Crossing the Ocean

For the last several months I've been very busy with job interviews and I haven't had much time to actually think about Physics, let alone blog about it.  Sorry to everyone whose comments I've neglected in the meantime, but I hope you were having fun discussing among yourselves...

That brings us to a major life announcement.  Last week I've accepted a Lectureship at the University of Cambridge!  (Yes, the one in England.)  Needless to say, I was shocked, humbled, and flattered (all at once) when I heard I would be getting an offer a few weeks ago.  So starting Jan 1st, 2019 (Lord willing and the visa come) I'll be a faculty member at the 4th oldest University in the world (after Bologna, Paris, and Oxford)*.  Nicole and I are very excited!  Until this new job begins, I remain at Stanford.

The faculty job ranks in the UK go like this: Lecturer → Reader → Professor.  This is roughly equivalent to Assistant Professor → Associate Professor → Full Professor in the USA, but unfortunately it means you can't call me "professor" yet while anyone from the UK is listening.  That includes here on the internet, sorry.

In another shocking twist of convention (and I'm sure it won't be the last) Theoretical Physics is considered a subcategory of Maths in the UK (note the Britishised spelling, which gives the term its own local colour).  Specifically I'll be at DAMTP.  Apparently the Physics Department does something else, I guess they're the folks who interact with the actual physical world?

The good news is, it seems I don't have to worry about getting tenure.  Technically there's a 5 year probationary period before I'd get appointed to retirement age, but apparently no one in Maths has ever been denied in living memory.  (Although you never know, I could always be the first—everyone's always said I'm exceptional.)  Except for a few big names, the universities in the US like to reassure their junior hires that their tenure rates are in the high nineties.  But there's a big difference between marrying a spouse who's 95% likely to be faithful, and one who is virtually certain to be—it's nice not to have to worry about it!

Cambridge has 31 affiliated colleges (like Baskin-Robbins and flavours), each with their own heraldic scarf colors.  The Lectures and Exams are set by the University Teaching Officers, while the College Fellows tutor the students in the material in groups of 1-3 students.  Unlike Oxford, membership in a college is optional for University faculty, and many people in math and science don't.  But I think it would be cool (I mean, brilliant!) to dine with people working in completely different fields.  And while I'd like to believe I'll do a good job lecturing, my talents shine best in a one-on-one setting, where I can adapt my approach to each student.  So I'll definitely apply to join a college, but I don't know which one yet.  We'll just have to see what their Sorting Hat has to say about it.

Obviously, I'm sad not to be able to see Stephen Hawking after I arrive.  I was introduced to him a few years ago at a conference lunch in Brussels, but he was completely non-responsive at the time (he was eating).  But he did come to my talk the next day.  Now he has departed on a far more significant journey than my crossing to England will be...  I hope he is now at peace, and pray that he will find mercy and full healing when the Lord returns.  (Same goes for Joe Polchinski, a colleague from Santa Barbara who died a couple months ago of brain cancer.)  There are, however, lots of other superb gravitational theorists at Cambridge who are still among the earthly living, and I look forward to working with them.

* Disclaimer: History is always more fractaline than the simple narratives whenever you look at it closely, and this claim is no exception.  I went to Wikipedia to check it, and of course there are disputes about what counts as a University and what counts as its founding date.  It's really old, let's leave it at that.  (Needless to say, the views in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cambridge University.)

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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16 Responses to Crossing the Ocean

  1. Congratulations Aron, that is a wonderful honour which I'm sure is well deserved. I hope all goes well in your move.

  2. Philip Wainwright says:

    Congratulations! I hope you'll have time to keep up the blog, even if it's only an occasional post on developments in the field. I'd also be interested to learn which church you settle into; there are some good ones to explore there.

    God bless you!

  3. Andrew says:

    Congrats Aron, very happy for you. Keeping you in my prayers.

  4. See you there~ just accepted a spot there recently myself (Currently at LTL-Princeton/CALTECH)

  5. Cauchy Slice says:

    Cool! (I mean...Brilliant!); like the Von Neumann entropy of a given surface~ [What if I AM a GR person? ;) ]

  6. Luke Barnes says:


    You'll need to increase your appreciation for tea by at least 30-40%. I recommend this place:

  7. Kyle says:

    Congratulations. It is "brilliant" how you managed to include so many of those pesky British English spellings.

    What do you expect for the future of this blog given this new career opportunity?

  8. TY says:

    Congratulations Aron. Well deserved. You'll be joining a very long list of brilliant minds in mathematical physics. Please don't leave us adrift in "Undivided Looking".

  9. Luke says:

    Congratulations, Aron! That is wonderful news.

  10. Scott Church says:

    Aron, I must say that this made my entire week! It's been a hard one, but hearing this news brought tears to my eyes and made everything alright. I've been praying for you to get on a path to tenure somewhere, and what an answer to prayer this is! Sometime in the coming year, you need to make it up to Seattle again and let me take you and Nicole out to dinner to celebrate! :-)

  11. Mactoul says:

    Congrats. Cambridge is probably the NICEst place with interesting experiments in all fields. Good luck!

  12. kashyap vasavada says:

    Hi Aron,
    Congratulations on getting a well-deserved position at a top university. I hope you will continue this blog.

  13. Paul Wraight says:

    Found this news rather late, but congratulations. As my own college was St Johns, you can guess my preference! I imagine you already know about the Faraday Institute, but if not, do investigate. Very best wishes and prayers.

  14. AnneK says:

    Excellent news! Congratulations, and all the best on your new post.

  15. Peter Culbert says:

    Welcome to the UK! And so glad you're already spelling 'colour' correctly lol.

    From what I have read on your blog, you will be a real asset to Cambridge.

    You will probably see quite a difference in attitude from the US when it comes to being a 'God-believer' in the UK, including in the workplace. The atheists even get to have their opinions put on the side of London buses.

    As I said, welcome to the UK!

  16. Ben says:

    Congrats on the new job.

    Just thought I’d say that in the UK theoretical physics is not always (or even usually) placed within a mathematics department, that is just the custom at Cambridge, probably for historical reasons (e.g. many great physicists held the Lucasian chair of mathematics at Cambridge before “theoretical physics” really became a thing).

    You are also much more likely to find string theorists and the like in the mathematics departments than, say, a condensed matter theorist!

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