Sidney Coleman on Teaching and Princeton

From a 1977 interview with the late theoretical physicist Sidney Coleman.

Coleman: Teaching is unpleasant work. No question about it. It has its rewards. One feels happy about having a job well done. Washing the dishes, waxing the floors (things I also do on a regular basis since I’m a bachelor) have their rewards. I am pleased when I have done a good job waxing the floor and I’ve taken an enormous pile of dirty dishes and reduced them to sparkling clean ones. On the other hand, if I didn’t have to, I would never engage in waxing the floors, although I’m good at it. I’m also good at teaching; I’m considered very good at teaching, both by myself and others. And I’m also terrifically good at washing dishes, in fact. On the other hand, I certainly would never make a bunch of dirty dishes just for the joy of washing them and I would not teach a course just for the joy of teaching a course. (…) if someone were to suddenly say to me, look you can sit in this office and talk and do physics with the same people, everything would be the same except you would never have to teach a course and never have to see a graduate student, and we’ll halve your salary — I’d leap at the offer.

Sopka: So I guess really you would be happier with the format of an institute of theoretical physics? Rather than a teaching institution like a university?

Coleman: Well no. That makes it too abstract. Because that means, would you like to have a position at, say, the Institute for Advanced Studies? And then all sorts of other things would enter the picture. Like you’d have to live in Princeton which is truly an awful experience. (…) It’s a terrible place. Dullest place in the world. No I wouldn’t say that, but certainly the dullest place at which decent science or decent scholarship is done in the world today. The only advantage to Princeton is that it’s close to Princeton Junction.

The whole interview is worth reading. (Via not even wrong)

7 thoughts on “Sidney Coleman on Teaching and Princeton

  1. For reference, what institution/location was Prof. Coleman at when he did this interview?

  2. Harvard. And yes, Cambridge (MA) is a more interesting place than Princeton.

  3. …….And I contend that the SF Bay Area (specially Berkeley, and to a certain extent, also that other big Bay Area university) is more interesting than both.

  4. “Dullest place in the world. No I wouldn’t say that, but certainly the dullest place at which decent science or decent scholarship is done in the world today.”

    The good news is that Princeton has moved up in the rankings. The Perimeter Institute now takes the honor for being an institute for theoretical physics in the dullest place in the world.

  5. LOL @Anonymous. And it has no train station. :)

    From his wikipedia page:
    ‘His lectures at Harvard were also legendary. Students in one quantum field theory course created Tshirts bearing his image and a collection of his more noted quotations, among them: “Not only God knows, I know, and by the end of the semester, you will know.”‘

    Sounds like a very interesting guy.

  6. Come on, we have a train station in Kitchener. With TWO trains a day to go to Toronto, if you miss one of them, you can catch the other.

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