The job search is almost over

And you are down to two candidates. One is a young man, with two very professional articles in good journals, in addition to a PhD from a very good dept. The other, a middle-aged woman whose appearance among the finalists is due to some pesky people, has some early lackluster articles, and a spotty employment record. She has support among people who speak of her originality, but in highly analytic philosophy the best work is done by the young. Right?

If the older woman is not chosen, your department’s loss may be very significant. Marina Ratner, whose career in some ways reflects the lack of support she had, did extremely important and influential work after 50. Her work underpins that of two people who won Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize of mathematics. From the NY Times:

Her dynamics research helped unravel mathematical problems that had resisted more direct, traditional approaches of attack.

Dr. Avila said Dr. Ratner’s work had been the basis for that of younger mathematicians like Elon Lindenstrauss and Maryam Mirzakhani, two winners of the Fields Medal, the most prestigious honor in mathematics. Dr. Mirzakhani, the first woman to win a Fields, also died this month.

“What is remarkable about these results of Ratner is how many unexpected applications they had,” Dr. Lindenstrauss said in an email. “It is almost as if this dynamical fact was a philosopher’s stone that allowed many mathematicians to show quite remarkable things, in remarkably diverse situations.”

She found little support in Russia, where she was born, and not much in Israel.

“She had a very hard time in Russia,” said Alexandre Chorin, a colleague at the University of California, Berkeley. “The Russians took a variety of steps to penalize her.”

Dr. Ratner and her daughter immigrated to Israel in 1971, where she was a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was able to pursue her mathematical research but was unable to find a permanent position.

Her work caught the attention of Rufus Bowen, however, at Berkeley, and he lobbied the university to hire her. It did, in 1975, initially for a temporary position, and even that, given her relatively meager record, was controversial in the department. She eventually became a tenured professor.

So this brilliant woman who produced transformative work started out as an adjunct! Awwwkkk!

Your hiring choice is clear.

_________________
An aside: the article remarks

Dr. Ratner’s style of working may have contributed to her not receiving as much acclaim as some thought she deserved. She always worked alone. At Berkeley, she earned high marks as a teacher of undergraduates but was the thesis adviser to only one doctoral student.

The remark seems naive to me. Her survival may have depended on her being able to work alone. In any case, many women in a dept are not included in the community of researchers.

Finally, is she really the cause of her not having grad students?

6 thoughts on “The job search is almost over

  1. He got the job.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that Ratner herself was competing with anyone.

    Genius is perhaps not that common, but the general outline of Ratner’s story is familiar to me. The women who have been adjuncts and refused a permanent full time job at their university include a now famous female philosopher.

  2. I’ve only just seen this note – apologies. ajj

    “If the older woman is not chosen, your department’s loss may be very significant.” Lol. Yes and if the younger man is not chosen, your department’s loss may be very significant, too. Departments have to make judgments about candidates’ excellence based on limited evidence. Past publication record is often the best evidence we have of a person’s ability to contribute new and worthwhile ideas. No doubt, that evidence can be misleading. But we already knew that. If I’m on the hiring committee, it’s not really a close call: I’m hiring the young man (with the knowledge, which I have with any hiring decision, that I might regret my call later down the line).

  3. He’s professional. Her reputation is for being brilliant. I know of a number of cases where prestigious universitieswent for brilliance, but the candidate was male.

  4. I would definitely go for the woman the way you’ve described it (not because she’s a woman, but I’d always roll the dice on “brilliant”).

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