Graduate Christian Fellowship – Life in the Academy: What They Never Told Me

The Graduate Christian Fellowship invites you to:
Life in the Academy: What They Never Told Me
Mathematics := a journey in faith
Natasha Dobrinen
Associate Professor of Mathematics
University of Denver

Thursday, October 18, 2012
Chaplain’s office, Wycliffe College (basement)

6:00 – Dinner
7:00 (or so) – Something After Dinner – discussion, etc.

Dear Friends,
As we noted in our discussion of formation earlier this term, a university education shapes us in far more ways than just academically. And especially as graduate students, what we’re expected to learn stretches far beyond the curriculum, our courses, or our research. Some of this learning is explicit – like helpful advice from your supervisor, fellow students, or the career centre. But there’s a whole body of knowledge, assumptions, behaviours and perspectives that you’re supposed to learn and internalize, but nobody ever tells you this, much less articulates what they are. This is the subtler, but equally powerful, type of formation whereby we are constantly, and often unconsciously, trying to attune ourselves to the specific academic environment we’re in, and then adapt ourselves to fit in as seamlessly as possible.

And it’s even more interesting than that, because as you move further along the academic (or any professional) career path, you discover that there are new kinds of knowledge and realms of formation that you didn’t – and probably couldn’t – know about earlier in the process. As one participant in the monthly faculty fellowship once quipped, “if grad students think the expectations and workload are crazy now, it’s 10 times worse once you become a prof.” You might say that pursuing an academic vocation (like just about any other) is an act of faith in the formation process itself.

This isn’t necessarily bad, it just is. What’s more, it’s probably true of just about any career trajectory. The key question is, how should we respond? What kind of participant will we be, and how will we engage our own process of formation? First, we can bring this formation process to conscious awareness and reflect on it. Then we can talk about it with others to get a broader perspective and deeper insights. And we can listen to colleagues or find mentors who are further along the process and who can reflect back on their own experience and share some of what they have learned along the way. In a perfect world, at least some of these colleagues would be people who share our faith, and who can understand these dynamics through a critical understanding that’s also deeply imbued with faith, sustained by prayer, rooted in scripture, etc.

If that seems impossibly idealistic, let me say that it’s exactly what we’re going to be doing at GCF this week, and you are warmly invited to join the conversation.

Natasha Dobrinen is Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Denver. After studying at U.C. Berkeley and the University of Minnesota, she taught at Penn State and did a post-doc at the University of Vienna before starting at Denver. This semester she is once again doing research at UofT and is a visiting scholar at the Fields Institute, an internationally renowned centre for mathematical research, and home of the Fields Medal, the mathematical equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Natasha’s area of specialization is in set theory, a complex and almost philosophical field that is considered foundational to much of mathematics itself. Contemplate, for example, that scholars of set theory probe deeply into the many (potentially infinitely many) ways to understand and articulate the very concept of infinity. In fact, they commonly talk about the many different infinities that exist. And you thought you knew what it was…

Not incidentally, Natasha is a rising young female scholar in what is probably the most male-dominated discipline within the university.

She is also a person of deep faith, a passionate Jesus-follower who is committed to honouring God in every aspect of her professional and personal life. It is our distinct privilege to have Natasha join us to reflect on her trajectory both as a scholar and as a Christian, and how the two are interwoven.

I hope you will join us for dinner and a lively and insightful discussion to follow.


Upcoming GCF Events:

Thurs Oct 25
“Who Is My Neighbour”: Part II

Sunday Oct 28
Church Visit #2: Sanctuary Ministries
5pm, 35 Charles St E
(Meet @ 4:45, Second Cup, Yonge & Charles)

Thurs Nov 1
Mid-Term Party and Celebration

Tuesdays, 7:22 am
“Wine Before Breakfast”
a weekly Eucharist service in the Wycliffe College Chapel,
followed by breakfast in the chaplain’s office