The format of Mathcamp 2022 is still TBD, but we hope to run a residential program! Learn more.

Q&A: Life as a Mentor

Status: We are no longer accepting applications for summer 2021.

The mentor job is a hybrid between a teaching position and a camp counselor role. Your primary responsibility is to teach great classes, and you'll be doing this in the context of summer camp: you live, eat, and play with the campers. It's a lot of work and a lot of fun.

What is it like to work at Mathcamp online?

Here's one staff perspective that sheds some light on this question:

 Although I was apprehensive about working at virtual Mathcamp, the care that was taken in implementing an online camp made it a truly special place to work. I felt more in touch with people this summer than I thought possible in an online format, both in classes and social activities. Being around so many staff who care deeply about teaching also helped me think about how to adapt teaching to an online format. 
Ben D., Mathcamp 2020 Mentor

What does the day-to-day schedule look like?

A typical day looks like this.

At Virtual Mathcamp, the academic week starts on Monday, and classes run each week from Monday to Friday. During the week, in the morning and early afternoon (Pacific Time), there will be four 50-minute blocks for classes and time set aside for lunch. You will be typically teaching during one of those four class blocks, and can do what you want during the other three. Most of the campers will be busy in classes, so the three blocks of downtime are great for things like: class-planning, sitting in on other people's classes, or sleeping in. In the afternoons, you'll hold informal office hours ("TAU": Time, Academic, Unscheduled). There are a few other activities that fit into the week, like group staff meetings and one-on-one check-ins with your academic advisees; you can generally expect to be busy, but with some flexibility.

During the evenings, campers and staff will organize lots of events and just hang out. You can partake in the events however much you want/have time for, or spend time preparing for classes and relaxing!

Saturdays and Sundays are the weekend at Virtual Mathcamp. "Field trips" happen on Saturdays, and Sundays are down time for the staff to relax and prep our classes.

Do I get time off?

Yes! You get to choose how much time you want to interact with campers and how much downtime you need. It is important to have a rapport with the campers so that you will have good attendance in your classes, and you'll have lots of opportunities for informal playing with campers. However, your health, sanity and class preparedness are your top priorities. Some staff view interacting with campers as their downtime, while other staff enjoy leaving campus to recuperate. (But don't expect to get research or serious math studying done during camp: you'll be too busy.)

Are all the classes taught by mentors?

Most of the classes are taught by mentors. There are also a few full-time instructors ("faculty") who are past grad school, and we'll periodically bring in guest speakers to give classes and colloquia. (The guest lecturers are specifically chosen for being awesome expositors and interesting people; you can hang out with them and learn neat stuff!) Sometimes short courses are taught by our undergraduate counselors, too! More info here.

What kinds of math should I teach? How much background do the students have?

The process of figuring out what classes you teach takes a bit of time. Mathcamp wants you to teach whatever you're excited about teaching, and you'll be paired with a more experienced Mathcamp instructor (your "mentor buddy") to help you pick your topics and craft your courses.

Campers come in with different backgrounds; some will be writing proofs for the first time at Mathcamp, and others will be ready for a sophisticated course in algebraic geometry. You can assume all the students have seen high school math up through Precalculus, and either have already or will get in the first week of camp a grounding in the fundamentals (like basic proof techniques, set notation, modular arithmetic, etc). As an overgeneralization, you can think of the new campers as being very good undergrads just starting upper division math, with returning (alumni) campers having had a bit more mathematics experience. Regardless, expect your students to be bright, creative, and very eager to learn!

You can also choose the difficulty level of your course and specify whatever prerequisite material you think is appropriate and reasonable. Classes are marked with an indicator of 1 to 4 chili peppers: in a 1 chili pepper class, every camper should be able to follow, whereas in a 4 chili pepper class, you can challenge the strongest student.

You can see the range of classes taught last year here.

I'm interested in problem solving. Can I teach that?

Yes! While not a major focus at Mathcamp, we do have some students who are interested in problem-solving courses: some of these students will be competition novices, and others will have IMO medals. You can teach a full schedule of problem solving (1-2 classes per day), or a mix of problem solving and other topics. You can also take responsibility for creating and coordinating the weekly Team Problem Solving competition at camp. More info here.

What about computer science?

Every year we try to include several computer science classes. In the past topics have included cryptography, quantum computing, and computational complexity theory. These classes are often very popular with the students and so we are excited to have applicants who are interested and able to teach them. Sometimes these classes are taught by math graduate students with an interest in CS, but in the past we have also had mentors who are computer science students with a strong interest in mathematics.

Aside from teaching, what are the other job responsibilities?

There's a significant non-mathematical aspect of the job, too: mentors, like everyone on the Mathcamp staff, are involved in the running of the program, from the mundane (organizing spreadsheets) to the philosophical (debating camp policies) to the absurd (blue-tape bowling with campers). The whole staff team makes the program into the magical place that it is; we are all looking out for everyone's well-being and inventing new and creative ways to make camp a better experience. We're also all pitching in to get the day-to-day stuff done: you might staff a puzzle hunt team, have a supportive conversation with a student who's feeling blue, or set up closed-captioning software for a new Zoom room. You might also sing with the students in the (online!) camp choir, lead a hip-hop cardio workshop, or do across-the-hemisphere stargazing. Teaching comes first, but mentors wear many hats.

What are the people like?

We should let the mentors speak for themselves on this topic. This recent quote really captures it:

 The campers here are phenomenal, both in regards to academics and how they treat one another. The rule of "be excellent to each other" is adhered to without much, if any, enforcement. As a new staff member, I felt both valued and heard from day one. 
Emily G., Mathcamp 2020 Mentor
Generally speaking, we think that getting to collaborate with the fantastic staff and students in this community is the best part of working at Mathcamp.