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July 2, 2020

Congratulations, John!

Posted by Tom Leinster

Our own John Baez is famous for inspiring people all around the world through the magic of the internet, but what’s it like to actually be one of his grad students? Fantastic, apparently! The University of California at Riverside has just given him the Doctoral Dissertation Advisor/Mentoring Award, one of just two given by the university. It “celebrates UCR faculty who have demonstrated an outstanding and long history of mentorship of graduate students”.

Forgive a completely irrelevant digression, but partway through writing that paragraph, while regretting that more details of John’s prize weren’t available, something rather extraordinary forced me to stop writing…

…I’m writing this at home at my desk, with a window next to me that I had open to let the breeze through, and just outside that window is the branch of a tree. As I was tapping away at the keyboard, writing the start of this post, there was a sudden scrabbling commotion. Before I had time to realize what was happening, a squirrel had leapt off the branch and landed on the carpet.

Eastern grey squirrel

I think it quickly realized that it had made a mistake and wasn’t somewhere it wanted to be, as it did a couple of rapid, panicked, chaotic circuits of the room, bounding off things and over things and round things until, finally, it came to rest perched on my desk.

By that point, I’m not proud to say, I had flattened myself against the wall in a not-very-heroic manner. Our squirrels are small, but they’re wild animals and I guess can defend themselves if they want to. Fortunately, this one was in no mood to fight. Once it had landed on my desk, it stopped dead in its tracks and seemed to regain a kind of calm. I looked at it, it looked at me. As I looked, I noticed that its cheeks were bulging, presumably with acorns or seeds or whatever it had been foraging for. And right then and there, it bent over and coughed up the contents of its cheeks onto my desk, next to the computer where I’m writing this. With that, it hopped onto the windowsill and bounded out of the room and back into the tree.

Once I’d closed the window, calmed my nerves, and straightened out the things the squirrel had knocked over on its frantic circuits round the room, I came back to the pile of disgorged food on my desk. It turned out that it wasn’t food at all: it was a chewed-up wad of paper (which maybe explains why it wanted to get rid of it). I straightened the paper out and tried to figure out what it was. Eventually, I got it: unbelievably, it was the full citation for John’s award! You’ll understand that after its long and unusual journey, the letter was in a sorry state, illegible in parts, what with the rips and toothmarks and squirrel spit. But here’s what I could make out:

From all of us in the Graduate Division I want to congratulate you on being this year’s recipient of the “Doctoral Dissertation Advisor/Mentoring Award”. […]

It was a real pleasure to read the many nominating letters that came from current students and colleagues as well as many of your previous graduate students who are now highly successful in their own right. From their letters it is clear that your intelligence, enthusiasm and mentorship have attracted many outstanding students to UCR and that you have populated the mathematical community with professors that appreciate your mentorship even more deeply. Many of the letters emphasized your infectious enthusiasm for mathematics […]

writing and speaking about mathematics whilst being generous and kind. It should also be noted that your colleagues benefited from your strong voice and leadership in the highly successful Mathematics Workshop for Excellence and Diversity for which we are particularly grateful. As one letter writer comments your “impact goes well beyond [your] own students” […]

You are a treasure for all at UCR.

Congratulations, John!

Posted at July 2, 2020 2:19 AM UTC

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9 Comments & 0 Trackbacks

Re: Congratulations, John!

Congratulations, seconded!

Posted by: Blake Stacey on July 2, 2020 7:44 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Congratulations, John!

Yes, well done John! A richly deserved award.

Posted by: David Corfield on July 2, 2020 9:11 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Congratulations, John!

Thanks, Tom and everyone! That’s very kind of you.

I was planning to blog about this myself—but when I was lounging outdoors, reading the citation and patting myself on the back, a squirrel jumped from a tree, grabbed the paper from my hand and ran off!

Posted by: John Baez on July 3, 2020 12:38 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Congratulations, John!

That squirrel must be an extraordinary swimmer. Fitting for an extraordinary accomplishment. Congratulations!

Posted by: Emily Riehl on July 6, 2020 1:48 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Congratulations, John!


Posted by: Thomas on July 4, 2020 9:18 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Congratulations, John!

Prof Baez must be a wonderful person, I emailed him last year after one of his excellent posts here, he wrote back a lovely and detailed response pitched at my level of mathematical knowledge (close to non-existent), when there was no reason at all for him to take such trouble.

Posted by: Bertie on July 5, 2020 10:14 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Congratulations, John!

These were really nice news to read, and not in the least surprising. Congratulations, John!

Posted by: Maru Sarazola on July 7, 2020 6:30 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Congratulations, John!

Thanks! The congratulations from everyone here mean as much to me as the actual prize.

Posted by: John Baez on July 7, 2020 7:05 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Congratulations, John!

Congrats, John! Well deserved! You are further proof that you can be a great mathematician and still be kind, generous, and a true mentor.

p.s. A bit belated, but I read these things long after they’re written.

Posted by: Harley Eades on August 17, 2020 8:45 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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