J-P Serre is considered by many to be the best mathematician alive. He is also known to be an excellent expositor. There is a little anecdote about his teaching that I’d like to narrate. Once he delivered a beautiful clear lecture. After the class, a student had some difficulty and both decided to continue the discussion in Serre’s office. When Serre opened his office, the student was surprised to see the entire lecture written out on the board in Serre’s own handwriting. Without much ado, Serre took the eraser and started erasing the board saying, “Wow, how did it all get here?”

Even the legendary mathematician and lecturer Serre needs to practice his lectures! So mastering dramatics must be playing a large role in being a good teacher. Even the opinionated Gian-Carlo Rota puts, “A teacher of undergraduate courses belongs in a class with P.R. men, with entertainers, with propagandists, with preachers, with magicians, with gurus.”

At Purdue, I often discuss Maths with Abhyankar at his home. Yesterday as we were discussing upon the day when I could come next for discussion, I suggested ‘Thursday”.

A: No, not Thursday, I teach on Thu.

Me: I can come in the morning.

A: No I want my mind to be peaceful before I teach.

And further he added a one-liner that will stay in my mind for a long time –

I want to prepare to appear spontaneous“.


Tailpiece : Here is a humorous video by J-P Serre about how to write Mathematics badly. Beware of its huge size though.