4 CHAPTER 1. THE MEANING OF LIFE
1.1 What Am I Supposed to Be Doing Here?
And well might you ask. When I landed my first job—an Assistant Profes-
sorship at UCLA—I may as well have been placed as first trombone in the
Milwaukee Symphony. I had no clue of who I was or where I was supposed
to be or what I was supposed to do. Well, that is not quite true. I knew that
I was a math professor and that I was supposed to teach classes and to prove
theorems. But I had no detailed knowledge of what that really entailed.
Certainly the first thing you should do when you show up in your new
department, assuming that you are in an academic job, is to go to the Chair’s
office and introduce yourself to people. This includes all the secretaries and
the staff and, of course, the Chair or Head himself/herself. Be prepared to
sit for a while and pass the time of day with the Chair—be sure that you
have enough time to get acquainted! Discuss your duties, your goals, and
your frame of mind as you join this new department. Ask the Chair whom
you should meet, who will be the key people in your life.
You will also want to find out who is the Vice-Chair for Undergraduate
Studies and the Vice-Chair for Graduate Studies and introduce yourself to
those people. You may not have meaningful relationships with these folks
for a while yet. But they are, or will be, significant players in your life. You
want to know who they are, and you want them on your team. Spend a
little time studying the entire composition of the department and its place
in the university infrastructure. There may be a Coordinator of Lower Divi-
sion Teaching, a Supervisor of Undergraduate Advising, a Graduate Student
Mentor, and any number of other people whom you never dreamed of
before.1
They are all a part of your world now, and you would do well to get to know
them all—at least to the extent of being able to say hello to them when you
meet them in the hall.
An immediate need and responsibility for you is to find out who are the
key people in your subject (i.e., research) area. Knock on their doors. Intro-
duce yourself. Find out when the seminar meets and become an active and
participating member. That means that you should volunteer to give talks,
you should attend all the meetings, you should participate enthusiastically
and meaningfully. If the analysts are all in the habit of going out for a beer
1If
you are in a small department, with just a handful of faculty, then the structure of
the department will be much simpler. Certainly there will not be so many officers. You
may find, in such a context, that you are inheriting responsibilities much faster than you
expected. This matter will be discussed later in the book.
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