- Is unique, and
- Depends continuously on the data (meaning that a small perturbation in the input results in a small perturbation in the output).
One of the major themes of my dissertation was ill-posed problems. But it could just as easily be a theme of life, not just for me, but for everybody. Do our lives depend continuously on the data, or do small perturbations result in big changes?
They say that the beating of a butterfly's wing can lead to a hurricane, and likewise, the smallest things in our lives can make a big difference. I often think of one very pivotal moment in my life, a moment that at the time seemed so mundane, a moment that wasn't really even my life's moment, but that drastically changed the trajectory of my professional life.
It was a weekday afternoon, the same as any other. Jeff was at work, taking calls about the cable modem service, and solving people's problems over the phone. He helped a man who worked at the supercomputing center on campus, and the man thanked him profusely. They got to chatting a little bit, and the customer asked Jeff about himself, and Jeff told him that his wife was a grad student in computer science at the university. The man told Jeff about an opening for a Research Assistant position at the center, and told him to encourage his wife to apply.
I applied for that job, and I got it. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was the best job I've ever had. It opened so many doors for me! The experience I acquired by doing that job made it possible for me to lose my fear of parallel computing, enabling me to apply for and use supercomputing resources for my dissertation. Ultimately, it led me to the place I am right now. If I'd never heard of that job, I wouldn't be nearly as employable as I am today. If it weren't for that job, I wouldn't have had four interviews and two job offers straight out of grad school. If it weren't for that job, I might feel less optimistic about my future at this lab, where the focus is on leadership computing. So I'm really glad that my husband just happened to be working that afternoon and took that call. Who knows where I'd be, otherwise?
I tend to think that I would have just gone in a different direction, and things would have worked out well anyhow. But this little perturbation really influenced the outcome. Life is an ill-posed problem.
What pivotal event(s) changed your life?