TITLE: Hope for the Mature Researcher AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 19, 2015 2:45 PM DESC: ----- BODY: In A Primer on Graph Isomorphism, Lance Fortnow puts László Babai's new algorithm for the graph isomorphism problem into context. To close, he writes:
Also we think of theory as a young person's game, most of the big breakthroughs coming from researchers early in their careers. Babai is 65, having just won the Knuth Prize for his lifetime work on interactive proofs, group algorithms and communication complexity. Babai uses his extensive knowledge of combinatorics and group theory to get his algorithm. No young researcher could have had the knowledge base or maturity to be able to put the pieces together the way that Babai did.
We often hear that research, especially research aimed at solving our deepest problems, is a young person's game. Great work takes a lot of stamina. It often requires a single-minded focus that comes naturally to a young person but which is a luxury unavailable to someone with a wider set of obligations beyond work. Babai's recent breakthrough reminds us that other forces are at play, that age and broad experience can be advantages, too. This passage serves as a nice counterweight to Garrison Keillor's The slow rate of learning... line, quoted in my previous post. Sometimes, slow and steady are what it takes to get a big job done. -----