来中国工作是我人生的重大抉择。当一个人远渡重洋，背井离乡，来到一个完全陌生的地方，独自面对生活环境和生活方式如此巨大的改变的时候，很难预料他会怎么想，怎么做。今年一月底到达北京机场的时候，我所知道的只有三件事。第一，我将要工作的地方，南开大学，是一所很好的大学； 第二，曾经在Los Alamos实验室愉快共事的陈永川教授，我们一直是好朋友；第三，南开的学生是我在Los Alamos实验室就早有了解，他们非常积极并且具有很高的天赋。
Christian Reidys教授为什么来南开 ---陈永川
The First Three Months
It was a big step when I arrived at the end of January this year at the Beijing airport. Clearly, it is impossible to predict how one feels and react to that number of changes in lifestyle and also separated from your family. What I did know is that Nankai is a very good university and that Professor Chen, with whom I had the pleasure working with in Los Alamos is a very good friend. What I did know is that the students whom I got to know over the years in Los Alamos are very likeable and gifted.
Also I visited Nankai University in July last year and met researchers and staff. The decision was not easy whether or not to go to Nankai as many factors played a role. I finally decided for the place best suited for realizing my goal, to build a group in computational biology.
Now, after 3 months working at Nankai I can say that my high expectations have been met. The quality and moral of my fellow professors many of which have become friends met my expectations and the students are a pleasure to work with. If I don’t react within a few hours to the latest write up of some proof ideas I am guaranteed to have the student ask me what I think about his/her latest ideas. They really are behind their work. I enjoy this a lot as it reflects a stimulating and encouraging environment. Such an environment is in fact vital for the promotion of creative thinking and coming up with new ideas.
Things are moving. We have started due to new-years celebrations by the beginning of March and have already submitted one and are about to finish two further research papers produced in this new group. I also have to stress the point that these papers address hard questions in the field, one being the enumeration of RNA pseudo-knot structures.
This enormous speed is a consequence of the attitude of my colleagues and students. When I come around 8, most of my students have already arrived and when I leave at 11 we have to be literally “pushed” out of the building.
Many times I find myself sitting at the steps of the entrance debating the most efficient to prove something. Over lunch we always bring pen and paper and discuss the results of the morning among each other, not one minute is wasted. I can already tell when I eat too slowly and my party feels its time to “get serious” and to get back to the center. Of course everybody is very polite but I know when its time to hurry. By the way, we sometimes end up with only one meal per day.
Teamwork is often endangered by competition in such situations, but here we are a crazy family but a family pulling in one direction. There is a distinct perception about what helps the group and I guess people are just aware of that. Now to make that point, while walking back to the hotel tonight, I will discuss a new paper with colleagues and this is the usual ending of a typical day here at the Center. Work like this is only possible when the work environment is smooth and support staff is really helpful. This is not typical for all academic institutions. 10-13 hours work in your office is simply only possible when there is help in numerous ways.
So soon I will go home for a month and already be part of a community which I will start to miss. I certainly would not have expected this. However, once a certain rhythm within the group is founded I hope to have the opportunity to learn more about Chinese culture and language. I have not had the opportunity to do so and have started regretting this. But first thing’s first. It is vital to make “us” known by high quality papers as Professor Chen has already established so well in Combinatorics.
By now my colleagues know me well enough. When a staff dinner is scheduled I am properly warned that the pen has to be dropped and it’s time for a bear. There was a funny story about the bear. When I went to a restaurant with Professor Chen, the waitress asked me, “Would you like to have a bear?” While I was in astonishment, Professor Chen figured out what was going on, he smiled and said to me, “Don’t be afraid of the bear. Let’s have a Qingdao bear.” This was really an unforgettable story I experienced in China.
In reducing time intervals someone will politely interrupt and let me know “Professor Reidys, its 10 min before we leave” and I was assured I’ll be picked up right on time from my office so that there would be no concern that I may be forgotten. One thing I could not get help with was signing my name in Chinese letters. This was required when I signed the contract to buy an apartment. Very patiently my friends waited while I went through this procedure after I was given a Chinese name. It is very difficult when you do this the first time and the situation required that I made a decent job. However, this was one of the rare events where I could not get help. I even get special coffee, of course for the sole purpose to convert it into theorems. For being able to prepare the coffee freshly I received a hand coffee-mill. So you can see me “cranking” the mill in the morning when I grind my beans.
(April 15th, 2007)