effectively and successfully in this new setting? What are my goals? What
is expected of me? To whom am I answerable?
On the face of it, the Ph.D. is preparation for a research career. The fresh
Ph.D. should be chomping at the bit to prove theorems and write papers.
But it is a hard fact that most American Ph.D. mathematicians write very
few papers. According to recent statistics from the American Mathematical
Society, of those authors who publish anything at all in their careers:
About 43% publish only one paper
About 15% publish only two papers
About 8% publish only three papers
About 75% publish five or fewer papers
Many authors publish just a paper based on the thesis and nothing more.
Why is this? Is the cutting of the (academic) umbilical cord so traumatic that
most people just fall off the wagon? Or are the reasons more complicated?
Do people just get wrapped up in other duties, or other career pursuits, and
decide after a while that “publish or perish” is not part of their credo? Are
they perhaps in jobs in which publishing and doing research is not really the
thing that is rewarded?
And what about teaching? If you are working for the National Security
Agency (as, for instance, three of my Ph.D. students now are), then you
certainly will not be teaching classes, grading papers, or giving grades. But
you will have to give seminars. You will have to mentor others. You will
have to provide guidance to younger staff members. How does one learn
these skills?
And, no matter where you work or what you do, you will no doubt work
as part of a team. You will have to function in meetings and on conference
calls and in interactions with your supervisors and your subordinates.
If you are in an academic job, then your role(s) in life is carefully de-
lineated and described in your institution’s Tenure Document: teaching,
research, and service are the three branches of an academic’s professional
activity. He/she is judged on each of these, and in different ways. For exam-
ple, if you manage to prove the Riemann hypothesis, then it doesn’t matter
whether you spend your time at staff meetings rolling your eyes and hum-
ming The Battle Hymn of the Republic. If you are a world-class teacher,
Previous Page Next Page