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Post HLF- Let the Forum be your Field(s) of Dreams

BLOG: Heidelberg Laureate Forum

Laureates of mathematics and computer science meet the next generation
Heidelberg Laureate Forum
Fields Medal winner Efim Zelmanov and Alaina G. Levine kick it in Heidelberg: Credit: Alaina G. Levine

As you get back into the swing of things with your day-to-day life, you may be beginning to process what you experienced at the HLF only a few short weeks ago. I want to assure you of some facts that actually took place, in case you are pondering whether your experience was a fantasy in a matrix-like reality. I understand the imperativeness of this point especially given Turing Award winner Manuel Blum’s brilliant HLF lecture, “Can a Machine be Conscious? Towards a Computational Model of Consciousness”, which may have caused you to wonder whether you were in an android’s (or iphone’s) electric dream.

Dear Nerds: I can assure you that what you experienced at HLF actually happened. My proofs are not as eloquent as those of our Maths foremothers and fathers, and are certainly more verbose than Turing Award winner Leslie Lampert noted they should be in his HLF presentation about writing a 21st Century Proof. However, there are some facts that we can all agree on:

–Yes, you traveled to Heidelberg, Germany’s science city.
–Yes, you attended the Heidelberg Laureate Forum because you are smart, talented, ambitious, creative, and are already changing the world.
–Yes, you participated in the largest aggregation of Maths Minds on the Globe, in this quadrant of the galaxy, in this manifold of the multiverse.
–Yes, you learned how to be a better mathematician and computer scientist and how you can take your expertise and skills and sharpen them even further.
–Yes, you networked with emerging and established Wizards of Wissenschaft while discussing networks, and they will remain in your networks until you leave this planet.
–Yes, you fielded questions and queries that will help you gain insight into how to grow and advance your field and subfield so you can achieve a Fields, or a Turing, or an Abel, or an ACM Prize in Computing, or a Nevanlinna Prize.
–Yes, you are now a part of the HLF family, and that credential and the benefits associated with being in this prestigious company are part of your permanent record.

So if you are still a little jet lagged, or may be feeling a bit of pressure because you took time away from your research endeavors to attend the HLF, always remember that this conference is an investment in your future success and the future success of the world of mathematics and computer science. And your participation, which ACTUALLY HAPPENED (pinch yourself!), made it even better, for you, your peers and the Laureates. Your existence in the system changed the system. Ah, Physics!!

Now on to the practical: we have established that you aren’t dreaming. You did participate and impact the HLF. So now there are a few things you can do to keep the momentum going and to ensure the system – of maths and comp sci, of scholarship, of knowledge in service to the world- continues to have impact and that you continue to have impact on the system. Consider the following your post-conference To-Do list, to guarantee your everlasting return on the investment you and the HLF have made – in you.

Follow up- Don’t let all of the business cards you collected serve only to gather dust or as the building blocks of a cardboard tesseract on your desk. Instead actually use them for something rather important- staying in touch with the amazing visionaries you met. Within the next 2 weeks, send a quick email to both the Laureates and the Young Researchers with whom you became acquainted. Let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them, and that you want to stay in touch. And then connect on LinkedIn. And then make sure to send follow up emails to anyone whom you met who you might not have received contact info from. Remember the App is still active and you can use that to send messages to folks, in case you forgot the Google on the Interwebs.

Do a post-meeting self-analysis. What did you learn at the HLF? What did you learn about your field, related fields, and seemingly disparate fields? What did you learn about potential collaboration opportunities? What inspiration did you get about how to advance your own work? What insight did you gain about yourself, as a creative, as an investigator, as a STEM professional? Seize this time after the conference, even in a few moments here and there, to do a critical self-analysis of the benefits you received from this experience. Some people attend conferences almost blindly- they go to session after session and mix and mingle at the receptions and the over-stimulation causes them to not necessarily be able to process everything that took place. But with a conference such as the HLF, given how special it is and how special the people who attend are, it is a wise choice to take the time to digest, ruminate, marinate, and download all that you gained and can gain from it in the future.

Promote the HLF. Let your colleagues, students, advisors, department, and community know about your experience. Share what you enjoyed, the skills and insight you gained, the people you met. But most importantly, create inroads for new, up-and-coming investigators to participate in the HLF and experience the wonder themselves. As Turing Award winner William Kahan told me, “the first duty of the older generation is to make provisions for the next.” Now that you have attended HLF, you are part of the “older generation”, so make sure you serve the next by communicating the value of a free exchange of ideas at a special meeting of the minds such as the Heidelberg Laureate Forum.

Stay in touch with the HLF. Next stop – alumni express! Now that you have participated in the HLF in person, you are an alum. This will never change- you will always be an alum of the HLF. And what a great position to be in, given that the HLF is such a young organization, it is in a unique position to think strategically about how to advance alumni interests. Stay tuned for the HLF organizers to contact you about what you want and need from an alumni association or network. They continue to invest in you and your scholarly and career triumph, so let them know how they can help you. In with this, keep your contact information current with the HLF.

Heed career advice. We spent the week thinking about deep problems (and fabulously nerdy jokes) related to maths and computer science. But snuggled in between quandaries over qubits and quantum leaps in computing, there were packets of career advice. Did you catch the protocols about how to advance in your profession? When I interviewed Fields Medal winner Efim Zelmanov and asked him his advice for success in mathematics, he told me “it is important to choose a problem. If you start working on the Reimann Conjecture, it’s very important, but the chances you will do it are small. You have to choose a problem that is both interesting and you can achieve it – that’s where an advisor can help.” When you shared gelato with Laureate X and marveled at the Schloss with Laureate Y, what variables did they discuss that contribute to their continued achievements? Take note of what hints and ideas about professional victory the Laureates dropped both directly and indirectly at the HLF, because this advice could be life-changing for you.

Let HLF be your launchpad. This experience is but one rung on your ladder of success. You have so much ahead of you and what you have gained from this conference will help you be an even better scientist and global contributor, ready to take on humanities’ grand challenges. Let this be your launchpad to achieving your Field(s) of Dreams. And when you get the call that you won the Fields (or Turing or Abel or ACM Prize in Computing or Nevanlinna), expect the next call to be from Heidelberg. You’re a Laureate now, and you get to do the March and mentor the next generation of stars.

To all the future Laureates, I wish you the very best in your career adventures. Perhaps the next time I see you will be when you win the Fields and give your Laureate Lecture at the HLF. I hope you’ll save a front row seat for me. But in the meantime, keep changing the world.

Alaina G. Levine is a science writer, science careers consultant, professional speaker and corporate comedian. She is the author of Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015), which was named a top 5 Book of 2015 by Physics Today. Contact her via her website or follow on twitter @AlainaGLevine.

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whose bachelors is in mathematics, is an award-winning entrepreneur, science journalist, career consultant, professional speaker and corporate comedian. Her first book, Networking for Nerds, was published by Wiley, and beat out Einstein (really!) for the honor of being named one of the Top 5 Books of 2015 by Physics Today Magazine. The author of over 350 articles, she is a columnist for Physics Today and APS News, and a regular contributor to Science, ScienceCareers, Physics World, and NatureJobs. She has also written for NatGeo News Watch, Scientific American, Smithsonian, COSMOS, and IEEE Spectrum. @AlainaGLevine