Remembering Ted Odell

I just found out this morning that Ted Odell passed away recently. He was my advisor for my undergraduate thesis and something of an informal mentor when I was in grad school. He was a kind person and a sharp mathematician.

While I was writing up my undergraduate thesis, I commented on how much help he was giving me. He quoted someone who had said that a thesis is a paper written by an advisor under the most aggravating circumstances. My intention was to study functional analysis in grad school, in part because it brought lots of areas of math together, but also in part because of the good experience I’d had working with Ted.

I remember sitting in front of the math building talking with him discussing career options. Somehow statistics came up and he said with a puzzled look on his face “Statisticians aren’t really mathematicians.” He didn’t mean that to be pejorative. He explained that statisticians have a different culture, different values, etc. Years later I would appreciate how true that is.

I also remember something he said to me about the dangers of competence. He warned me that if you’re a responsible person, willing and able to make more than a technical contribution, people will try to take advantage of you. I was flattered that he thought that could be a danger for me.

Ted and I exchanged email a while back, maybe a year ago. I was thinking about him lately and hoped to stop by his office the next time I was in Austin. I’m sorry that I won’t have that chance.

Update: Tim Gowers’ tribute to Ted Odell

4 thoughts on “Remembering Ted Odell

  1. It’s awesome that you had a mentor at that crucial time. Maybe you won’t be able to talk to him again, but I’m sure he’s proud of leaving a mark on you, and more so if you remember.

  2. Could you elaborate more on the “dangers of competence”? It sounds interesting, but I’m not quite sure of what you are getting at there.

  3. The Fields medallist Tim Gowers has a moving tribute to Odell on his blog.

  4. Giles: Thanks for letting me know. I updated the post to link to Tim Gowers’ post.

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