Talking Math Life with Christelle Vincent (now for something slightly different, part I)

Christelle Vincent and her pet icosahedron.

Readers, I realize that you may be tired of hearing about my life.  I mean, PhD+Epsilon is about early-career mathematical life, but when I write, it’s usually about my life/career, which is only one of many options. Thus, this week we have a blog experiment—I ask someone with a slightly different job a few questions about their life.  In this first installment (hopefully there’s more!), I check in with Christelle Vincent. She was in town last week to talk math (torsion points on the Jacobians of Picard curves) but we also talked math life. Christelle and I met in 2013 at a Sage Days workshop and have been part of many workshops together since.  After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 2012, Christelle spent three years as a post-doc at Stanford.  She then spent a semester at ICERM before starting a tenure-track position at the University of Vermont in January 2016. She’s at a state school, is currently supervising a Masters student, and will be taking PhD students sometime in the next couple of years.  I asked Christelle a few questions, and here’s what she had to say:

Have you realized anything surprising in the last few years of your math career?

I remember vividly being in the audience of a career panel the year after I graduated and someone asked how one thinks of new problems to work on. That was an anxiety that I very much shared. I felt that the biggest threat to my budding career was to run out of problems and that one day I would just not be able to publish anymore because I ran out of problems to solve. Five years later, that is not an anxiety I have anymore. I do worry about working on problems that are “hard enough” to get grants and recognition from the community, but even that doesn’t feel so bad. I think it’s because having the experience of progressing from working on exactly one problem (my thesis) to working on enough problems that I feel that I could keep going on for a few years at this point, I feel like it’s likely that naturally, if I keep working and doing what I’m supposed to, I will find myself working on harder problems and developing more of a program.

What’s the best part of your job so far?

I feel very valued at my job. As a professor, I am more involved in the department life and I feel that I am really contributing to making our department a better place for my colleagues and our students. My colleagues value my research, ask me about it, and support me when I need to travel. My students enjoy my classes and what I do for them. I feel like I’m coming into my own a little bit more, I’ve shed a lot of the insecurities I had about being good enough to “make it” in academia. For me, being a math professor has been the endgame for a very long time, and finally getting there is really enjoyable.

What are some big issues in your math life/career?

As much as I am enjoying taking some time to enjoy where I am after getting a tenure-track position, I know that very soon I will start to worry about getting tenure. Right now I feel like I need to find time to do even more research, to carve out and protect that time. It’s something that I’m struggling with a little bit. It’s easy for me to get caught up in a bunch of little things that leave me exhausted and research has to happen before all of those little things. I’m still very new at my job so I think the rhythm will get easier with time.

Thanks to Christelle for taking the time to talk with me (math and blogwise)!

So, now my questions are for readers—what kinds of early-career math lives would you like to read about, and what would you want to ask? Let me know in the comments!

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