In the movies, when people gather for Thanksgiving they all go around the table and say what they’re thankful for. Very few of the actual Thanksgiving festivities I have attended have had this feature, but in reality I have only really been celebrating Thanksgiving since I moved to the US (ten years ago). Regardless, I thought it would be appropriate, for my PhD + epsilon Thanksgiving celebration, to write down the things from this past year (math and work-related) that I am thankful for.
- My job: OK, this is not a new development, and I’ve had this job for three years (plus epsilon I guess), but this past year I finally started feeling like I was good at it. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many things that need work, but I think I am starting to figure things out, and most importantly, I am more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. This development has a lot to do with being at a school with supportive colleagues, having good mentors (inside my school and outside), and working at a place that values teaching and research pretty evenly (in my opinion). But this leads me to another thing I am thankful for.
- Good mentors: I recommend that you find some if you don’t have them yet. There are now a few steady people that I can go to for advice and support. I have a few teaching mentors (who have saved my sanity in more than one occasion), and some research mentors (these were harder to find, but have proven invaluable this past year). One good tip, for those of you who are of the female persuasion, is to look into the AWM mentoring travel grant. This is a good way to actively find a research mentor and work with them. There is also a math education related grant if that’s what you’re more interested in working on. For me the hardest thing after getting to Bates was to get my post-grad school research career started. I got this grant and I’m using it to work in Paris on research with a really cool senior mathematician, and I can already tell that this collaboration is going to bear fruit for years to come. And this brings me to my next point of gratitude.
- Pre-tenure sabbatical/leave: This academic year I’m on leave from Bates College to pursue research. This allowed me to come to Paris and work on my aforementioned project for three months (I have been here since September and will stay until December). In the Spring I will be traveling to visit other collaborators, and also trying to write things up and continue the research I’ve done in Paris. Not all schools have this opportunity, but for example, Bowdoin and Colby (the other liberal arts schools in Maine that are sort of similar to Bates) both have year-long pre-tenure leaves. It is something worth asking about come job interview time, and those of you on the market should think about it. Of course, research schools have much lower teaching loads, and so I don’t think a pre-tenure leave is a possibility. On the other hand, I think that you can more easily take a leave from a big school than a small one. Anyway, the really great thing about this is that it gives you a chance to focus on research which for some of us (especially those of us who skipped the post-doc) is really hard to do when starting to teach at a new school. And this brings me to, last but not least:
- Friends, family, and colleagues: I am the sort of person who thinks out loud, and this works best when there is someone listening. For this reason, I discuss many things, teaching related and work/life balance related, with my friends and family. My colleagues are great sounding boards for all of these things and also have helped me with my research year planning. I am very happy to have a few collaborators as I realize I do much more work when I am working with someone else. I frequently poll people on facebook about work related stuff. Anyway, without all of these people I would certainly be lost in a jumble of unclear thoughts and general indecision.
Finally, dear readers, I want to thank you too for reading. So it’s now time to “go around the table” and hear from you! What are you thankful for this year? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.