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.