Three years after I moved to the U.S. and had my second child here, I got an NSF postdoc position at MIT. I had had a long break from my previous research in integrable systems, so I decided to start something new for me — quantum groups. Soon afterwards I invented tetramodules and published a paper about them.
Some time later a friend of mine showed me some papers where my tetromodules had been described long before me. I felt such pain, that I couldn’t work.
I was ashamed that the quality of my paper was compromised. I was very scared that someone might think that it wasn’t original work. I felt worthless for having wasted so much energy on something that was already known.
Afterwards, I discovered that tetramodules appeared in the literature under many other names: bidimodules, Hopf bimodules, two-sided two-cosided Hopf modules, 4-modules, bicovariant bimodules. That meant that many people were reinventing them at the same time. I felt slightly better knowing that I wasn’t alone, but was in fact part of a crowd. Still, my pain impeded my ability to work and do research.
I have just read an article in the New Yorker entitled “In the Air” about some famous discoveries made simultaneously by several people. It made me realize that I am still not over that tetramodules story from 15 years ago.
Being a mathematician requires one to be emotionally strong. You need high self-esteem. Do I need to overcome my emotions or is there a niche for very emotional mathematicians? Perhaps blogging about math is such a niche.Share: