The Fields Institute Turns Twenty-Five 170725 Final book with covers - Page 107

A Director Is Not a Dictator 85 reproduced quite often, and which has allowed the Institute to accomplish an amazing amount on what is really a tiny budget). The two of us had set out on a path of exploration: to bite off a small problem in multidimensional conservation laws. This was, at the time, uncharted territory, and our “irresponsible” semester gets a good deal of the credit for our initial work. We pretty much ignored seminars, workshops, and other activities as we battled confusion and ignorance, learned more about degenerate elliptic PDE than we dreamed existed, and eventually found a path to the beginnings of a theory. The experience impressed me with the usefulness of a career break where one can focus on a single topic, uninterrupted by teaching or service obligations, and it showed me the ways in which a mathematics research institute that runs visitor programs can affect a mathematician’s career. After four months in Waterloo, my family and I returned to Houston, and my involvement with Canadian mathematics continued at a slower pace. I served without any particular distinction, as I recall, on the GSC for Applied Mathematics for a term, on the Fields Institute Scientific Advisory Panel for a term, and on one of NSERC’s notorious “reallocation” committees (the one, as it happened, that assigned a very disappointing funding package to Fields). The reallocation experience was interesting for the fact that, of the twelve members of the committee, five were held to have conflicts of interest with one or other of the mathematics institutes and were excluded from the discussion. This was hard to explain to Ken Davidson, who was then the Director of Fields. I think to this day that he feels personally betrayed. (Sorry, Ken. I would have done anything I could to help.) None of this prepared me for being nominated to become Director of Fields after Ken. But once I was under consideration, everything fell into place in a remarkable way.