Monday, May 21, 2012

Einstein's performance review

A reader sends the '05 Annual Performance Review: Albert Einstein that he might have gotten from the Swiss patent office. Funny. He unifies space and time, but that is not part of his job description, and he need to learn to share credit with others appropriately.

While Einstein's 1905 papers made a splash, it was not that big a splash. He continued to work at the patent office, and did not get an academic job until several years later after (1) Poincare published a geometric spacetime version of relativity, (2) Minkowski published a widely disseminated version of Poincare's relativity, (3) Poincare moved on to other subjects, and (4) Minkowski died. All of a sudden, relativity was a hot topic and Einstein was the young expert. The offers flowed in.

The closest I have to an actual performance review is this:

On July 6, 1909, Einstein handed his resignation notice from the Patent Office to Haller, effective October 15 1909.114 Haller placed on record that the Expert II Class had performed highly valued services. His departure is a loss to the office. However, Herr Einstein feels that teaching and scientific research are his real profession, and for that reason the Director of the Office made no attempt to bind him to the Office by better financial arrangements.115
The same article has this account of Einstein getting his first academic job at Zurich:
At the beginning of 1909, while Einstein was a Privatdozent at the University of Bern, Alfred Kleiner attended one of Einstein's lectures. His impression was that Einstein lectured poorly. ...

Einstein gave a lecture to the "Physical Society", and there he was able to correct the impression. On April 28th, 1909 Einstein reported to his close friend Conrad Habicht: "I am fairly sure now of getting my post at Zürich University".111

The faculty was not eager to accept Einstein. They wrote, "Herr Dr Einstein is an Israelite and since precisely to the Israelites among scholars are ascribed (in numerous cases not entirely without cause) all kinds of unpleasant peculiarities of character, such as intrusiveness, impudence, and a shopkeeper's mentality in the perception of their academic position. It should be said, however, that also among the Israelites there exist men who do not exhibit a trace of these disagreeable qualities and that it is not proper, therefore to disqualify a man only because he happens to be a Jew". And the committee and faculty did not consider it compatible with their dignity in democratic Zürich to adopt anti-Semitism as a matter of policy; so that the information which Kleiner provided about Einstein "reassured" them.112

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