Miscellaneous items

May 21, 2015

Yet another small list of noticeable facts:

  • videos of the talks given at the main wokshop of the MSRI program Geometric and Arithmetic Aspects of Homogeneous Dynamics are now online ; and don’t miss the nice spring issue of the emissary for related content
  • lots of interesting books are due to appear this year, including The Princeton Companion to Applied Mathematics (in september), and the english translation of an opus of Choimet & Queffelec (in july)
  • Anton Geraschenko, of MO fame, has a paper in Algebraic Geometry with David-Zureick-Brown, possibly making it a contender for first pure math paper with a Google-affiliated co-author
  • Cédric Villani has recently visited Iran for a week, great to see he’s really putting lots of efforts to reach out to people not just in the Western countries.
  • A question: Does anybody know what happened to FEATURED REVIEWS in Mathscinet ? Last time I checked they pretty much discontinued them around 2005, yet these were truly useful…

Cyclidefibo1 by fdecomite on flickr

Scarcity of research positions and number of new PhDs

May 15, 2015

This is a very touchy subject that is very rarely seen discussed in the open. But a recent thread (now closed) of discussions over at les-mathematiques.net, involving a dozen french people (candidates, lecturers and professors) provides a rare oportunity to address it.

Needless to say, I’m wholly unqualified for this (not being a researcher myself, and all that), so the main aim of this post is to throw out ideas.

I vividly remember, while an undergraduate around 1998 at Institut Fourier, seeing a small queue of nervous-looking slightly older folks in front of an office : auditions were taking place for a position of Maître de Conférence (=Lecturer). That is, people who had qualified to compete (see Michael Harris’ post), and been short-listed for that position.

Already at the time, I had heard that some auditions (not all, of course) were a bit of a farce since the chosen candidate had already been decided, and so the others who came had not a chance (and didn’t even get a refund of their travel expenses).

Why organise such auditions, one might ask. Well, because it’s the law : these are state positions, so while each university has its comittees, there’s a common legislative framework in which this takes place.

Already at the time, a nationwide website was being used, Opération Postes. The same site is being used for Professor positions (so this is very different from universities in the US or UK were lecturers get promoted if they meet targets, in France becoming a Professor usually involves moving to another university).

We’re now mid-may, so right in the middle of the audition & results period, which can be followed on that website.

Hence the aforementionned public discussion : it was started by a high school teacher who has recently finished his PhD, got hooked on research on invariant theory, but was despairing to see that this topic was out of fashion and would have had a vague chance at only a couple of the about 15 opened positions for university lecturers in France [edit: in pure maths, there are about 45 in applied math] (there are also 8+2 research-only junior positions at CNRS, where the process is different, results here and here). He was wondering what to do next (whether to quit doing research altogether, or maybe get a high-teaching-load position at a technical college) and he wrote

Bref, je ne comprends plus comment faire de la recherche. Je ne comprends plus les critères de recrutement. Plusieurs prof m’ont même clairement dit (sur Marseille) : “J’ai pris un étudiant en thèse, mais franchement, il n’a aucune perspective”. Même au niveau d’un post-doc qui m’avait été proposé (loin de chez moi) en maths pures, la personne m’a clairement dit : “Après le post-doc, dans ce domaine en maths, il n’y a aucune perspective”.

Rough translation

In short, I do not understand anymore how to do research. I do not understand anymore the recutment criteria. Several Professors have even explcitely told me (at Marseille) : “I took a PhD student, but frankly there’s no perspective”. Even at the level of a post-doc that I had been offered (far from where I live) in pure maths, the person told me explicitely : “After the post-doc, in that area of maths, there’s no perspective whatsoever”.

The thread then departed into all kinds of directions, some topics touched upon :

  • the scarcity of positions compared to the amount of new PhDs (each year the three Écoles Normales Supérieures recruit about 120 undergraduates in pure & applied maths, probably a good third of whom get a PhD, not to mention École Polytechnique, and the many large and small french universities)
  • the fact that in recent years several chosen candidates came from abroad (Italy, China…), some arguing it is a normal thing if they are the best (and that the situation in those countries is probably worse), others that it is a bad message for french students
  • the fact that until recently the chosen candidates were very young (recent PhDs) and that it was a bit of a gamble (some not producing much onwards), although the trend seems to evolve towards candidates with at least a one-year postdoc


Since all this is pretty interesting, I’m leaving the comment section below open if anyone would like to mention opinions (I’ll moderate it quite heavily though to stay strictly on topic).

In particular, what could be done to help people like the OP (=people with a proven track-record of publications but no academic position) not to quit research ?  An idea would be a website to create a sense of community, together with a special fund to allow such people to financially attend one conference every two years. Where would the money come from ? What about some crowdfunding : “click here to donate $1 to a fund for non-academic mathematicians” ?


Speakers at the 7th European Congress of Mathematics announced

April 29, 2015

The next ECM will take place in Berlin in july 2016.   The plenary and invited speakers have been announced in the past two days, here are the lists, to which I’ve added links to homepages (URLs valid as of today) :

Plenary speakers

Invited speakers

Abel lecture : Yakov G. Sinai
Friedrich Hirzebruch Lecture : Don Zagier
Public lecture : Helmut Pottmann
Next Generation Outreach Lecture : Peter Scholze (a lecture for high-schoolers, what a great idea!)

And to track the balance of genders, that’s 30% women for plenary speakers (3/10), and 21% for invited speakers (7/33).


Some recent items

April 28, 2015

Yet another pot-pourri of links :


Anticipating the Ramanujan biopic

April 19, 2015

Earlier this month, the TFI SLOAN Filmmaker fund announced its grantees for 2015, and the Srinivasa Ramanujan biopic The Man Who Knew Infinity, now in post-production, is among them.

That’s definitely a movie that could be inspiring indeed, given that Ken Ono has been very much involved in the project and the cast is full of competent actors, as mentionned in Adriana Salerno’s earlier informative blog post.

So its release will probably be a good opportunity to set up public conferences on related topics, or at least get prepared for some questions.

The wikipedia article seems to have a fairly comprehensive compilation of references that could be useful in this regard, including :

A mix of links

April 14, 2015

A mix of recently spotted things:

  • the program of the next Bourbaki seminar (at the end of june) looks very interesting indeed (in particular, I also noticed that Peter Keevash released a new preprint recently, while Sophie Morel is currently an Aisenstadt Chair in CRM)
  • a new video of Alain Connes discussing the emergence of time in quantum mechanics, published today on the youtube channel of IHÉS
  • the conference on Shinichi Mochizuki’s IUT theory, previously mentionned on this blog, will feature lots of people including Paul Vojta and Peter Sholze
  • it is announced in the march newsletter of the EMS that the next 10 prizes for European mathematicians under 35 will be awarded for work accepted for publication before october 31, 2015
  • the amount of french math students that compete each year to get an Agrégation de Mathématiques has again dropped in 2015, and has declined by a staggering 60% in the past 8 years tweeted the President of the Agrégation Jury (as a result, the past few years have seen hundreds of unfilled positions, and this year will be no different)
  • a recent addition in Gallica : the 1630 translation in french of François Viète’s Algèbre Nouvelle by Vasset, with in particular an illustration of the Problem of Apollonius on the frontispice


The Tombstone of Madame du Châtelet (1706-1749)

April 5, 2015

In 2006, to mark the tricentenary of the birth of first ever frenchwoman scientist, Émilie Du Châtelet, an exhibition was organized in Paris by Elizabeth Badinter (booklet here).

Then, a few years ago, several newly found mathematics and physics manuscripts written by la Marquise du Châtelet were sold at an important Christie’s sale.

What about the final resting place of such a fine woman? Well, it is a very sober black tombstone in Saint-Jacques church, in Lunéville. Elisabeth Badinter, and Annie Jourdain, tried to have something done so that it is not walked over by the faithfull, but there were no protective barriers when I visited a few days ago.

By the way, the Château de Lunéville, which sadly was ravaged by a fire in 2003, has been nicely restaured over a decade, and is well worth a visit. I went there early enough to catch a nice april cold fog.

(full album on flickr)

Fraud with a watch

April 4, 2015

In my former life, when I was a teacher (and like most teachers of course), I caught many times some high-schoolers cheating. Needless to say, those weren’t the brightest of the class, and were easy to spot even with smartphones involved.

On the other hand, one would expect students preparing Agrégation de Mathématiques, the most selective exam to become math teacher in France, to have at least some amount of morals. After all, they will become the very teachers meant to prevent their pupils frauding.

Counterexample: a few weeks ago one of the candidates has been caught cheating with a watch connected to the internet in which some pdf files had been stored…

The president of the jury banned that candidate, and issued a formal statement reminding the others that such frauds are legal offences, and that at the oral part of the exam next june the jury will be very vigilent towards fraud involving “stylos-caméra, montres Internet, téléphone, fibres spéciales, etc.“.

Cédric Villani’s book tour (cont’d), and a remarkable student

April 2, 2015

After his UK tour, Cédric Villani will apparently later this month tour the US  (incidentally, it is mathematics awareness month there).

I’ve noticed events occuring in New York City (15th), Seattle (16th), San Francisco (20th), Minneapolis (22nd), Cambridge MA (24th), and perhaps at other places.

While searching for these I came accross a remarkable interview (published today) of Thomas Mordant, a very young and talented french student (4 years ahead of normal age), who happens to have Osteogenesis Imperfecta, has met Villani, and plans to become a mathematician.

Bon courage à lui pour les prochaines épreuves de Normale Sup!

That £2.3 million grant (and a new Mochizuki conference)

April 1, 2015

It has recently been unveiled that a team of mathematicians from Oxford, Nottingham, IMPU Japan and NYU have been awarded a massive £2.3m grant from EPSRC for their project ‘Symmetries and Correspondences’.

Three conferences, supported by the Clay Mathematics Institute, have already been announced, including one which will feature Langlands and Wiles (among many others), and one “on the theory of Shinichi Mochizuki” planned for december 2015 in Oxford.

Szilassi Polyhedron  by Alejandro Erickson on flickr


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