Interview with Andrzej Sołtysiak

In September 2020, Tomáš W Pavlíček interviewed Andrzej Sołtysiak. What follows is a translation from Polish of extracts from this interview.

Some preliminaries

I wrote my master's thesis in 1973 with Professor Alexiewicz, so he was my first mentor. In 1974, a doctoral program was opened at our university and I became a doctoral student. Since I didn't like the mathematics that was practiced here, I started going to Warsaw - to the Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences. It was with the consent of Professor Alexiewicz, who was my scientific supervisor. It must be admitted that he did not bother us and we had a lot of freedom in choosing our scientific interests. In Warsaw, I came across Professor Żelazko's seminar. Thanks to this, in 1975 I went to a conference in Czechoslovakia.

There was some cooperation between the Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in Prague and the Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. So Professor Żelazko knew Czech mathematicians well, especially Professor Pták.

I talked to him, he was a very cultured man, well-educated, he always tried to be nice to everyone. When we started talking, he had very fond memories of Poznań, because - I don't remember exactly now - either in 1953 or 1954 he was an intern here at our university with Professor Orlicz for a year. And he remembered the people he met here - Professor Musielak, Professor Kopeć.

And I think Professor Kurzweil appeared on the second or third of them. Even my boss, Professor Szufla, invited Professor Kurzweil, I remember that we even went on a trip together.

TWP: In what environment did the actual scientific work take place, which resulted in the results of colleagues' cooperation or cooperation on topics? Do you remember what it looked like?

How do we cooperate? You know, this is a very difficult topic. It varies, it depends on people. I also have four joint works with my friend Vladimír Müller. I met him at the second conference, I think, and then we became friends.

Of course, Mr. Zemánek was a great figure in this Polish-Czechoslovak cooperation! Read about him in this essay of mine.

TWP: It seems to me that the conferences organized by Professor Pták had such a character that they attracted more attention and more people were invited there?

Yes, at least 40 people. For such conferences, it was quite a lot. ... These conferences by Professor Pták were more like, you could even say, partly training. He wanted his students to learn something and learn something.

Do you know what it looked like? In the evening, after the lectures, because the lectures were in the morning with a break for lunch and again in the afternoon, we would go for a beer to a hospoda or tavern, and the Czechs would then return to Professor Pták to repeat what was important in these lectures. Professor Pták wanted to repeat some things again so that they would remember them and explain what they did not understand during the lectures. So no, it was not, at least for my colleagues from Czechoslovakia, [laughter] easy. Only some of the older ones could sign, but the young ones couldn't, they had no chance. And at the first conference I attended, it was even worse, because we started at 9 a.m., and at 8 a.m. all my colleagues from Czechoslovakia [laughter] had to report to the lecture hall and had their classes in Czech or Slovak. So we could sleep longer.

During these conferences there was always one day off from classes for the so-called výlet – trip, i.e. we wandered around the area, mostly in the mountains.

Pták's conferences were the same almost to the end. He wanted his students to learn something and learn something.

TWP: And what about Professor Orlicz? He travelled the world?

I haven't heard of him traveling at all. Musielak also visited America once and was in India at the Tata Institute. My slightly older colleagues should appear here, [laughter] because I started my studies in 1968, so my memory covers the years from 1968 onwards, not downwards. What I know from those previous years is mostly from conversations and reports. But, you know, apart from this competition, [laughter] these gentlemen, great mathematicians who came from the Lviv school, they ruled here in a bit of an old style, so it was a medieval model: masters - workers. So the professor had the final say on what to do and what to do. So he ruled quite domineeringly.

TWP: You mean he imposed many topics?

Yes. Yes of course. Orlicz was such a despot. But maybe I shouldn't say that at this university. [laughter] But Alexiewicz didn't, it was the opposite of Professor Orlicz, because he believed that although he wouldn't help anyone, he wouldn't bother anyone either. So he had freedom, we could do whatever we wanted. As long as we didn't bother him.

TWP: And was Professor Alexiewicz also able to refer you to the right journal or reviewer?

He could. If necessary, he helped. But I say - he didn't impose on us the direction of research or which journal we should send our work to, because even such things happened, right? So no, no, we had complete freedom. I can say this responsibly because [laughter] I was at his facility. It is true that he conducted a seminar, like any self-respecting professor - at Orlicz's this seminar was very famous. And in Alexiewicz's case it was smaller, but it was still there. We met every week to ask how mathematicians work.

TWP: What was the atmosphere like at the seminar?

Loose. When the professor was in a mood, he quizzed us on music.

TWP: Did he give assignments?

For example. Well, it wasn't that dry and stiff. It was probably a bit different at Orlicz's. But I can't say that for sure, because I think I was there only once. You know, this is also from competition. The men didn't like each other. Alexiewicz and Orlicz.

TWP: And may I ask where this came from?

I don't know that. Alexiewicz was a student of Orlicz. They came together from Lviv [to Poznań], that's true, but I won't tell you why they didn't like each other, because I don't know.

TWP: Going back to the time when you were finishing your studies and were about to decide to pursue a doctoral thesis. Did the professor say that it was Professor Alexiewicz who sent you to Warsaw?

I mean, he didn't refer me. I directed myself, but he didn't bother me. I mean, he helped me. In the sense that this seminar in Warsaw was held every week and I went there. At first they reimbursed me for this trip, and then they stopped, but that's it...

TWP: So you were nominally a student here at the university?

Nominally, I was a PhD student at our university in Poznań. It was then that these doctoral studies were established, it was in 1974. But my scientific supervisor was Professor Żelazko from the Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Alexiewicz agreed to it, you know, some professors would not agree to it. Alexiewicz, on the other hand, helped us when he could, but if we didn't need help, he didn't bother us. So in that respect, I really appreciate it. We had complete freedom.

Those trips to Czechoslovakia gave me a lot back then, because Professor Pták's method of learning... [laughter] Well, it's true that we weren't as diligent as our Czechoslovak colleagues. [laughter]

TWP: I also have a question about what it was like at the university and at the Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. ...

In Warsaw, people from the university came to Professor Żelazka's seminar, and in fact they organized the seminar for him. Anyway, let's be honest - it wasn't Professor Pták who organized these conferences either. Professor Pták was a very nice, educated and enlightened man. But he was not suitable for organizing. There was this Mr. Holenda.

TWP: Do you think that this method of seminars conducted by professors was more useful for certain topics, for certain areas of mathematical work, for certain analyses?

You know, like everything in this world, it has its good and bad sides. Managing young people in such an overbearing way, setting research directions, is of course good if these young people cannot find anything for themselves. But this may result in them not finding each other later. After obtaining a doctorate, they will not be able to conduct scientific research on their own, because they always had someone who guided them and checked their work, gave them suggestions - and if this person is gone, they feel lost. Honestly? For such people, it is certainly better to have this great professor over them. On the other hand, it is disturbing. It's embarrassing in a way. Also, imposing topics causes a given institute to become monothematic. People don't deal with other things, other branches of science, only this one. And besides, as I say, they are not independent. However, if someone is very good and outstanding, he or she does not need such a professor [laughter] that much. It rather bothers him afterwards. So it depends. It's hard to say which is better. There were people who complained that they had to leave us. Precisely because they were unable to communicate. ...

TWP: Thank you for speaking so honestly, because this is a very important message.

Thank you too.

Last Updated September 2023