Two Weeks in Paris

A quick game of Go with Yan X Zhang at the Sage-Days in Orsay.  I lost badly!
A quick game of Go with Yan X Zhang at the Sage-Days in Orsay. I lost badly!

Back for a day in Nairobi after visiting Paris for FPSAC 2013 and Sage-Days 49.  On the whole, it was a really productive visit; I met a number of my primary goals.  On the mathematics front, Kenya has been extremely isolating: One of the big goals for the conference, then, was to connect to some new things to work on and figure out what’s been happening in the algebraic combinatorics world in the last year.  It was exciting to actually work on math with people: when I arrived in Maseno, it turned out that no new graduate students had come into pure maths in some time, which meant there was no real outlet for doing math with other people.  So it’s been kind of a lonely year: I did a lot of work on education, and did some interesting community building around computer science with LakeHub, but often felt like my big area of expertise really wasn’t terribly helpful in Kenya.  The institutions weren’t really ready to make use of what I was bringing, since there wasn’t time or space for people to do research.  I obviously found lots of great stuff to work on anyway, but it felt a bit funny that I was so unable to engage people on the maths.

And then, off to Paris: Where things start on time, you can go for long walks after dark, and you never have to worry about being poisoned by a salad.  Where the internet works, the bread is delicious, and (so long as the secretary speaks English, since my French is still terrible), you can arrange things by phone and expect them to actually happen.  Rental bikes were a perfectly reasonable way to get around – pick one up, drop one off, and never have to worry about whether it will be there when you get back – and the Metro and RER were fine for getting around for longer distances.  On so many axes, day-to-day life has been so much easier for these two weeks.  I think the feeling of relative safety on the roads and after dark are the biggest differences for me, though.  Not having to worry about road accidents or being a target makes life a bit happier.

At the Sage Days, I gave an intro to Sage talk and finished a patch on affine permutations that I started over a year ago.  I also put in a patch on pattern avoidance that I’d been meaning to do for a long time.  During the FPSAC conference, I talked quite a bit with Chris Hanusa about core partitions and even came up with some new combinatorics already.  I also pulled up some old ideas about affine Suter symmetry that I’ve been meaning to explore, verified that the Big Ideas I had been working on in December are still worth fleshing out, and saw some really nice talks over the course of the week (including a great talk by Brendan Pawlawski about permutation patterns and enumeration of reduced words).

Of course, the tricky part of living in this fantasy world of research is looking ahead to the job application process.  Starting in September, I’ll be back at York University in Toronto, and applying for jobs almost right away.  The academic job market has been progressively more terrible over the last bunch of years; I think most of my years as a grad student I heard people saying it was the worst market ever.  And it’s pretty demoralizing seeing lots of people who I think are awesome not getting job offers.  On the bright side, Google exists and has been snapping up good math people like crazy.  My good friend Chris Berg is starting there in about two days, for example.  After this year in Africa, I’m pretty sure that there’s a great public benefit to math people hemoraging into the general economy.  But, probably like everyone else, I’m pretty tempted by the low pay and ability to work on my own problems offered by academia.  (Well, when you’re not grading or running around for academic committees, anyway.)

Ok, enough general ambiguousness for now.  I’m off to Ethiopia for two weeks, and should have lots of interesting things to write from there!

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