1.1. WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING HERE? 5
on Friday afternoons, and if you are an analyst, then you had best join in. If
there is an intramural soccer team, then you probably ought to throw your
hat in the ring.
Things will be different at different types of institutions. At a smaller
college, the individual departments are somewhat small, and there is a good
deal of interaction among the different departments. Mathematicians rou-
tinely have lunch with faculty from engineering or French or history, and
they have friends in many different disciplines. Life at a comprehensive uni-
versity will be somewhat like this as well. So if your new job is at a place
like this, then you will start meeting a variety of faculty, with a variety of
different backgrounds, early on. There may not be a seminar in your subject
area—or even an active research group. But, if you are lucky, there may be
a larger, research-oriented institution not far away (within a hundred-mile
radius, let’s say) where you could go for seminars and some mathematical
talk.
The fact is that, at a teaching college or a comprehensive university, your
focus is going to be a bit different. Now you are going to want to get to know
everyone, because you will be interacting with everyone on a regular basis.
Such departments are generally run rather democratically, and you want
to make an effort to fit in from the get-go. It is quite common for a small
department to have a multihour faculty meeting two or three times per week.
This is where departmental business is dispatched and many decisions are
made. It takes the place of a myriad of departmental officers and committees.
So your job now is to figure out the system and become a part of it.
When I was at UCLA, all the movers and shakers in the math department
participated in a monthly poker game. It was by invitation only, and I was
never invited. But this was where many of the most important departmental
decisions were made. It was the proverbial “smoke-filled room” where deals
were made and broken. If you were part of it, then you were a “made man.”
Otherwise not.
This is life. What appears on the surface of things, what is written in the
university catalogue, what is written in the Tenure Document, is only the
tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding how the place really works
and how the power structure really functions. It is essential that you develop
a good, working relationship with a senior mentor—someone who can give
you regular reality checks on how things are going in the department, and
particularly how you are doing in the department. How can you find such
a person and get to know him/her? More will be said about this matter as
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