Monday, October 29, 2012

memories: when i was a (mathematical) gun-for-hire ..

the season of job applications is in full swing, isn't it? [0]

in point of fact, last month i helped a colleague with a research statement [1], and a week ago my old officemate sent me his "research statement for non-experts" .. which seems apt, since his work is as far removed from mathematical analysis as i can think of.

every time i see a job ad that's not on mathjοbs or the usual channels, i pass it to a colleague who's on the market and seems to fit the bill.

there were some thoughts that i wanted to write about last year, but i was always too busy with this application, writing another talk, or chasing another research idea ..
.. more on the latter case, below.

maybe this year i can make up for that lost time .. and in the process, those of you on the market can have a welcome distraction from your own endeavours in the job market.

2010-11 was, in general, a bad year for me.
the nsf said no to me again, which is just as well: i didn't want to write a grant proposal at the time, and i think it showed in my writeup.

regarding jobs, everyone said no to me .. except this one research group in finland. it was a 1-year deal, i didn't know what was available in that country after that, and i didn't know how easy it would be to return across the atlantic.
honestly, i wasn't sure if i had a future in maths.
(i'm a bit surer now, but doubts still come up fairly regularly.)

so as the spring of 2011 came into fruition, the possibility that the next year would be my final year spent as a mathematician became very real to me. having faced the uncertainty of market forces before and gotten burned [2], my reaction was altogether different:
fvck this; fvck it all.

i have a few ideas left, 
there have been these theorems that i always wanted to prove, problems that i always wanted to attack .. 

.. even if the odds of success are slim, i'd rather go down fighting my mathematical battles than the sisyphean task of applying to another job ad.
so i started working, spending days and days chasing after ideas that i never had the time to chase before. once one worked, i began to shape it, carve it, and when things were spinning furiously, lathe it.

it made for a very productive year, but not a too pragmatic one. i never actively arranged a plan b, though i entertained the idea of getting a teaching certificate ..

.. and seeing if i could get a job, in spite of my qualifications [3] ..

.. or perhaps even studying for the first round of actuarial exams and applying for an entry level job in finance .. all the while living off my meagre savings.

all in all, i felt like i was heading into sure disaster ..

[0] i don't know for certain, but from past experience, tenure-track job deadlines tend to be earlier than postdocs .. say in october or november; maybe december 1? i've hesitated from looking at the posts on mathjοbs .. if only because i don't want to encounter them anymore; see [2].

[1] the more i think about it, the more ridiculous it sounds for any (former) applicant to give advice on how to get a job, and the reasons are because of the lack of data to determine causality. for those of you who have a job, you have a single data point to study; it's not like you would apply the year afterwards, just to see how good you are at writing job applications!

the best advice i've gotten about applying for jobs, in fact, has been from more senior faculty that have served on hiring committees. so rather than to solve an inverse problem with few measurements, i was already given a well-established ansatz.

[2] admittedly, i still harbor a minor-but-seething hatred for the job application process.

[3] it's not clear to me why a middle school or high school would consider hiring a ph.d. as a maths teacher. there's a lot of talk about how we need "better" teachers, but in practice, how does expertise in abstract nonsense translate to good teaching? the only real selling point would be that i would know "how to prepare students for college."

on a related note, if i've only ever taught college students, then how likely would i be able to maintain discipline in a classroom full of adolescents? i'm hardly the disciplinarian type, after all.

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