Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bicultural Mathematics (SLAC version)

As you may have gathered, I've spent some time teaching and doing research at a small liberal arts college. I'm at a research conference right now where most of my colleagues have not, and there does seem to be a cultural gap. I feel like a bit of an outsider now and then. On the one hand, I know I'm accepted and people do seem to treat me as an equal. On the other hand, I don't feel like an equal. I've often had to email friends for pdfs of journal articles because the published version differed substantially from the arXiv one or it was not posted to the arXiv, and my library did not subscribe to that journal. I've done less research in a month at my SLAC than I have in a week at this conference, simply because of the demands of teaching and advising and service. I've changed my research to a less technical topic so that I could both keep up and involve undergrads, and it's weird to talk to people here because they want to know about my "old" more technical research. I like the stuff so I'm happy to talk... I just feel like I am back into a big stream after spending some time in the slower side branch for a while.

I do believe that people who have been professors for a while appreciate this bicultural feeling to a far greater extent than postdocs and grad students. Postdocs who have only spent time in the R1 orbit, in particular, have not in general had to appreciate what life would be like in any other world. Professors at all schools feel pulled in many different directions: committees, research, public service, teaching, advising, writing, etc. I guess I feel I have more in common with them than with postdocs who have taught a class or two. On the other hand, I am getting a lot of advice from some of these postdocs on grant opportunities in the research world that I certainly didn't hear about to the same extent while in the SLAC world.

This bicultural feeling is somewhat normal for me, I guess -- in actual culture and the country I'm living in and in being a woman in math. I hope it continues to inspire insight rather than just tiring me out.

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