I quickly noticed that most of the professors in the math department went out of

I quickly noticed that most of the professors in the math department went out of politeness.Обнаружил сегодня вот такую статью: http://bentilly.blogspot.>com2009/11/why-i-left-ma>th.html Скопирую себе под кат, чтобы не проебать.

Reading how shocked Doron Zeilberger is at the state of modern mathematics reminded me of why I left the subject.

Math departments regularly have visiting mathematicians come and give talks. Or at least the one I was at did. For the visiting professors these talks were a confirmation of success, all of these people came to hear about their research. So they would talk about their research and get quite excited about what they were describing.

As a grad student I attended. I quickly noticed that most of the professors in the math department went out of politeness. However they knew they wouldn't understand the talk, so they brought other things to do. If I looked around about 15 minutes into the talk, I'd see people reading books, grading homework, and otherwise not paying attention. At the end of the talk the speaker would ask whether there were questions. Inevitably the mathematician who invited the speaker would have some. Occasionally a second mathematician would have some. But the rest of the room wouldn't.

This was supposed to be the high point of the life of a mathematician? That's when I decided that, no matter how much I loved mathematics, I wanted a different career. Unfortunately my wife was in grad school as well, and we were in such a small town that I didn't have any immediate employment options. Therefore I remained a rather unmotivated grad student. In the end my wife switched to medical school just before I would have finished the PhD. I'm mildly disappointed that I didn't finish, but it really has been no loss.

Why do mathematicians put up with this? I'll need to describe a mathematical culture a little first. These days mathematicians are divided into little cliques of perhaps a dozen people who work on the same stuff. All of the papers you write get peer reviewed by your clique. You then make a point of reading what your clique produces and writing papers that cite theirs. Nobody outside the clique is likely to pay much attention to, or be able to easily understand, work done within the clique. Over time people do move between cliques, but this social structure is ubiquitous. Anyone who can't accept it doesn't remain in mathematics.

It is important for budding academics to understand this and get into a good clique. This is because your future career and possible tenure is based on your research. But the mathematicians making those decisions are unable to read your papers to judge your work. Therefore they base their decisions on the quality of journals you get your papers into, and the quality of people you get writing recommendations for your work. But both of those come down to getting into a group that includes some influential mathematicians who can get your papers accepted in good journals, and that can write strong letters of recommendation.

In fact if, like me, you are someone who likes to dabble in lots of things, you will be warned (as I was by multiple professors) about the dangers of not focusing on one small group. You will be told plenty of cautionary tales of mathematicians who published a number of good papers, but who didn't publish enough in any specific area to get good mathematicians to stand behind them. And therefore the unlucky generalist was unable to get tenure despite doing good work.

For a complete contrast, look at the situation in biology. A motivated advanced biology undergrad is both capable of, and expected to read current research papers. When biologists go to a talk they both expect to understand the talk. And biologists have no trouble making tenure decisions about colleagues based on reading their papers.

I subscribe to the belief that the difference is mainly cultural. Biology is fully as diverse and complex as mathematics. Furthermore what I have read about the history of mathematics suggests that the structure of the mathematical community was substantially different before WW II. For example David Hilbert was known for stopping speakers and forcing them to define anything he found unclear. (Amusingly he once had to ask Von Neumann what a "Hilbert Space" was.) But after WW II an explosion of university math departments and a focus on solving concrete problems lead to a fragmentation of mathematics. And once mathematicians came to accept that they couldn't be expected to understand each other, there was nothing to prevent mathematics from splintering into fairly small cliques. Which has happened, and this is unlikely to ever be reversed.


Товарищи-математики, скажите, пожалуйста - у вас в самом деле всё так плохо? Или, как вот тут тётенька tandem_bike в коментах пишет, это всё хуита и зелен виноград? Реквестирую кул-стори, в общем.( Comments |Comment on this)




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