Sunday, September 25, 2011


when i learned two years ago that NSF grant applications require 15-page research plans, i could swear that my heart stopped beating for a minute. that probably didn't happen, of course ..

.. but what did happen was that my thoughts turned to desperation and fear.

15 pages of ideas, no proofs;
how the hell could anyone do that?

thinking about it now, i feel silly .. because i now think the opposite: 15 pages is short. somehow, these days i always have to cut it down.

that said, the academy of finland asks for a 12-page limit.


to be fair, "no proofs" isn't quite right. ideas of proofs are necessary to the exposition, if only for two reasons:

(1) they help explain what's going on;
(2) they indicate that you do know what you're doing, that you know how to get your projects going.

then there's a lot of 'why's:

why am i studying this problem?
why is it important or natural or relevant?
why is it hard? ..

and tying back to a previous theme,

why me? that is, what do i know that fits the problem and the subject, that affords me a better chance of success than average?

these are all hard problems, but not the technical kind that mathematicians tackle on their usual working days. in fact, it's almost opposite to how we tend to act and work.

speaking for myself, i chose an academic path precisely because the thought of "selling myself" for a job seemed unnecessary. that made the last year of my ph.d. and of my (first) postdoc to be especially traumatic ones.

well, i've changed my mind a little. grοmov has said once that you can't be a mathematician and live in the world at the same time, and maybe that's true ..

.. but i'm not grοmov. i see now the necessity, despite my love for the field and for my work, to live in the world, deal with its faults .. join the rat race.

this was actually supposed to be an optimistic post, and i still intend it to be. i think i'm getting a hang of this part of the job .. not to say that i'm good at it [1] but that things make more sense.

tonight i looked at a printout of this application and i realised what i want to say. it will take time to really refine the message and it still won't be easy to say it exactly right ..

.. but, after struggling for a week, i think i see why i've been doing what i've been doing, how it all fits together.

[1] come on. if i were actually good at this, don't you think i'd have gotten a grant by now?

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