Arcadian Functor

occasional meanderings in physics' brave new world

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Location: New Zealand

Marni D. Sheppeard

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Day At Work

I was about to commiserate with Tommaso regarding the state of bureaucracy in Italy, having just received a telegram giving me a time for an interview there, which of course I am completely unable to attend, my swimming abilities not extending to global circumnavigation. Now, I've never actually received a telegram before. It reminded me of my favourite childhood Agatha Christie stories, of adventurous women wandering in the African jungle in between afternoon tea and biscuits and telegrams.

But then I recalled that my email address has changed a number of times since I sent off the application, and I had to change my cellphone number because I was being harrassed, and I don't have have any other phone numbers or means of contact. Anyway, the state of bureaucracy in Italy may well be dismal, but I am in no position to judge it.

Meanwhile, I am attempting to deal with the forms for a local postdoctoral fellowship. I sent off a draft to the university research office and it was returned with a large number of suggested corrections, most notably that I should cut down the technical summary to 300 words or less. The remaining 20 or so pages are for detailing the benefits of the proposal for the country's economic, cultural, industrial and educational welfare. This is going to take me some time to figure out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you get my Feb 5 email about an idea I had? I.e., @MS Research, there is a woman mathematical physicist in "knot theory". I know the head of MS Research @Redmond. He's formerly Caltech CS (did his PhD in my area, involving Lie Groups). I'm sure they would pick you up, possibly working remotely from NZ.

Email me back (with your new email), so I can re-send it.

Whatever happened to your dream about starting a "Category Research Institute" in NZ? That woman mathematical physcist @MS Research, used the metaphor of "silos" (research areas & universities). So, why would you want to fall back into that "trap"?

1 of my Caltech Computer Science prof friends (hired by the aforementioned ex-Caltech prof, who heads MS Research), who is a Math PhD & dabbles in theoretical physics told me:

"Theoretical Physics is very religious"

Has it come down to idealogical groups bashing/censoring each other?

March 02, 2008 9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is really disturbing.

You've made repeated references to "harassment" (email & phone??!!), arxiv "red alerts for you" (?). Sounds like bullying, & even stalking.

What exactly is going on, who is doing this?

"You need a strategy"
"Go into it [ publishing a paper, etc ] with a GROUP of people"
-- Caltech CS prof friend, personal communication

This would be a deterrent to bullying, because you have "protection". Safety in numbers.

You need an "enforcer" to protect you (just like in hockey):

"I can see the point of arguing, as many old-timers do, that you need a fighter on your team to protect your skilled players from cheap shots & stickwork. Unfortunately, this is only the case if the cheap shots & stickwork aren't being called by the referees or punished by the league. In other words, if the officials are bozos. Alas, many of the officials in the NHL _are_ bozos."

There aren't any Rules/Enforcement for bullying in Academia. Duh.

"The goons [ enforcers ] are required for two purposes, intimidation of the other team in order to provide protection to their star players and for retaliation to liberties taken to their star players. What the league needs is to reduce stick work, .."

Academia has a "nerdy" mentality, whereas Sports has a very "macho" mentality.

"The Hockey News wrote a large article on fighting earlier this season, dividing it into eras, currently we are in the "nuclear" era, every team (except the Flames) with a designated hitman. It's all checks and balances -- and, like our government in the US, it may not be perfect, but I've never seen one better."

MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) correctly evolved in nuclear weaponry, so why hasn't it evolved for the community of physicists?

"You can have games of hockey without fights, but there will come times in the course of action where fights *must* occur. It's part of the game. To outlaw fights that occur in the course of playing at a high level of competition infers lowering the level of competition and cheapening the game."

It's pretty clear that the Theoretical Physics community has a LOT of infighting. The non-deterrence of bullying is totally unacceptable, & "lowers the academic level of competition".

During my PhD, I had the advantage of my advisor's power (famous, on editorial boards, etc). I was able to publish many papers on my own merit (I singlehandedly made a breakthrough in the field, which was stuck), but it certainly didn't hurt to have his name/power as co-author. Funny thing happened, my idea was stolen by his previous student (my arch rival) & he was a total BULLY. I found a silly mistake, which they had to acknowledge in a journal errata. My entire PhD thesis was based on their mistake (well, it was my idea to begin with) & I ended up getting ostracized by my own PhD advisor!? I also superseded physicists in my field (they had crossed over to my field, Computational Neural Sciences):1 was Longuet-Higgins (his Nature paper was a joke) & XX. So, I ended up in a situation like you.

"You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life."
-- Winston Churchill

I never bothered to fight ("gooning it up"), because I had them soundly beaten intellectually. I just walked away. Let them [ Fools ] have what they want, i.e. Reductio ad Absurdum ("Misery Loves Company").

Kea, just like L. Smolin & P. Woit (effective complaining of status-quo), you need to come up with a superior theory ("slam dunk"). Then, as I did, you have them ("owned")

The "chess game" ("Chess for Fun, Chess for Blood") on the battlefield, military or theoretical physics, is illustrated by the Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror":

"The Earth commander will follow, he must. And, when he attacks we will destroy him"
"We HAVE him! [ mistake by opponent ] MOVE towards him! [ go for the kill ]"
-- Romulan commander

Great "cat & mouse" game between 2 tenacious oponents, each studying the others move & making adjustments. L. Lederman used the "cat & mouse" anecdote on the show "From Student to Scientist".

March 02, 2008 10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kea,

I tagged you for a meme about history... See my latest posting.

Good luck with your job applications!


March 03, 2008 12:59 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Chimpanzee, if you don't mind keeping the posts concise please, although your enthusiasm is appreciated. I have met people from MS research before, and the harassment I refer to is par for the course for a single woman.

March 03, 2008 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Did you get that Feb 5 email I sent you?
[ if you changed email, you might have missed it ]

That woman @MS Research is the new co-head at their New England branch:

She sounds reasonable (like you, she has a rebellious side) & would probably give you an opportunity. You could circumvent the "bottom up" approach in submitting a resume (bureacratic entanglement), & just go "top down". I did this a few times myself the past 3 yrs, & it works. E.g., personal meetings with millionaire & billionaire owners of auto-racing series, & DARPA contractor.

The MS Research Director (Redmond/WA) used to be a CS professor @Caltech (who I know):
[ related to my research area 25 yrs ago ]

used Lie Groups in his PhD thesis.

"You just need 1 higher-up person to know of your capability"
-- xx, classmate (Stanford GeoPhysics PhD)
[ he got scattered out of Academia (like R. Knop) & ended up in Industy, ]

March 04, 2008 5:48 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Hi Chimpanzee. Thank you for being so thoughtful. I have sent off countless applications for funding, and I do not expect such a high profile institute to offer me a job at this point in time. Thanks, anyway.

March 04, 2008 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I meant to post this on your "Humph" post, last Aug '07 when T. Dorigo was falsely accused of being a sexist ("L. Randall/CERN talk").

Back in late 60's, my Dad (Prof, later dept head) was working with Bruce H. (UIUC physics prof, L. Pauling's/Caltech PhD student) on Monte Carlo simulations.

[ This later culminated in future collaborative work with Caltech, where my dad was on the search committee that lured S. Wolfram from Princeton to UIUC, to start the Complex Systems Research Inst ]

So, there were 2 women hired as researchers (computational specialists). 1 of them was a woman from New Zealand, Barbara R. No female gender issues, as a matter of fact she was allowed to bring her baby to the office! (I know, because I walked into her office at the time) I.e., maternity leave wasn't even required! Later on, his dept hired 3 Caltech aerospace-engineering PhDs..including a woman from Australia (BS in math, Queensland Univ). I assume there was some correlation with his favorable experience with a NZ woman. BTW, the other woman later became Mark Andreesen's boss (co-founder of Netscape).

She recently came back to visit (from Toronto/CA), & my dad jokingly commented "she still LOOKS the same!". I guess this would be considered a sexist statement, based purely on looks! (ala T. Dorigo)

Here's my point. There ARE some enlightened people in this world, you just have to find them. I do recall my dad criticizing various groups & using the expressions "well known bastard", "sob", "narrow minded" people, etc. I've read about some cases of female discrimination on various Physics blogs (denied advancement because of maternity issues), & I just realized it's mostly a case of running into _bad people_. The above positive story happened WAY BACK in the late 60's!

March 06, 2008 12:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sent you an email on Feb 11, excerpts below:

Baliunas: There is almost a crisis in the number of scientists and the amount of funding available. There's been a population explosion in the number of scientists practicing, and the amount of government resources available has been not in that proportion.

For example, NASA's budget in the Apollo program days was a much higher percent of GNP than it is today. A lot of astronomy funding has historically been a fixed fraction of the NASA budget, so that means that as a percentage of GNP, that number has gone down in real terms, but there are more people competing for those dollars. So now when you do proposals, you don't write an open proposal. You don't say, "I have this great idea," and then write it down. You look to see what targeted program your idea might fit into, and if there's not a targeted program, you go try to lobby for one to be made.

Reason: What is a targeted program?

Baliunas: For example, discovering extrasolar planets is now something very interesting, so NASA has an origins program encompassing that. But before a specific program existed for extrasolar planet studies, such research was difficult to fund. If you're doing something that is radically different, it might not fit into one of the bins. You have to bend your science into one of those bins, or you have to work on getting a new bin accepted

Some of the targeted areas are so overburdened that nine out of 10 proposals get rejected. I've been on panel reviews where there were many excellent proposals, but you have to make a decision and throw out 90 percent of them because the budgets can't take them all.

One of my guidance counsellors in high school tried to talk me out of going to college altogether. She thought women would have an easier life if they just got married and did not have a career outside the home. Anytime I receive unhelpful advice like that I ignore it. After all, it was my life, not hers, and what difference would it make to her if I had to study hard to get through college?

One of my heroes is a Nobel physicist, Richard Feynman. ... If you have a dream, pursue it, is his advice. It was lonely being a woman in solar physics but more women are becoming scientists. For years I was the only woman in a sea of men in physics classes. I tried never to think about it. I only wanted the education.
A note to young women interested in pursuing a career in science: Do not let anyone stop you. And, if you are interested in a different type of career, please take science anyway. Our world is increasingly one of technology, and science is the way to improve the health and welfare of humankind and the environment.

Personal Touch ("Protection")

S. Carroll mentioned on CV, that he got into Harvard ONLY because he went to S. Baliunas (both are Villanova undergrad alumni) directly for a referral. I.e., she made sure he was accepted by graduate admissions.

Melissa Franklin (1st tenured female physicist @Harvard) had the personal guidance by H. Georgi (dept head at the time) for her tenure process. I.e., she needed "protection" against the bigots.

March 06, 2008 1:23 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Thanks, Chimpanzee, but the fact is that I am not willing to bend my angles to market my ideas. There isn't any point: they are radical for physics, and there is no way to hide that. Of course, being a woman in this situation is a huge disadvantage, but I can't change that either, although I will continue to try. Moreover, I find the whole idea of a marketing strategy in this game highly repugnant. You tell me that's the way the world works, and that I have to accept it. I say, the world must change, and I refuse to accept it.

So, back to the waitressing job....

March 06, 2008 8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Life is about compromise"
[ politics, engineering tradeoffs, negotiation, etc ]

I'm kinda like you, a hard-liner: no marketing BS. No doubt because of our background bias towards math (my PhD thesis was ALL math..some computer simulations).

"That is illogical"
-- Spock, Star Trek (TOS)

"We are creatures of Duty [ logic ] Captain. I have lived my Life by it. It is not our way"
-- Romulan commander, 9:05 in video

This is why Grothendieck & Perelman ("I am not a politician!") turned down awards & ditched Academia. As Toscanini once said: "Murderers, Assassins!"

Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world (because of humans), which is ruled by human *perception* (Perception VS Reality). Like it or not, those fellow humans that are your colleagues (or opponents) are NOT purely logical: they also have an emotional component.

I hate to say it, but there is definitely a marketing side in everything:

1) your waitressing job
you do your hair, clothes, etc to make a good impression

2) publishing papers
I visited my CS prof friend @Caltech, & he was discussing a paper with his colleague. He used the word "exposition" to convince peer-reviewers of his new idea.

"Oh, the technical part is long done. We're figuring out how to present it ("exposition")"

He DID tell me of 1 instance, where the paper he & his PhD student submitted was rejected: "We were really #%$*!".

Like you, I found it ridiculous that he was spending SO MUCH TIME on the marketing side, but it is a necessary-evil.

There was a show on Biotech Research, & a couple of Stanford researchers had their novel paper rejected (combination of Computer Science & Biology). "I think I need to lie down", was their shocked reaction.

A) Technical Program
doing research

B) Business Program
getting funded

C) Political Program
making alliances, fighting off enemies

I call it the ABC's of Research

You need to find a partner(s) to handle the B) & C), while you handle the A). My sister (Biochemistry PhD) found a partner while a postdoc @Columbia (a French guy, MD & PhD). He is energetic/passionate, who goes & does the politic'ing & finding funding; she directs the Research. 1 of my grad-student friends from my PhD research days (U. Mass/Amherst) LED the research, his professors went out & got the funding. Come to think of it, that was my situation too! (my PhD advisor contributed hardly anything idea-wise, he had lots of power & got the funding). There are other well known 2-person (or 3-person) teams.

Trying to go "solo", with waitressing as B) is frankly not commensurate with your superior attitude/mind. You did respond positively to my "Win as a Team, Lose as a Team" on Backreaction ("hear, hear Chimpanzee), so why are you..? See next reply, for some ideas.

"You go girl!"

March 08, 2008 12:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met a couple of profs @SIGGRAPH 2001 (Scientific Visualization & Computer Graphics research), who were teaching a course on Geometric Algebra. Cross pollinating CS/Computer Science with Math/Physics. They were *marketing* their initiative with a T-shirt (which they gave me)
[ can you comment on this? ]

i.e., a "walking billboard". I put on the shirt, & @Reception (Universal Studios/Hollywood) was approached by K. Turkowski (led the QTVR group @Apple, now at Google, a math whiz who is a UIUC alumni like myself) & we talked & had future collaborations. The power of marketing/networking.

Leo Dorst (background in Physics)
[ click on "Geometric Algebra", "CV", "description" ]

teamed up with S. Mann (CS prof @U. of Waterloo). I.e., he found a cross-over partner (hint: you need to find a team partner) . They just published a book together "Geometric Algebra for Computer Science".

You did say after leaving UC "..working on applications". And..?? The above field is very RICH, lots of $$.

- 2D graphics
Adobe Photoshop, etc

- 3D computer animation
computational physics: simulation of light & motion, video & Film. PIXAR, Disney Animation, etc)

- Gaming Industry
it EXCEEDS revenues of the Film industry!

I know some ex-physicists (deplorable employment situation, as per Bee's recent Backreaction posts) who are jumping into this field. CG Research has a LOT of researchers doing fancy math (Monte Carlo methods, Diophantine Equations, Level Set methods, Adjoint Methods, Wavelets, etc), many of them are Math PhDs (that 1 Caltech CS prof I referred to).

The head of PIXAR studied CS & physics in college.

"Finally, from the early days of Disney, animated films have always been driven by
, and that is especially true now that the artists' easels are computers. And
since Pixar has a flotilla of propeller-heads [ CS & Math PhDs ] whose job is to continually invent better technology to enhance the look of the images and increase the efficiency of the animators, directors become infected by the same virus. "There's a wonderful yin-yang at the foundation of Pixar," says Lasseter, whose official title is executive vice president, creative. "The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art."

" CATMULL IS THE BRAIN behind most of Pixar's technical achievements, and his
name is on many of its patents. But the idea he's proudest of is Pixar University, a
continuing-education program aimed at giving every employee, even the accountants,
enough training in the fine arts and cinema to think like a filmmaker. The curriculum runs from drawing to acting to belly dancing--there are 111 courses in all, and every employee
takes a half-dozen or so each year."

They would see your background in math/physics & arts (opera singer) as a good match, & probably hire you as a consultant. A couple of well-known CG researchers (Stanford & Caltech) have on their research agenda "looking for more mathematical rigor". I.e., they need help in mathematics. Just start up a blog for remote teaching as part of "Pixar University"): various mathematics tools for CG researchers (just like you do on AF, "M-Theory Lesson ###"). Do this half of the day (instead of waitressing!?), other half of the day do your own research.

More info:

I know people @PIXAR (I interviewed with them after my PhD, & was told that I was overqualified, i.e. "overspecialized/unemployable"). I also need you to email me, so I can fill in more details.

There is also similar type of opportunity @Google. K. Turkowski (led Apple/QTVR group, friend & nice guy) & Lance W. (ex chief scientist @Disney Animation, friend & nice guy) have moved on to Google. If you don't email me, then nothing happens. Bee's "cry for help" mirrors your (& mine) situation, & I'm making a move towards solving our problem.

March 08, 2008 1:11 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

I tie my hair back at work because to do otherwise would be to contravene the health code. And don't worry, I am quite enthusiastic about my research in my proposals, because I genuinely believe it is a promising direction.

March 08, 2008 6:42 AM  
Blogger nige said...

"I was about to commiserate with Tommaso regarding the state of bureaucracy in Italy, having just received a telegram giving me a time for an interview there, which of course I am completely unable to attend, my swimming abilities not extending to global circumnavigation."

Couldn't you offer to attend a preliminary interview by webcam via a internet connection?

If you are applying for jobs in places like Italy, maybe you need to take account that some kind of interview attendance could be required, and explain the circumstances on the application?

Maybe a commercial company which needs a bright maths PhD would offer to pay your travel expenses, on condition that you accept a position if it's offered to you?

However, I can see why you're happy being in New Zealand, being a waitress while applying for postdoc positions.

It seems a fun place to be, although if you are going to go to Europe, then Italy or Spain seem to be the ideal places to go for good weather, good food, and a low-stress life.

March 10, 2008 4:23 AM  
Blogger nige said...

On the topic of global circumnavigation, I'm keen to sail around the world.

Hopefully it won't take forever to save up enough to do so. I'll make sure I have fishing tackle and emergency distillation equipment so I won't die from starvation or thirst.

March 10, 2008 4:33 AM  

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