Olli Toivanen's sthethanophilia page

How to apply for a grant

Applying for grants and jobs is not fun. Each application has a probability of x of being accepted, and x is almost an epsilon. A mathematician's hopes are in writing n applications, and then trusting in the power of \[ (1-x)^n \to 0 \quad \textrm{ as } \quad n \to \infty. \]

Thus, I've decided to share some professional tips here, starting with the personal statement, the part where you convince the committee / referees / judges that you're the right person for them.

You're free to use and modify these examples as you see fit.


To quote a Finnish saying, “my only fault is I lack any.”

I speak three languages, and can fake many more to an audience that doesn't know any better; I can do the same when talking of literary or obscure scientific or historical subjects. I know the boundary of excitement and disbelief, and as a consequence I know which lies I can tell without arousing suspicion, and how to ingratiate myself with outrageous and obvious lies.

I am handsome and efficient and I never defecate during work hours. I have studied meditation for a decade, and I never eat or drink during work hours; I use the lunch break for cleaning my work area, because that helps me relax. I am always relaxed, yet alert; easygoing, yet punctual. I know a million jokes that don't insult anyone, the parent organization included; I know one joke that will silence any disruptive workplace buffoon, and drive him or her chastened into rethinking his or her entire sad life. I have used this joke to increase efficiency threefold; in areas, fourfold.

I am polite; I never lose my temper; I can see the point of view of other people, and I am good with children, animals and university students. Plants thrive when I water them; my bosses find me aesthetically pleasing but not sexually tempting (I can provide written testimonials), and I have a winning smile that could have acquitted John Wayne Gacy.

I can use the comma, and the semi-colon correctly, and ironically. My paragraphs are alternately long and short, and my section titling is immaculate. My article naming brims with allure, and if I name a book, it will be starred-reviewed in the New Yorker, in Publishers Weekly and in American Mathematical Monthly.

I have no religion, and thus I will never give moral or ethical objection to anything, or ask for days off; but I believe in a vaguely benevolent God, love Jesus, revere the Bible, and vaguely respect the convictions and personal beliefs of everyone except crazy pariahs, whose lunacies I condemn, vigorously. Additionally, I am discreet, and would never call anyone a “crazy pariah” except people who have no way of protesting or gathering a protest on their behalf, e.g. Terry Jones and Fred Phelps. I shall never utter, in writing, speaking or in thought, any opinion that would bring shame or unwelcome attention to my employer; I will never write, say or think anything that could be interpreted as controversial, political, difficult, startling, symptomatic or new; I am as bland as a very bland thing, and nothing sticks to me.

I remember everything. I forget nothing. I am implacable. I have no mercy, and I hold no grudges.

I love the poems of Pierre de Ronsard and the essays of Borges; I can dazzle anyone with my analysis of Belgium in the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; I can elevate the level of conversation anywhere, and I can give discreet tips that make everyone in my company appear much smarter than they are; you, dear reader, I can make into an erudite genius of rumor and legend. I can appreciate classical music, wine, sunsets and women in a cultured, non-sexual manner; and if required, I am an expert lover. I have no inhibitions, but I am always in control; I do not break hearts for my love mends wounded souls; I bring people to ecstasy and gently float them down to contentment, and if I so wish no-one will recall my name, face or university affiliation afterwards. I know the French names of a thousand sexual acts, and I can both pronounce them correctly and perform them diligently. I have a fully functional dungeon in my basement and my safe word is “Margaret Thatcher”; and I can find anything erotic if needs be.

I have no children or dependents, but I can borrow my cousin's if I need to be a family man. I am safe, nice and demure; I crossdress convincingly, and have won a Marilyn Monroe lookalike contest for women; I can do astounding full-body imitations of Brad Pitt, Viggo Mortensen and Peter Dinklage; and I know the difference between a tie and a cravat.

I can teach this difference to others; I can teach things I do not know to others; I am an example of such grace that no evil thought can be thought in my presence. I am a walking lie detector, and I can say anything with conviction.

I use italics and capitalization in moderation.

I can argue the both sides of any argument, and I can win for either side, or both sides. Science and religion are made compatible in my person; I can use and appreciate Windows, Mac and Linux, and printers obey me. I know how to make duplex copies; I can soothe the cranky secretary, and coax any number of transparencies from the box with a flick of my wrist. My handwriting looks like computer print; my computer printing uses a special font designed to cause sensations alike to the memory of childhood countryside sunsets and first love. I have a USB memory stick embedded in my flesh; I am a safe courier, and the TSA has never stopped me. I respect the TSA; I take an enema before flying, always, and I do not wear subversive T-shirts or a belt. I have no piercings, tattoos or drug habits; I do not drink, except clean spring water and whatever is offered to me at public events; and if I smoke, it is because I have been working too fast. Additionally, I have a dry wit that makes world people think I am English, the English think I am a remote-controlled puppet of Stephen Fry's, and Stephen Fry think I am him, come back from a wiser age of reincarnation and grace.

Finally, I am humble, hard-working and honest.


In three years, I see myself the supreme autocrat and dictator of mathematics. My rule shall be that of an iron fist in a glove of chalk-dusty silk; I shall be ruthless and just, with a tendency to settling old personal injuries in a hysterically and cruelly overblown fashion. I shall never forget, or forgive; I shall hound those that have not given me what I have desired; I shall deprive them of their positions, turn down their publications, sneer at their achievements in the pages of the Supreme Mathematical Monthly. I shall drink their tears and find obscene joy in the lamentations of their graduate students as they, teacher and student both, are cast from the arms of the Alma Mater and into the toxic void of the Outer World, to waste and pine in dull jobs of the flesh, waiters and washers and other undesirables of no applicable education, wasted hulks of regret and grief, without any hope of return into the Plus Realm. Will you deny my desire, and destroy your future?


I am a physical God. I trust that is sufficient.

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