Why I write

I sometimes see myself as a slow learner. I am extremely fast at deep-thinking, which somewhat disguises this fact, but I learn things from the ground up. Until I can think a topic through I sometimes feel unsure about operating from an incomplete understanding.

When I worked in academia I prefered to learn rather than to force my opinions on others. Everybody seemed reasonably smart, and they were absolutely convinced of their own correctness, and so I listened and learned. Continue reading “Why I write”

The network you grow up with

A sense of home is a powerful feeling. The sense of belonging, of knowing where everything is. I miss that sometimes.

I left Ireland almost exactly 10 years ago with a burning need to go out and prove myself. I had finally recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and was going to take up a much delayed PhD position. I moved to the University of Luebeck, where I found my introduction to neuroscience, before moving on to Paris Descartes, the École Normale Supérieure and the University of Chicago. With each move I developed a new network of colleagues, collaborators, and mentors.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a member of the Irish mathematical community. Many years ago I wrote the website for the Mathematics Department at NUI, Galway. While doing that I included biographies of the then members of staff and their research domains. At some point, I also made a backup of the website for my own reference under my personal domain. Sadly, many of the members of staff who worked at NUI, Galway when I was an undergraduate are now dead. So now this resource has become a useful archive. And thus I was re-discovered by a member of the current Irish mathematical community.

Continue reading “The network you grow up with”

Influences: John Holland

Sometimes I wait a too long before doing what I really want to do. I’ve postponed writing this article more than once. And this mirrors the fact that I postponed going to visit John H. Holland until I missed my chance.

Very few academics have influenced my thinking as much as John Holland did. We never met, although I did half my graduate studies in Chicago, only 6 hours away from his home in Michigan. He was actually the person I had most wanted to do a PhD with before I figured that the American system wasn’t for me. When he died, in 2015, I missed my final chance.

Continue reading “Influences: John Holland”

My art

I am a really lucky guy. I am deeply talented. I had access to computer and internet technology from the 1980’s. And people around me have always given me the space to do projects that I am passionate about.

Recently I was forced to confront myself with the realisation that, throughout my life, I have always worked on exactly the projects that I most wanted to work on. Even in school, I just didn’t go to class if I didn’t want to. I learned ten times as much at home, about much more interesting topics, and still managed to ace the exams.

As part of this self-confrontation, I learned that i) this is entirely selfish behaviour on my part, ii) it’s not such a surprise that I have often lacked a mentor at key points in my career.

Continue reading “My art”

Mathematics and Biology II – Practical considerations

Last month I wrote about the historical world-views of mathematicians and biologists. These articles are part of a planned four part series, in an attempt to first understand and then improve the working relationship between these two key scientific disciplines. This is all a work in progress, so at the end, I will try to take the key learnings from each of the articles and distill them into a single composed article.

This month, I want to discuss the practical considerations why mathematics and biology still don’t work so well together.

Continue reading “Mathematics and Biology II – Practical considerations”

Preprint Announcement – Roving and Unsupervised Bias

This week has been a really big week for me. I finally uploaded the first paper from my time as a postdoc to a pre-print server, called the bioRxiv. I did three major pieces of work, during my time as a postdoc, this is the first and potentially the only, of these, to see the light of day.

I am not usually so tardy in getting work out. I published two papers from my PhD – a record for working with my PhD supervisor – the work for both of which was finished before I ever defended the thesis. My postdoc work was a bit special, I ended up directly proving that the previous work of my collaborators was mistaken. Continue reading “Preprint Announcement – Roving and Unsupervised Bias”

Shame

A number of stellar academics made minor headlines, in 2016-17, by publishing CVs of their failures. This had an initial, and intended, positive effect. Many early-stage researchers marvelled at the bravery of Stanford-level professors being willing to open-up about the unsuccessful pathways which they had followed earlier in their careers. Some of those writing their admissions even argued that their current CV would not get them a real job, outside of academia.

A natural, if gentle, backlash set-in pretty quickly. It’s all very well for successful associate or tenure-track professors to open-up and reveal their inner worries. But they are doing this from a position of incredible privilege. Would it really break down any barriers to reveal that the British royal family have worries about health and relationships and money too? Of course not! It softens their public image in some eyes; it humanises them. But it does not change the fact that they are revealing that even people with privilege have mundane worries too. If you have risen to tenure-track at a top American university you have joined the privileged classes, even if you did not start out that way. Your contribution to society may be in opening up new access to the elites, but it is not in admitting that the elites also fail sometimes.

I was very tempted at the time, to join the rush, and post my own CV of failure. I wanted  Continue reading “Shame”