Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Guess the Plot
Trials of a Mathe- matician
1. Liza Hewson is blessed -- or plagued -- by a genius for math. She has done the calculations, and concluded that she will be happier living single. But she didn't factor in artist Guy D'Amboise, the "variable" who spoils her formula for a life of blissful spinsterhood.
2. When Earth’s computer overlords prohibit humans from practicing mathematics, few mourn the loss of the arcane discipline. Then one brave teacher starts a clandestine math club. Armed with ancient slide rules, pencils, and graph paper, Martin Streck and his misfit students fight to reclaim numbers for humankind, one equation at a time.
3. The story of probability theory, as discovered by Octavius Aesop, whose brilliant dice trials revealed that some little ivory cubes produce random results, while, strangely, others do not. Plus, his wife's discovery of a wee garden elf who can be persuaded to influence falling coins and dice.
4. Herkimer B. Wallaby isn't any great shakes as a defense attorney. His clients keep getting sentenced to death. Fortunately they always win their appeals when they point out that their court-appointed attorney was incompetent. Herk doesn't care. His main worry is that someone will find out that he never actually went to law school, although he does have a Ph.D. in Pure Mathematics.
5. Exponentially. That’s how mathematician Candace Burke’s troubles have increased since she discovered that her landlord is the King of Faerie…and infatuated with her. It turns out that fairies crave logic as much as humans crave magic. But who’d have guessed King Aurun’s appetite for mathematical proof could be so voracious?
6. A math teacher finds her chosen career unsatisfying, and goes looking for a new start as an epidemiologist. But does she have the language skills to compose a cover letter that will get her into a top public health school? Also a cholera outbreak.
Some of you may have noticed this request among the comments recently:
I am currently preparing a statement of purpose for admission to a graduate program. It's sort of stunning how much this feels like writing a query letter. So, do you think people might be interested in reviewing it since we're a touch low on submissions at the moment? I could make up a title for the GTP part... :)
As it happens, we have zero queries and zero openings (hint, hint) waiting in the queues, so here's the "query letter."
Dear Evil Editor & Minions:
In reviewing my materials, I am sure it did not escape your notice that I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics. [However, even though I am, as I said, sure that my Ph.D. in Mathematics did not escape your notice, allow me to emphasize the fact that I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics, just in case it escaped your notice.] I love math for its complexity and challenge. Nothing compares to sifting through information that seems only loosely related and finally finding the common thread. Unfortunately, math itself does not fill me with burning questions that I am compelled to answer. So, by the time I finished my degree, I knew that a career as an academic mathematician was not for me. [Thus I am seeking another field in which I can sift through information that seems only loosely related and finally find the common thread.] The natural alternative was to focus on teaching, and I did so for some time. But after a few years, it became clear that teaching math does not share the same kind of challenges that math itself does. I began to search for a career that would exercise my analytical skills, ignite my curiosity, and have some real practical value. [Thus, please accept my application for the position of literary agent.]
First, I defined some of my interests (e.g. AIDS research and intervention) [You defined them?] [I can't tell if that means AIDS research and AIDS intervention, or if intervention is a field all by itself. Whether it's AIDS intervention or just intervention, in what way do you intervene?] and then I interviewed people in those fields about their work and how someone with my experiences and education would fit in. [Mathematicians never fit in anywhere. Sad but true.] Public health and epidemiology came up repeatedly. I didn’t know much about either, but the more I learned, the more enthusiastic I became. Not only are the problems being solved important, but the solutions themselves are often amazing. For example, I read about John Snow determining in the 1850’s that an outbreak of Cholera originated from a single public pump and I thought “I want to be able to do that!” [That's nothing compared to the problems Charlie has solved on Numb3rs.] I also want to know more about how the methods of epidemiology might be applied to things that are not actual diseases: the spread of drugs and violence, the proliferation of computer viruses, and well, who doesn’t want to know how those youtube videos go viral? [I don't.] [Also, your desire to learn how they go viral probably isn't a selling point.]
I find the program at UNTHSC particularly appealing because of the emphasis on methods. After attending a preview day and speaking with some of the faculty, I feel confident that, once I complete my degree, I will have the tools needed to handle all kinds of problems in epidemiology, no matter my ultimate focus. [At which point I will finally realize that epidemiology is not the field for me and become a celebrity chef.]
I am looking forward to applying my experience and education in starting a new and exciting career. Thank you for your time and consideration,
I know nothing about statements of purpose, but perhaps some of the minions have experience with them. Off hand, I'd say you could shorten this to something like:
I'm the kind of person who is capable of spending eight years going after a math PhD only to realize math just doesn't do it for me, so now I'd like to fill one of the highly sought-after spots in your degree program for a few years because it can't be any more life-sapping than teaching high school math.
If it's common for mathematicians to go into epidemiology, then I see no reason to devote so much of this to your math degree. Everyone who applies will have a reasonable math background, whether they studied chemistry or statistics or biology.
If it's not so common, then I still don't think I'd open with the math stuff, as it seems to me that your enthusiasm for epidemiology is more important to stress than your lack of enthusiasm for the career you've just abandoned.