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Keeping Your Research Alive
The following is a loose transcript of the question and answer period from the
panel discussion ``Keeping Your Research Alive'' from the Project NExT sessions at the
1995 Joint Mathematics Meetings. What appear below are not direct quotes, but they are
closer to quotes than they are summaries. They appear in the order in which they were
asked. What follows below is not entirely complete, but does contain what the editor
thinks were the most important points.
- How does one deal with the spouse/kid issue?
- Anybody with a small child doesn't sleep. My daughter has taught me how to say
``no.'' I have shut a lot of things off.
- I don't do anything at night; don't have any outside commitments.
- I have found there is a perception that men shouldn't claim time for their kids. It's
kind of reverse sexism.
- For me, family is the top priority.
- I have a question about grant writing. Some of us would like time to work on
common research problems together. Is it reasonable to write a grant to bring people
together to do this? Is money available for this sort of thing?
- You should start at your home institutions. They often have travel grants for young
- A group of real analysts had the same question 20 years ago.
Their efforts have
blossomed into an annual summer symposium held at various universities.
to stay at dorms which only costs $10 a night or so.
Also, the NSF funds young people; it has ``affirmative action by location.''
- The AWM often has travel money available.
You could get together at either end of a
conference related to your research interests. You should also consider more obscure
places. School faculty development grants ($3,000) might support such requests.
Rotational grants for smaller amounts of money get rotated around. You should check
with the state for educational sources. I organized a regional graph theory conference that was
funded by the Office of Naval Research. There are also PEW grants; grants for scholars to
come and visit your institutions. Additionally, conferences for undergraduates usually
have lots of information about grant writing.
(As a specific example of ``keeping your research alive,'' and the priority this must take,
Lew Lefton leaves at this point in the discussion to give a research talk at an AMS
- What about grant possibilities for a reduction in load
so you can have time to do research?
- There are some outside funds for this, but you can't
expect your school to pay for all professional needs. Perhaps there will be a local
program to fund reduction in load, but, for the most part,
the responsibility for finding research time will fall to you.
- You should check your school's development offices.
And their sponsored funds
- I just feel overwhelmed. Talking about pedagogical issues, how do you do this
together with research? It's not a matter of just being able to say ``no.'' I feel
uncomfortable trying to redefine the job in a visiting or non-tenure position.
- (Continued by a different questioner.) None of us have come up for tenure. We are in
weird positions. Even if the department supports pedagogy, final tenure decisions are not
made just in the department. They might be able to tell us what they want in terms of
what they've had in the past, but that is a very different situation than now. It's almost as
if we are the guinea pigs, coming of age during this time of great change in the
mathematics community. We are scared how our tenure decisions and careers might be
affected by this.
- Some things never change. The kinds of professional development we are talking
about are important to you for your careers independent of the current state of the
mathematics community. It would be bad for you and for the profession to ignore this
type professional development. It should be a priority. I don't mean traditional research
necessarily, but I also don't mean just education reform. You can spend all your time
doing curriculum development.
I will say that you do need to be well aware of all the policy documents that apply to you
in your department.
(Editors note: the responses continue below.)
- What about if you have fallen into the 1 year, 1 year, 1 year cycle?
- Get out of it. You might need to lower your expectations.
- If your schools expectations for research are not as high as yours, how do you make
- That is the situation I am in, so it comes out of my own hide.
- What if your efforts are threatening to others?
- This is a real problem. Tenure decisions are complicated things. They often depend
on how you get along with people. Be as gracious as you possibly can.
(Continued responses to ``overwhelmed guinea pig questions'' above.)
- It comes down to analyzing what you are doing. Are you doing it efficiently? Think
things through on the front end, even regarding pedagogical issues. For example, how
you set up exam procedures, office hours, and so forth. Organizing them effectively can
save you a great deal of time.
- You should also be sure to communicate your thoughts on these things to the people
around you. In particular, by communicating alternative, more efficient means of getting
some of the shared tasks accomplished.
- Professional development is institution specific, but much of what we are talking about
- I tended to work on big long term projects. I was taking a very big risk in doing
things this way. Because of this, it was important for me to talk to people about what I
was doing. You need to make sure to portray your activities in a positive way. I could
have written a book with a closed office door, but I wouldn't have gotten tenure that way.
- There are people with national stature who know how much time all these forms of
professional development take. It would be appropriate for them to address these issues.
So you must be careful to keep track of what you do and who might be able to comment
on your efforts.
- Are we hyper anxious?
- We have brought together 60 people in a very bad job market. And I think your fears
have been multiplied by one another.
On the other hand, your fears are not completely unfounded. We have seen some very
good people thrown out of the profession for very bad reasons. Some of the same reasons
you have brought up today.
...You cannot spend all of your time in curriculum development. It will not necessarily be
- Tenure has changed and evolved a great deal. You need to map out how you plan to
proceed. Check and see if there is a statement in your department which addresses what
constitutes professional development.
- There are plenty of these around if your department doesn't yet have their own and
would like to see examples of such statements by other departments.
- Our department and St. Olaf's are good examples.
- Is there life after tenure?
- Yes. And there are new committees for you to be asked to serve on. A particular
danger for women and minorities.
- It's going to be all right.
- It's hard to maintain a sense of perspective. It is important to remember that you have
unusual training and skills. This training and these skills are portable. One person I knew
who was denied tenure said it was the best thing that ever happened to him. It made him
decide what it really was that he wanted to do.
- We're in a profession where there's work to be done, and if you're found
standing in line,
you can be sure someone will put something more on your plate.
Up: Keeping Your Research Alive
Previous: Paul's Prattle
Thu Apr 24 09:25:11 CDT 1997