One particular highlight of the month was the national workshop where I was a keynote speaker. “Spring Mathematics Meetings” is an academic-oriented workshop series organized twice a year by volunteer maths students from different universities.
Since the workshops are generally held in Istanbul and Ankara in October and May and I am usually busy teaching at that time, I have never found the opportunity to take part until Covid happened. With the onset of the pandemic, the workshop switched to virtual and I started doing research about how the invited speakers are selected.
As an academic, these kinds of mathematics meetings have been an essential part of my life since I was just a master's student. I have always loved putting myself and my work in front of an audience even though it might be nerve-wracking. Sometimes no matter how many rehearsals I did, I felt awfully bad after my presentations, not satisfied at all with what I’d done, but sometimes I did great and was high on endorphins for the next couple of days as if I was the greatest speaker ever. Regardless of how I felt, I have always been consistent in looking for the next opportunity to improve this soft skill and I have always run one after another conference whenever I got a chance and could afford all the expenses attached.
I recently received funding from the most important scientific council in Turkey so I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me, but usually, when an academic wants to improve themself by attending these kinds of gatherings, the first thing they have to do is forget about any type of financial support. Throughout my entire career I have attended more than twenty conferences and so far only got reimbursed for one. Even if academics were able to overcome the financial hurdles, they would face other problems as well. A lot of academics, especially younger ones, who do get themselves invited to scientific meetings also face difficulties obtaining visas despite having all necessary required documents. As far as I am concerned, and most people seem to share my opinion, this is due to Turkey’s failure to map out a comprehensive migrant policy. The current policy allows millions of refugees who come from mostly Middle Eastern countries to easily obtain citizenship by buying property in Turkey.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to giving aid to refugees, and I have nothing against migration or immigration in or out of Turkey. Part of the beauty of Turkey is the diversity that has existed here for thousands of years. What I am opposed to is the government taking advantage of desperate people looking to escape a dangerous environment to advance its own agenda. I don’t mean to sound like I am complaining all the time. My intention with writing this blog is to share my own personal life experiences but I can't do that without also sharing the struggles of the place that I call home.
Going back to the workshop I attended; at the risk of sounding arrogant, I have to admit that I felt very confident in my capability as a keynote lecturer. So, I did not wait to be discovered. Instead I reached out to the organization via email and said “Hello, I am this and that. I have been following what you do for some time and I think you are amazing. So, just to let you know I would be happy to be a part of it.”
Then it happened. They initially asked me to give an online lecture back when I first started living in the US, but I wasn’t able to accommodate them. I had just moved to a new country and was still finding my feet while at the same time studying for an online verbal exam for the tenure position I applied for in my home country. I was barely coping and I wasn’t feeling up to anything else. Moreover, I had always dreamt about an in person event: me in front of a big white board in a lecture hall talking to an audience full of students from different backgrounds. So, the organizers and I both decided to get in touch again for the upcoming year.
At that moment, an hourglass turned upside down in the back of my head. There was an open tab in my brain dedicated to how I could talk about my area of expertise to students who didn’t have the slightest idea of what was going on. I immediately started making use of every opportunity I had to do research. The S&T library had already been my primary gateway to knowledge so I left no aisle unvisited until I found the best book ever on inverse problems, the topic on which I wrote my PhD thesis. The best thing about crossing paths with that particular book was we shared the same target audience. It was written for undergraduate math students and I was going to talk to mostly undergraduate students. I absorbed every ounce of information it could give me over the next couple of months and used that information during the lecture.
Finally the day of days arrived. The workshop was going to be held at Istanbul University, so I flew to Istanbul which I had last visited for my US visa appointment two years ago. I stayed at the same Airbnb I stayed at two years ago, caught up with my former Airbnb host [now a dear friend] over red wine, woke up the next morning, took the subway, and found myself in front of a big white board in a lecture hall talking to an audience full of students from different backgrounds.
The experience couldn’t have been better. My talk lasted for one hour and I was able to grab and keep everyone’s attention the whole time which is not that easy considering Gen Z’s attention span is like eight seconds thanks to all the tiktoks, shorts, and reels they watch.
As I write this post, I feel very happy that I decided to go out of my comfort zone and do something I had never done before. I am happy I did not wait to be discovered, but instead reached out to people and let them know about me. I am happy with how the experience turned out and how it made me feel about myself. And I am happy that I am someone who is always looking forward to a new adventure.
October 2022, Mersin.