Why do I have the best job in the world

Just imagine if you receive a Valentine’s card every day of every week of every one of the last 10 years. OK! not the loving and lusting kind, but the feel good and appreciative type. “Dear BIRS Director, The attached paper, `Byzantine Agreement in Polynomial Expected Time,’ was just accepted for publication. It solves a longstanding problem in theoretical computer science. It was there, listening to the talks of the workshop on shared memory, in the beautiful surroundings of Banff, that we first had the idea of applying ideas from shared memory to this problem, which is not about shared memory. So we have BIRS to thank.” Alan Bernstein, President and CEO of CIFAR, was not convinced. He managed to interrupt me to say so, which is not normally easy to do. It was during the panel discussion following the announcement of the CIFAR-TBC partnership. He is the one with the best job in the world, he said. So, I had to bring out the big artillery.

How would you feel when Poet Laureate Alice Major, writes:  “I’m just back from the Banff International Research Station for Innovative Mathematics and Discovery. I feel like a kid impressing her classmates with news of a trip to Disneyland – not the Disneyland of pre-programmed rides and candy floss, but the Magic Kingdom of collision, of discovery, of our human handprints on rock.”

“Making it” in New York is always a convincing argument, so I quoted a message from George W. Hart: “The workshop (Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts) will have a significant impact on my work both as a mathematical artist and as a designer of The Museum of Mathematics, which will open next year in New York City”.

“I got more ideas in the 4 days I spent at this 5 day workshop than I do in a typical 4 months period at my home institution,” said University of California, Santa Cruz Professor, Richard Montgomery.

Bar-Ilan University Physicist, Yitzhak Rabin, wrote yesterday: “This workshop was characterized by exceptionally high level of scientific interactions and discussions. There were several important suggestions by some of the participants that I am going to incorporate in my research on nuclear pores. I have also started several new collaborations in the areas of polymer-grafted membranes, laser-induced florescence studies of DNA translocation through nanopores and single molecule imaging of chromatin dynamics.”

Then, I went for the “coup de grâce,” by recalling when I had received  the news of the birth of “Small Number” at BIRS not far from the birthplace of another one of his enlightened ancestors, Chief Crowfoot. I have risen out of the minds and souls of mathematicians, math teachers and First Nations Elders. I was conceived at a “First Nations Math Education Workshop” at the Banff International Research Station (BIRS). 

Now, you see the pattern. Essentially every day of the year, I receive a testimonial about a discovery, an interaction, an achievement, a flash of inspiration that occurred at the Banff International Research Station. No one writes me about their disappointment when an idea doesn’t pan out, when a problem doesn’t get solved, when a promising thought fizzles out, though this  must surely happen, even at BIRS. Can you beat that, Alan?

And what about my other job, you may ask? Well, it surely has its ups and downs, but then how can you do better than hearing from one of your students who had just graduated: “I got an offer for a one-year postdoctoral fellowship in Paris, a 3-year visiting assistant professorship at UC-Irvine, and I am expecting an offer from the University of Alberta. Which one should I take?

And only today from one of my former graduate students: “…. I just heard form Michigan State University.  They are making me an offer for a tenure-track position. I’m sure I could not achieve this without your support and generosity, and all I learned from you during my PhD. Thank you very much.”

And that’s only one day in the life of a very fortunate man. Happy Valentine’s everybody!

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One Response to Why do I have the best job in the world

  1. Peter Bell says:

    Great post. Encouraging!

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