This year I celebrated my 65th birthday (if that is the right word; almost nobody noticed).

But for a recent change in the law, that would be that so far as employment goes. I would not be able to continue in my job without a big fight. I was gearing myself up for the fight when the law changed; now I could stay on indefinitely.

Despite this, I have decided to retire at the end of this academic year.

There are many negative reasons for this. I have said here several times that the purpose of a university has changed, so that good teaching and research are no longer management’s priorities; I no longer feel that this profession is congenial. I am sure that my employer is in the middle of the pack in this respect; but a number of problems, each manageable on its own, have combined to make the job far more stressful and unpleasant. These include, in no particular order, the following.

  • Research activity is measured primarily by grant income, and only income which brings overheads to the institution counts; so I have been wasting my time as a partner investigator on an Australian grant, running a programme at the Newton Institute, and attracting postdocs who come with their own funding.
  • Lots of things are being centralised; these include IT support (so we lose crucial support for Unix), student information (the database is so badly programmed as to be almost unusable, and decisions with academic consequences are made on the basis of what it can’t do), PhD admissions (only students who will work on “approved projects” can be admitted).
  • Poorly-designed student questionnaires and inappropriate processing of dodgy data are being used to put pressure on staff who don’t get all the right boxes ticked.
  • Performance management: I thought I could probably dodge this, but the documents obtained by the UCU and available here (look at the D3 documents linked at the bottom of the UCU page) give a chilling vision of what the future has in store.
  • I could say a lot more, but I would really rather not …

In addition, the College has started up a Centre for Discrete Mathematics; you may be a little surprised to learn that I have no role in this centre.

One thing has made my decision difficult. We are designing a new first-year course, aimed at instilling good mathematical habits in the students; I was involved in the design of this course. (I managed to get a quote from my favourite poet into the course description: it will be “precise but not pedantic”.) Had I stayed, I would have taught this course, which would have been a wonderful experience, and I am genuinely sorry not to be doing this.

But there are positives as well as negatives.

As a baby-boomer, I am part of what a recent Nature feature described as “the bulge in the anaconda” which will take up to 20 years to pass through the system. Ignoring the uncomplementary description, it is true that if I retire there is more chance that openings will be created for bright young mathematicians, and I wish the department well with appointing such people.

In any case, I do not think this is the end of my career; rather, I am moving to a new level, with new challenges and opportunities. Part of my problem at present is that, because of the stresses of the job, I have good work which is not getting written up for publication. I hope that retirement will allow me to get on with this. Also, I hope that it will make it easier for me to travel; I look forward to accepting invitations for research visits and collaborations which I have had to turn down because of pressure of work. Maybe even a bit more walking (the From X to Y walk?)

Perhaps you’d like me to come for a visit? Let me know!

Striding into the sunset

The picture is a birthday card sketched by Neill; it shows me striding on to the next stage.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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14 Responses to Announcement

  1. abel says:

    sorry to hear that you are retiring. hope you will keep blogging. good luck with your future endeavors.

    i wonder who and when the arbitrary powers of the university administrators will be checked?

  2. Bruce McNeill says:

    I hope this doesn’t mean you are going to stop blogging

  3. Yemon Choi says:

    I second Bruce’s sentiment, as I always enjoy reading your posts, even if I usually don’t find enough time to fully digest the mathematical ones.

  4. Ralph says:

    As someone who has few good habits of any kind, I could certainly use some better mathematical ones. Maybe you could leak a few hints here? If that would be literally “talking out of school,” I assure you WE won’t tell.

  5. I’m sorry to hear that. I’m starting as Ph.D. student at Queen Mary this summer, and I was hoping to meet you… I hope you also have positive things to say about the university?

    • I am sure I will still be around a lot of the time.

      I have been very happy in this department for most of the past 26 years. The best thing about it, something which I have found in few other places, is the extent to which colleagues in all fields actually talk to one another. As a small indicator of this, I have written papers with colleagues working in logic, group theory, graph and matroid theory, statistical mechanics, discrete probability, and experimental design.

      As a student, you will not be as susceptible to the pressures coming from the centre. Even the VP recognises that the best thing to do with mathematics students is to encourage them to do mathematics (apart from the “transferable skills” handed down from above, over which we really do have very little say).

  6. youngtableaux says:

    Dear Professor Cameron,

    I am the student of Dr Ku who met you earlier last month. After visiting you, I have been a regular visitor of your blog. (I have also been reading you book and learning something new each time.) Often, I find beauty and inspiration in the connections between mathematics and many other disciplines, e.g., Literature (I googled “Always busy counting, doubting every figured guess”), and Art.

    I wish you could travel to this side of the globe!

  7. A reply to several people above asking if I will continue blogging. That is certainly the intention. Indeed, everything will continue as it is until the end of the summer. Thank you, everyone, for your support.

    I posted this on Saturday afternoon and went for a walk on Sunday (which I am now writing up and hope to post later this week). Hence no reply until this morning.

    Yemon: It is a difficult balancing act, giving something to catch the attention of mathematicians but not drive away my other friends. One thing that greatly encourages me is that some posts on mathematics (e.g. the series on the symmetric group) and other concerns of mathematicians (e.g. mathematical typesetting) seem to have a much longer shelf life than most of my posts, and keep coming back into the top ten long after they were first posted.

  8. Bill Fahle says:

    I’m happy to see you say (type?) that you will continue doing research. That is the fun part, after all. You are retiring the same year I am graduating over here in the states, but I’m only 15 years younger. It’s a shame that the politics of the university seem to be edging you out.

  9. Dima says:

    We would be delighted to invite you to NTU next winter/spring!

    • dratman says:

      Dima, I applaud you for inviting Peter, but in case I want to apply too, would NTU be Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, National Taiwan University, National Textile University of Pakistan, Nottingham Trent University, National Technological University in Argentina, or possibly North Texas University?

      Oh, you say Peter already knows which one it is? Well, that is a relief. I’d hate to see him turn up in Buenos Aires and then learn he was actually expected in Nottingham.

    • During the Sydney Olympic Games it was reported that some British tourists showed up in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and were a little surprised that it wasn’t as they had expected…

      Thank you Dima! I will have to start making plans at some point!

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