10 CHAPTER 1. THE MEANING OF LIFE
Of course one of the main messages of the book is that there really is a lot
more to it than that simple list. But those three are milestones, and I shall
say a great deal in the ensuing pages about them.
Service is in some sense the easy part of your life, because you don’t even
have to think about it. It will be thrust upon you. That is to say, you
will live your ordinary life in the math department, and you will be assigned
certain committee or task force duties. And you will do them—presumably
responsibly and eﬀectively. For most of us, that is the extent of service. You
can be asked to serve on university-wide committees, and you should do so
with your usual aplomb and professionalism. You might be tapped to be Vice-
Chair for Undergraduate Studies or Vice-Chair for Graduate Studies or even
Chair (i.e., Chairperson or Head of the department). To these you should
not give a knee-jerk “yes” answer, because any of these is a big commitment.
On the one hand, you feel an obligation to serve your colleagues and your
institution. On the other hand you have a life to live. You may have a spouse
or signiﬁcant other, and a family, and perhaps a church or other religious
aﬃliation. You need to balance all the components of your life. Subsequent
sections of this book will discuss the various aspects of these diﬀerent types
of service and what they entail.
Perhaps the most diﬃcult—and also the most rewarding—of the three
components indicated above is research. It is diﬃcult because most likely
nobody has told you how to build your own research career, how to forge a
path in the research world, how to establish a research identity. To get to
the nitty gritty, how do you ﬁnd problems that are worth working on and how
do you solve them and how do you write them up and how do you get them
published? This is the essential question to answer if you want to establish
a scholarly reputation and get tenure in a good department. All of Chapter
4 is devoted to diﬀerent aspects of the research life and how to cope with
This book tries to paint your life as a tapestry with many warps and wefts.
You need to get along with many diﬀerent types of people and you need to
master many diﬀerent kinds of tasks. And do so gracefully and with skill.
If you can make this happen, then you will lead a rewarding and productive
life, and you can write your own version of this book for the next generation.