I recently read a blog post of an interview with Arunava Sen, a Professor at ISI and one of my Master’s advisors. I also happened to stumble upon the chapter he wrote in the book published in his Princeton advisor’s honour, which was released at a conference in his name on his 65th birthday. This took me back to last December, when we had organized a similar conference at ISI in Arunava Sen’s honour on the occasion of his 60th birthday. A lot of the praise heaped on Hugo Sonnenschein in that book applies almost directly to Arunava, and in fact reading it felt eerily similar to all the tributes that the attendees paid to Arunava’s career, especially the ones relating to advising students. A particular comment that I remember someone making was that it was easy to be a researcher but much harder to build an institution while you were at it, and that was what Arunava had done at ISI. My love for economics, and in particular economic theory, is almost entirely due to Arunava and the atmosphere he has created and maintained for so long at ISI, so I guess I must now thank Hugo Sonnenschein for being an institution builder who moulded researchers who were institution builders in their own right.
For completeness, I’ll add a section of my journal entry from the night of Arunava’s conference here. “Number of citations, prestige of awards, and so on count amongst the quantifiable achievements that a researcher can boast about. But perhaps more important still is how deep an imprint they leave on the lives of those around them. A paper with thousands of citations pales in comparison to the gratitude of one person whose life was irrevocably changed because somebody believed in them and gave them selfless guidance. Any award seems worthless compared to the awe of hundreds of students who could see a field in perfect clarity because of the way it was expounded to them. Magnanimity and generosity in humans is a wonderful feature, but in those with the opportunity to touch so many lives, it becomes godly.”