# Connecting finite and infinite mathematics through symmetry

I am just back from going to the AMSI workshop on `Connecting finite and infinite mathematics through symmetry‘ held at the University of Wollongong. The workshop was essentially an Australian group theory conference and was a great opportunity to hear what people in Australia were working on in the area. Unlike the annual combinatorics conference held in Australasia there is no regular gathering of the group theorists apart from at the annual meeting of the Australian Maths Society. It would definitely be good to have more regular meetings of a group theoretic flavour in the country.

The workshop was a great success with very good talks covering a wide variety of group theory. The areas covered ranged from computational group theory to totally disconnected locally compact groups and from geometric group theory to the graph isomorphism problem, with lots in between.

I gave a talk on my work on 3/2-transitive permutation groups. It mainly focussed on the work I have done in the finite case with various coauthors but in keeping with the theme of the workshop also included a few thoughts on the infinite case.

It always seems odd to me that 99.9% of the conference descriptions that I read about mention “.. the conference was a great success with numerous excellent talks … “, whereas substantially, perhaps massively, more than 0.1% of the conferences I ATTEND could be described as “.. the conference had numerous routine or dull or over-technical talks, fortunately leavened by a handful of excellent talks..”.

Am I just unlucky?

(Note: I did not attend the Wollongong meeting so nothing I say should be interepreted as applying to this particular conference or the excellence of the talks presented there.)

Yes, I often have that feeling Gordon, but the last couple of conferences have been quite good. I reckon the majority of the talks I attended at the ACCMCC were good, and the Wollongong one mentioned above was also above average. My vote for the top three talks (in not particular order) were by Martin Liebeck, Anthony Henderson and James Parkinson. The most memorable was Cai-heng Li’s talk, but that’s another subject!

It seems to me that, in the routine or dull talks, if you are not thinking about a mathematical problem of your own, you are probably thinking back on one of the great talks you just heard and assimilating the material. So in retrospect, the great talks seem to make up more of the conference than they actually did.

Also, I reckon that if I get several new things to work on at a conference, that makes it a highly successful conference from my point of view, even if the talks at which I heard these new things were quite dull. In fact I think that the really good talks sometimes don’t stick in my brain in the way that some less good talks do. I have heard talks by great mathematicians such as Michael Atiyah where I have really enjoyed the talk, finding everything so clear, but a day later was completely unable to remember what it was that had been said. Perhaps “no pain, no gain” applies to some extent.