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 them. 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.
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