From an email to Robert Sefton Smith from Professor Devaney sent on July 5, 2004.

Hi Robert,

Here is a rough sketch of my remarks…

At the beginning of my career in mathematics, Pi Mu Epsilon played a very

significant role, including some of the high and low points I encountered

in those early days.

As an undergraduate math major at Holy Cross College, I was fortunate to

receive a fellowship in my senior year which freed me up from much of my

coursework and allowed me to embark upon a “significant research project.”

In the late 1960’s, long before REUs were around, getting undergraduates

involved in mathematical research was no easy task for a faculty member.

Luckily, I had an excellent advisor, Prof. Patrick Shanahan, who guided me

toward combining some of the mathematical ideas I had learned in topology

and abstract algebra to study the structure of Lens spaces.

This research was a formative experience for me, and when graduation

neared, Prof. Shanahan suggested that I write up my results for

publication. As a novice, I had no idea where to submit such a paper, but

Prof. Shanahan suggested the Pi Mu Epsilon journal, since Holy Cross had

recently initiated their PME chapter. And so I sent off the paper and went

off to graduate school.

I had nearly forgotten about this paper when a letter arrived about a year

later telling me that my paper had been accepted for publication, and I was

thrilled to see the paper appear a short time thereafter — my first

publication! But then disaster struck. About a year or so later a

fellow graduate student stopped by to tell me that he had seen my paper

reviewed in Math Reviews! I hurried off to read the review and was

devastated. In a two sentence review, the reviewer basically said that all

of my research had already been done in the 1930s, that the author paid no

attention to the topological details. (Of course, I completely missed the

fact that the people who had originally proved these results were such

eminent mathematicians as Seifert and Threlfall, and that it took them

about 100 pages or so to do so.)

Reading stuff like this made me think about my choice of career, but

luckily, Pi Mu Epsilon came to the rescue. Just after reading the review,

I received another letter from the PME editor, this time telling me that

my paper had been selelcted as “Best Paper of the Year,” and enclosed I

found a check for $250. Now $250 may not seem like a lot these days, but

back then, with one child at home and another on the way, and living in an

apartment that cost $62 per month (all utilities included!), $250 sure

looked good. But the financial boost that the award gave me pales in

comparison to the boost in confidence that I received; as I look back on

things now, there is no question in my mind that that award gave me the

confidence I needed to complete my thesis and become a research

mathematician.

As it has for countless other young mathematicians, Pi Mu Epsilon provided

me with just the support I needed exactly when I needed it. I am extremely

grateful for all that Pi Mu Epsilon has done for me and for so many other

mathematicians at the beginning of their careers. Thank you so much for a

job well done!

Bob Devaney