Sunday, April 05, 2009

that was then; this is now.

a week ago or more, i gave a talk at one of the AM$ secti0nal meetings. the conference ended later that afternoon, and subsequently i wrote this.

i can't remember exactly when this was written. it was either that evening or the morning after, between my classes.

i didn't like [my talk]. colleagues did say good things about it, but in my own mind it could have been much better:

* too ambitious;
* too fast a pace (even though people assured me that it made sense) [1];
* even if i stuck with the content, the order and format of slides could have been improved ...

that was what i thought then.

i can say that i still don't like it, but some of my reasons are different now. moreover, i understand better what's really bothering me:

almost none of that talk was new.

sure, some of the background contained topics that i haven't presented before in talks, but the results are still my thesis results. i agonized over them a year ago, wrote them as well as i could ..

.. but that was a year ago;
what have i done, since then?

when was the last time that i had a new, good idea,
acted upon it,
made something out of it?

what i don't like about that talk isn't its mechanics or its flow or any of the thousand little subtleties which make it slightly better or worse. that's not the point. i've given good talks and bad talks, and i'll give bad talks again, whether i like it or not.

what i don't like about my last talk is what it suggests.

one decent result in 5 years [2]: it makes a thesis.
i can never be sure that it wasn't just luck ..

.. and i'm still not sure if i'm cut out for this line of work.

[1] it occurred to me later that it's pointless to ask your friends "did the talk make any sense?" of course they will tell you yes. it would require a habit of brutal honesty (or reacting to a truly horrible talk) before someone expresses a negative (albeit constructive) opinion.

of those who may genuinely mean it -- that this talk of mine made sense -- there is still the bias that, likely, they have heard some version of the talk before.

[2] that is, 5 years of graduate school, and yes, that may be a miscount. i spent ~2 years taking classes and exams: fine. that leaves 3 years.

i know recent ph.d.s which churned out at least a paper a year, in that same period of their lives. that's enough of them to know that it's possible; saying that "i was a student" is a reasonable excuse .. but still an excuse.

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