Saturday, September 20, 2008


I guess it is time for me to put up a blog post. I don't think I have much to say, but whatever. I'll do my best to say something remotely interesting. I've spent the last couple of days sending out inquiries to friends and acquaintances for use of their status in the academic community as references. We'll see if any of them are willing to vouch for me after a year of seclusion. Something that is abstractly looked down upon in academic circles.

Why you ask? It's kind of a hypocrite thing. Academics like people to think that they are supportive of everyone following their own dreams for their own sake, but in reality, academics are two things:

First, they are constantly fighting to justify their own existence. It's not sufficient to go through the educational process, you have to continuously prove yourself to your peers that you can still do the work.

This, kind of, conflicts with the second thing. As my adviser put it, academics are writers, not readers. Most of that academic crap that gets written, goes unread. If thirty people read your work in the first year, you are impressive.

Thus, the goal of academia is to prove to your peers, who are not reading your work, that you are smart. Meanwhile, your peers are doing work to impress you and the rest of the peers and none of you are reading that work. This is what my adviser means by academics being writers and not readers. All this work is being written and no ones out there reading it.

This is a sad state of affairs for academia because they have disassociated themselves so much from the common folk, that their work is incomprehensible to the average person. This is particularly bad for mathematics and most of the other hard sciences. There was a time when you could discuss the work of a scientist with the average person and they could be made to understand with minor clarifications. Today, science is so technical and has developed its own vernacular that literally it has become a foreign language to the layman. In mathematics, there are some easily stated problems that any ten old child can comprehend, but the proof is so complex and far reaching, maybe two or three dozen people in the entire world can understand why the statement is true.

This creates a chasm between academics and laymen. (This is where I tie things back to my situation.) Dreams are for laymen. Science is for scientists. I followed a dream, and It's going to cost me in my academic career. More specifically, as an academic, I should have had more noble goals with my education that fulfilling a childhood fantasy. Worse yet, my fantasy to write genre fiction barely utilizes my scientific background, so it is viewed as me turning my back on the academic community.

Naturally, not all academics think like this. And if you pulled them aside one by one, they would look at these words as though I were some sort of wacko chastising the community, but putting the entire community together with their prejudices and snobberies and it does turn into the truth. Especially if they don't know me personally. It is easy to create a prejudice about a person you have not really met, and in terms of me getting an academic job, if it comes down to me, the crazy guy, against the person who has followed the proper and correct academic path, who would you hire?


deniz said...

I sadly have to agree with you.
Also there is a problem of different universities. I've moved to another city and the profs here are so prejudiced against my university (METU) - They are mostly jealous- that they did everything to ignore me or to prove that I am an awful academician by torturing me during my PhD classes (mostly just by humiliating me by giving bad grades). So I simply gave up.

Hope things are better for you!

(By the way, now I am working in a governmental institution where I evaluate their practice- conservation projects. I think this is called justice! I'm being fair, though!)

Doc Brown said...


Nah, I'm just kidding. Getting a PhD is tough enough on its own without your teachers working against you. I probably would have quit as well if it weren't for my adviser, who turned out to be just the right amount of support for me.

He was very complimentary about my work and I often feel guilty about not pursuing it. In that regard, I know I let him down. What's funny, is that even though he is so incredibly brilliant* he's even said that if he were my age he wouldn't go into research the second time around. I think he feels now that he could have gotten a much higher paying job in industry; probably true.

*As an aside, my adviser really is brilliant. I'm not just saying that because he's my adviser. I have gone to two math conferences in Europe with him and even when he's in a room full of the best functional analysts in the world they have no idea what he's talking about. I've talked to a handful of doctors at these two conferences and when they found out that he was my adviser they confessed to being unable to talk to him because he's so intimidating. :-)

deniz said...

you have been lucky to have an advisor like that. Mine didn't even know English, so couldn't track what I had read. ANd I was graduated from a quite good university, especially in my field; architectural conservation, unfortunately I had to move to Istanbul, so had to chose one among the inferior ones;)

It's good to work with someone who can show you new horizons... Just now I've felt that I'm forgetting English. I have to read more!!

Doc Brown said...

New horizons? Well maybe. It was his new horizons that made me decide I really wasn't cut out to follow in his footsteps. (Not that I really had to, I could have pursued my own research, so I'm making excuses here.)

He tried to get me to work on his latest and greatest field that he was creating in multivariable operator theory. I sat down for 6 weeks with his latest student trying to absorb his research and after all that time neither one of us could calculate the norm for the unit operator, a constant. We assumed it should be one, but since we couldn't calculate it, we didn't know. That's when I knew his work was beyond anything I could ever produce.

I wished his latest stdent, "Good luck", and went about my life. I'm not sure, I think his student ended up quitting the program because it was too hard.