12 CHAPTER 1. THE MEANING OF LIFE
have a proactive and trusting relationship with the people in your workplace.
This certainly will involve activities other than actually working (much of the
work that a mathematician does is, after all, solitary). But you will actually
have to work at being collegial.
Also the discipline has become more competitive. In the old days nobody
was paid very well, and almost everyone with a body temperature above
93◦ had an NSF research grant. Today salaries are all over the map—and
everyone knows it—and NSF grants are about as hard to get as vintage Elvis
Presley records. Often the department colloquium has disintegrated into a
number of competing seminars.
I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture. Math departments can still be
friendly places—fun to work in and intellectually stimulating. But they are
diﬀerent from what they were in years past.
In the late 1970s at UCLA there was a very special logic seminar called
the Cabal Seminar. One might wonder about the provenance of this un-
usual name. Certainly it suggests something dark and mysterious for the
cognoscenti. It turns out that the seminar was named in honor of the orga-
nizers’ favorite real estate agent. Whenever they used her services to help
a new mathematician relocate, she would give them a kickback from her
commission. And they used the money to run the seminar.
The pleasures derived from this largesse were quite evident. On Fridays,
when the rest of us were at tea eating Ritz crackers and drinking tepid tea,
the logicians would be sitting oﬀ in the corner quaﬃng chilled wine and eating
Camembert and pˆ at´ e de foie gras. And they were able to bring in a number
of classy speakers for their mathematical activities.
This is just the reality of life. There was nothing unfriendly about what
the logicians were doing. But those who have enjoy and those who don’t
It is important to do what you can to contribute to the collegiality of
your Department. Go to lunch with colleagues. Participate in Ping-Pong
games or intramural sports. Go out with friends for a beer after work. Get
together on weekends for barbecues or picnics. Give as many parties as you
(and your partner) feel comfortable giving. Working with people whom you
like and trust, and with whom you feel comfortable, is a commodity that you
just cannot buy. It can really smooth things out in your professional life.