Han Lie, September 2012,
BMS Phase I student,
BSc Tufts University
Why did I choose to go to the BMS?
I wanted to try something new. I had spent six years studying in the US - the last two years of my pre-university studies and four years for my bachelor's studying mathematics and quantitative economics. I had not spent an extended period of time in Europe.
Near the end of my bachelor's program at Tufts, I had to choose between graduate (PhD) math programs in the US and the BMS. At the time, I was quite sure I wanted to study more math, but I did not know whether I wanted to go for a PhD; I wanted to have the option of leaving with a Master's degree. With many US PhD programs, leaving with a master's is sometimes perceived negatively. Graduate math programs in Europe did not seem to have the same problem.
Compared to the US PhD math programs, the BMS offered the most flexibility - there were no formal teaching or supervision requirements. All the US PhD programs to which I was admitted had nontrivial teaching requirements. The BMS provided a decent monthly stipend with the freedom to focus on mathematics.
How is my life in Berlin/at the BMS?
When I first settled in Berlin, I had a lot of help from the BMS One-Stop Office and from my buddy. Whether it was arranging for housing, sorting out my residence permit or waiting to get my address recorded, I had a lot of help, and it helped make the move to Berlin much more manageable.
In terms of academics, my first semester in the BMS presented some adjustment challenges. The expectations in Berlin were higher, and the lecture content and the assignments seemed more comprehensive and difficult. But the advantage of drinking from a fire hose is that you get to drink a lot of water quickly. In the same way, I have learned a lot of mathematics in my two years in Berlin. There was also some surprise when I discovered that grades for examination-based courses derived entirely from the final exam. Course grades in the US were weighted averages of grades from assignments and exams taken in the middle of the semester, so the pressure was more evenly distributed over the semester and there wasn't an enormous amount of material to memorize at the end.
Fortunately, I got used to the higher expectations and the different system. It helped that there is a lot of cool mathematics being done in Berlin, and that the professors whom I took courses with were experts in what they taught. These things helped keep learning mathematics an enjoyable and worthwhile activity, and helped remind me that the reason I chose to study mathematics was because learning is fun, even if it is frustrating at times.
If I'm not working on mathematics, I'm chatting and chilling out with my BMS friends - in the BMS lounge at TU, over lunch at the Mensa (the university dining facilities), over dinner, or over beer. We discuss language, global finance, art appreciation and sports. We keep each other sane through the difficult times and celebrate good news (e.g., completion of exams or master's theses) together. For me, one of the most important benefits of coming to Berlin has been finding a group of good people from different backgrounds who happen to be talented mathematicians.