Systemic risks: food, disease and economics

I am not a biologist nor an economist, so perhaps for people in the know there is nothing new here.  But for me, I am amazed at our ability to draw parallels between entirely disparate phenomena. Kind of makes you feel good about the power of scientific thought process. Read on:

In the run-up to the recent financial crisis, an increasingly elaborate set of financial instruments emerged, intended to optimize returns to individual institutions with seemingly minimal risk. Essentially no attention was given to their possible effects on the stability of the system as a whole. Drawing analogies with the dynamics of ecological food webs and with networks within which infectious diseases spread, we explore the interplay between complexity and stability in deliberately simplified models of financial networks. We suggest some policy lessons that can be drawn from such models, with the explicit aim of minimizing systemic risk.

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I am no fun!


The Grinch is a term used to describe a person opposed to celebrations or to someone with a coarse, greedy attitude.

It all started with this: “I want to be with someone who knows how to have fun,” my wife said after a particularly indignant argument.

You see, I was on the job market for a tenure-track position at that time. That means the whole rigmarole of preparing the application package, telephone interviews, hounding the references to send in their letters, actual on site interviews, and so on. This on top of my usual 60 hours a week of postdoc job, with all the admin bullshit that comes your way for being the most senior trainee in your group.

It was absolutely an exciting time—I loved my science, I enjoyed the thrill of going to places and telling everyone in my way how cool I am. But it was also taxing. The academic job search process is effin long, stretching from October to May of next year. And that is discounting preparation time for the application. I now feel that during that time, I did miss out on many little moments of quality time with my wife (especially during the holiday season), many hours that I wished I could spend exercising or pursuing hobbies—in general, I missed out on the quality of my life.

So when my wife made that comment, it got me thinking about my academic aspirations, the way I was pursuing those, and their effect on us. Sure, by itself, those aspirations are, of course, quite noble with all your cool new science and teaching endeavors with a belief that all your efforts will change the world.  But the reality of the academic jobs is not only about  science and teaching, but is also about funding, service, advising, funding, group/departmental bullshit, traveling, managing relationships, and funding, of course.  It is especially the latter part that consumes so much time and energy—the fact which people outside ivory tower have a hard time believing in. While it is a necessary evil, it makes me grumpy Grinch, green with others’ success and always unsatisfied with my own. And boy, does it suck the happiness out of everyone around me!

At the end of it all though, this is not all gloom and doom—I came out all right as a newly minted young faculty. But those issues still remained in my mind. Every once in a while I thought of starting a blog to connect with the blogosphere, and importantly, to vent about my new life, but couldn’t act on it. So finally today I took the plunge!

PS: Of course, no way I claim to be an original here; blogosphere has many leading lights commenting on this—the life of academic—on a regular basis. In fact, I shamelessly admit that I stole the idea of the Grinch from this one. I mean to use this space, to say more of the same, in my own voice.

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