Friday, March 12, 2010

on being a "young researcher" ..

it's odd, being one of a few postdocs in a mathematics department .. at least, from my own biased experience.

you see, when i was a student, my department ran rife with postdocs.

before the economic woes of fall 2008, there were at least a dozen hires, every year. [0]

in the research group that i joined, in one year there were 4, all in varying stages of a job. it made for well-attended research seminars .. and lively discussions afterwards, over mediocre pizza and drinks.

here, there are about a half-dozen postdocs. of them, only two are non-applied; i am one and the other is, roughly speaking, a logician/algebraist. we haven't so much in common, except we are few.

one could liken the change in departments to, say, becoming among the few remaining νulcans in a rebooted star trek universe.

luckily, i have plenty of people to talk to. i meet regularly with two faculty, my postdoctoral mentors. their students are promising; occasionally i meet with them, too.

sometimes, though, i miss talking to mathematicians that are my own "age."
  • when i speak with tenured faculty, i am the slow, plodding one: i learn a lot, but it's a race to catch up with what they already know well.

  • when i speak with graduate students, somehow i am the knowledgeable, patient one. [1] it becomes important to pace matters accordingly, ask them pre-questions before questions, sharpen the discussion ..
so regularly i feel woefully young and inexperienced, and other times, i am surprisingly seasoned and "old."

sometimes, for a change in scene and an exchange of ideas, i travel. i meet colleagues and friends. [2] i try to figure out who i still am, who i can be.

in this aspect, it is good to be young. it is easier to find travel funds, as a young researcher. i know this time will be short, so i may as well enjoy the perks!

[0] the pace of hiring may have remained the same; i don't know. since i left for my postdoc, i haven't returned there.

[1] yeah, i know: me, of all people. can you believe it? (-:

[2] maybe i should call people more often. in fact, i was on skype today, to talk to a collaborator. now i wonder what collaborations were like, before VoIP.

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