Saturday, July 28, 2007

Love thy colleague

I was very surprised when, a few days ago, I read in a comment by Count Iblis on Am I A Woman Scientist?'s blog that he manages to write papers with people he has never met. Since I have done plenty of collaboration with people who were physically far away, I stopped, and asked myself why I found it so strange.
The answer is, of course, that all my co-authors have been friends; indeed, we were friends or at least good acquaintances even before we became co-authors. Indeed, the relationship goes both ways: I have expanded my research field in certain direction, in order to read papers by people I found interesting, or even so that we could collaborate. On the other hand, I have become a close friend of researchers I started talking to because of pure scientific interest.
Indeed, more is true: I tend to think of the mathematicians in my field, those that I have known now for one or two decades and that I occasionally meet somewhere in the world, those that I invite to my conferences and whose papers I referee (and conversely), as my "village". That is, the place where I am at home; where people know me and accept me as I am, including plenty of problems (when I read of people complaining about slacker co-authors... well, that's usually my role).
Although I still keep contact with some of my pre-university friends, they are not so many, and the contact is infrequent. The friends I've kept for three decades now are those who at least try to understand why it is reasonable that I occasionally leave husband and children behind and travel to another town, or country, or continent, to try and prove theorems.
My social network in the town were I live tends to be composed of other parents with a university culture and a taste for books. Some are scientists in other fields, others are married to scientists, and all have some kind of curiosity or at least respect for the world of science; they are my models in my attempts to do public outreach (attempts that include this blog, of course).
So there's one part of balancing work and love, the brain and the heart, that I find very easy: namely, a lot of the people involved are the same.

This post is written for , whose next edition is Aug 1st at Twicetenured.

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