Weekly Topic for Operation Joy

Every time you have a negative thought, replace it with a positive one! Let’s talk about what you did and how it went. #teamjoy


Hey Kara , since the onslaught of Gaza coverage, I have to monitor my mood constantly. I also deal with Chronic Pain , so when things go a little dark, I go on my elliptical { recently acquired } and in 10-15 minutes I feel a whole lot better. Jack Callahan


The biggest flip for me happened in grad school in my last year. There were 3 exams you had to pass in order to finish your PhD, called preliminary exams, or prelims. Each one is 6 hours long. My responses were usually 40+ pages.

The first two I sailed through and although I knew the third was the hardest, I had every confidence that I’d pass it.

So I was completely shocked when I got the official letter saying I didn’t pass.

I was devastated. The rule is, if you fail twice, youre out, no degree, nothing. This was after I had been there for almost 5 years.

Obviously I was a bit down. - understatement

But then I decided to look at what i had accomplished. I started grad school at 20. When I started, we had 60 students for my incoming class. All of them were way more gifted than me, and yet only 6 made it to the last year.

I took 90 credits of high level graduate math classes and had a 3.98. I received more departmental awards than anyone…ever… for research, teaching, leadership. I had run huge conferences for over 300 mathematicians from dozens of countries. I even had the chance to work with Paul Erdös, the most prolific mathematician of the 20th century.

Then I thought about the exam. I took it alone, so I had no others to compare it to. And yes, I was the student that usually had the highest grade, not because I was naturally gifted, but because I was willing to put in the time.

And there it was.

I already put in the time. And I was going to finish it.

I was going all in for the exam, so I knew I just needed to put in the time again. The entire summer I studied 30 hours a week on this one very narrow subject (functional analysis). By the way, that was the only class I didn’t get an A in, so I was doubly fired up.

When it came time, I was the only one taking the exam again. But I had done everything I could. And I passed.

When I was 8 months pregnant I defended my dissertation and graduated…at 25. I was the youngest PhD recipient from the department, ever. And yes, I’m damn proud of it.

Now I use that idea for so many things. If theres a problem, I putt. To me that means to put up the time. I put up time on my calendar, Focused time, to solve the problem.

Obviously it’s not just the time I put in. But the positive time. Just like back then, I’ll often think about what I have going for me first.

If there’s one takeaway its that positivity leads to more positivity.

The other takeaway, dont take functional analysis. :grin::rofl::grin:


Hey Kara , I’m sorry I can’t be at the meeting today. My pain level is quite high and I need to sit this one out. My apologies. Any chance someone can tell me the main points? Take care , Jack


We will post the notes after. I hope you feel better!

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Holy shit–you are my hero! :partying_face::heart::exploding_head:


I am so sorry to hear you are feeling poorly, and I hope you feel better very soon. :pleading_face::heart::palms_up_together:

(Zeteo has a new video with Mehdi and AOC; maybe that will help a little.)

Thanks, Andrea

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Thank you, Kara

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wow. That’s pretty awesome. It’s nice to see someone celebrating smarts rather than celebrating ignorance.

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Thanks so much!

Its a lot harder having a phd in math for me than for most of my colleagues. I have a lot more empathy, feeling, and connection.

It’s hard because if you say you have a phd in math, the conversation often shuts down and turns negative. Folks say “Oh, I was never good at math” and a variety of self-deprecating remarks fly about.

I try a joke like “dont worry, i won’t give you a quiz” . They laugh. But they’ve been reminded of a math journey that was awful.

Its a pretty strange social experiment.

My favorite part of math is the idea of making abstract framework for logic then add imaginary numbers.

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Math is an incredible framework for exploration. My field is topological graph theory, with a focus on algebraic structures, like imaginary numbers. I love how interconnected it all is.

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Have you heard of twistor theory?

Well, I can’t say I have a phd in math (well, i guess i could, but i’m not a good liar), but I did take an engineering degree worth of calculus (4 years of calc). Really, calc was my favorite math because finally instead of memorizing things like geometric formulas or physics formulas, now you understood why those formulas existed and could derive them yourself. It’s really kind of fascinating how it describes the world around you.


Physics is like applied math almost.

Hey Andrea , thanks for your post last night in the town hall. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it until later , but yes, I was well enough to attend. I hope you are doing well, Jack

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This one’s going to be a little sad, but with a happy(ish) ending that I think it’s in the spirit of #OperationJoy.

Our dog Scrappy, a cute Yorkshire Terrier, has a collapsed trachea and advanced heart disease. This past October his lips and tongue turned blue, and we had to rush him to the emergency vet. They said we got him there just in time, but that it’s only a matter of months until his condition gets bad enough that he’ll either die suddenly or his quality of life will get bad enough that he’ll need to be put to sleep.

Sometimes I can’t help but fixate on the fact that he has very little time left. When we had a neighborhood event recently, we took him to it and I suddenly thought “this will be the last year Scrappy can come with us,” which is really sad. But instead of being down the whole time, I told myself “look at how much fun he’s having! He’s happy walking around on his leash and seeing everyone — people keep coming up to pet him and ‘ooh and ah’ over him about how cute he is.”

So my negative thought — that Scrappy will never go to this event again — wasn’t wrong, but I was able to find a positive thought — that he was having such a good time — to counteract it. Scrappy doesn’t have much time left, but it’s important to make the most of the time we do have with him.


Drink deeply from the cup. You only get to take the love that you make.

There is a wisdom to living in the moment. Dogs always seem to live in the moment. It is wise to let fear of loss rob you from expressing love for those with little time left.