On MathOverflow career advice questions April 14, 2011Posted by Ben Webster in jobs.
Since this blog has already spawned one rant about career advice on MO, I thought I would make a play for first post written for PlanetMO by commenting a little more on such questions. I’m of a very split opinion of such posts. On one hand, I think most of them are a bad fit for MO and it’s very hard to get good advice from them, given how little MO commenters know of the author. I’m moving more and more to a policy of writing this as a reply to essentially all such questions.
On the other hand, I feel tremendous empathy for the questioners, and really want to help them (seriously, I am announcing here, if you want to write an MO question asking for career advice, email me instead with actual details, and I will answer). Good advice is incredibly hard to get in general. The writer of this question has a genuine quandry, and I’m sure could benefit from discussing the matter with a more senior and experienced person, and I understand the temptation to use MO as a substitute for such a discussion.
Even worse, there’s some part of my psychology that makes it hard not to answer these questions (for example, I couldn’t help answering this question after it moved to math.SE). And there’s no compelling suggestion I have for where to go instead; it’s easy to say that you should discuss these things with a trusted older colleague (especially since its true), but not everybody has such people in their lives. Even though I certainly do, it hasn’t always been trivial to get good advice.
So, maybe the point I’m getting to at the end of this is, is there somewhere to send people? I really wish I had a place to send people like, say, the author of this post, since I think MO is not really filling her/his needs. If s/he doesn’t have someone to ask such basic questions of instead of MO, it’s hard to imagine s/he has someone to talk to about the more serious matters involved in switching jobs.