about my Putnam sessions with Dr. Gelca. Although, without much consistent practice since, the math has probably laid dormant in me for a while, I still try to approach problems I come across in my work from multiple perspectives in order to determine the best course of action. There is and will always be high value attached to thinking of things in novel ways.
Anyways, discovering that I was mentioned in the Acknowledgements Section of the book Dr. Gelca was working so hard to compile while I was with him in the mid-2000s made me feel exceptionally proud and provided me a window to reflect on all life lessons I learned during that time.
And if you are math competitor, I highly recommend the book as well (I just ordered a copy myself as I have only a marked-up manuscript in my possession)!