Letter from Houston-Part 2

Dear Reader,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing since I could no longer contain my excitement. If everything goes well, I am all set to obtain a PhD degree in mathematics. At this point, I must clarify that my excitement has nothing to do with the possibility of the PhD award (for the sake of this letter, you have to identify ‘I’ with ‘Tattwamasi’. It would not harm to make this identification always either). I will leave USA for good, and it brings me great joy. Of course, I will miss the discussions with my advisor (Mehrdad Kalantar) and my friends; I shall come back to them in a different post. The purpose of this letter is to express my opinion on the PhD degree.

What does it mean to obtain a PhD degree in Mathematics? It goes without saying that I am confined to the place I am in and I cannot speak for other places even if I want to. I have realized that a PhD degree pales even in comparison to the moment when you started to write alphabets. In the long run of things, I wish I can bury my degree in the box where my mother has kept all of our childhood toys; even these hold more significance in terms of memories. It would be a grave injustice if I belittle the contributions of my advisor. He is the only one who gives ‘meaning’ to this toil of five years and the sole reason behind whatever worldly success(es) I have achieved or go on to achieve.

A degree cannot be the purpose of pursuing any field of study. It must not be taken into account even. The sole purpose of undertaking any path has to be the ‘desire to learn’. It must stem from the need to push our own boundaries of knowledge and help others push theirs. Whatever comes out of it as a consequence is secondary, is irrelevant. Running after such things is a delusion. The universities in modern times are pushing such literary phantasm by projecting themselves as gigantic outlets where degrees are sold. If they had their way, they would create a program, upon whose successful completion, you get to put all the English alphabets before your name. And, for the fools we are, we would enroll in it as well.

Claiming to be a ‘mathematician’ after a ‘PhD in mathematics’ is equivalent to saying that ‘I can draw a line in water’. But, even a child knows that such a claim is made by people who can be used as drums solely because their hollowness allows the sound to propagate far. We must refrain ourselves from falling into the abyss of self gratification. We must cut down the branch of ‘ego’ arising out of an awarded ‘degree’ before it engulfs us entirely.

Last but not the least, I send the last page of my friend Nikos’s notebook to the people (irrespective of their stature as faculty, instructional faculty or Lead TA) who project their vague sense of power upon others. They must know that ”nothing lasts forever except change”.

Until next time,


Published by tattwamasiamrutam

Tat Tvam Asi

One thought on “Letter from Houston-Part 2

  1. Congrats on your new post bro. You’ve earned every good thing that is coming your way now and in the future. You are 100 percent right in everything you write. For almost everyone, PhD is a self indulgent exercise in self validation. Looking for 3 letters to put behind their name that they can use to claim they are better than the next person. I’m glad that there are talented and humble people like you and a few others. Its rare for there to be humble and talented people in math. In my opinion, this is in part due to the insular nature of mathematics and also the current state of academics in the US, as you’ve mentioned, where status and prestige is valued over actual skill. Proud of you bro and I look forward to hearing about your continued progress in the future.

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