A lot has happened this past week concerning my job prospects for next year. I didn’t want to comment on the situation while it was still in flux, but now that the options are all on the table, I might as well let people know, and solicit advice about what to do.
First the bad news: against my and many other people’s expectations, I will not be starting a tenure-track position in CS this coming fall. Several of my interviews were cancelled, while at the schools where I did interview, I’ve been told that other candidates were chosen. Again and again I heard the same story: that while there was initially strong support for my application (particularly among theorists), concerns had arisen about some of my “extra-academic activities.”
A phone conversation last night, with someone I’ll call Prof. X from University Y, was typical. Prof. X started by explaining that, while the whole “blog” phenomenon had passed by him personally, some questions had come up during a hiring committee meeting with the more junior faculty — and, to get straight to the point, was it true that I wrote one of these “blogs” myself?
Yes, I said.
And was it true that this “blog” was known, in large part, for a debate about “battling vaginas”?
Biting vaginas, I corrected him.
And was it also true that I made frequent pronouncements about C*-algebras, modern art, and even string theory and loop quantum gravity, despite knowing next to nothing about any of these things?
Yes, I said.
And was it also true that, in the past few days, I’d spent much of my time defending the General Theory of Relativity against someone who calls himself “assman”?
Yes, I said.
Prof. X said he hoped I’d understand that, as far as he was concerned, I could write whatever I damn well pleased, but that, in an age of increasing sensitivities, and particularly in the wake of the well-known Luboš Motl debacle at Harvard, concerns had naturally arisen over whether a department could afford to gamble on someone with an “erratic personality.”
As you can imagine, this was all pretty depressing and unexpected for me. But I haven’t yet told you the second part of the story — which is that, over the last two days, some interesting new options have opened up.
On Thursday I got a call from Geordie Rose, asking whether I wanted to come work for D-Wave Systems in Vancouver. He said D-Wave had been stung by the criticism from experts following its announcement of the “world’s first commercial quantum computer,” and wanted to prevent a recurrence. So their idea was to hire an “in-house skeptic,” similar to the “white hats” hired by computer security companies to try and break their systems. I told Geordie I’d think about it, but that it mostly just depended on what sort of compensation package they could put together.
Meanwhile a second option has come up. Yesterday I got a call from the provost at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, who wanted to know if I’d come to MUM to jump-start their quantum computing group. Apparently the Maharishi himself recently came across my paper on NP-complete Problems and Physical Reality, and, based on its contents, thought I’d make a perfect fit for MUM’s physics department. In particular, he wants me to lead a new project on whether NP-complete problems can be solved in polynomial time via “NDTM” (Nondeterministic Transcendental Meditation), thereby — as I wrote in the paper — making humanity one with God. The provost also reminded me that all the food at MUM is organic and vegetarian, so I wouldn’t have to worry about pork.
I have mixed feelings about all of this. On the one hand, I’ve been on a “conventional academic track” my whole life, so leaving that behind will be a big adjustment for me. On the other hand, perhaps this is a decision I already made a while ago — specifically, the moment I started this blog.