CHAT-ing Our Way to a Better Community

Back in May, Alexander Diaz wrote about diversity in the mathematical community and gave some great advice on how to foster a more diverse community. In our mathematics department at CU, we are taking several steps toward that aim, and I want to outline one of the easiest to implement, something we call CHATs.

A CHAT is a time for grad students (and sometimes faculty) to get together and chat about a predetermined topic of interest. The goal of a CHAT is to have a discussion that strengthens the community by uncovering ways that participants can relate to one another and/or focuses on issues that directly affect how our community responds to diversity.

Some of our past CHAT topics include work/life balance, the events in Ferguson last year, and the obstacles individuals have overcome along with barriers they are still facing on the way to their degree.

CHATs are easy to implement because all it takes is a topic, a leader, and a location! Usually our CHATs are based off of an article or event that inspires conversation, our leaders are grad students who care about the issues, and we reserve a seminar room or space at a restaurant.

Let’s talk about logistics. Our CHATs last about an hour, but planning a CHAT does take some attention to detail. To strengthen community and foster diversity, these discussions need to cause people to connect rather than argue. A CHAT also needs to have people actually talking. Generally, we structure the event with a list of open-ended questions and pose them to the group to get the conversation flowing. For example, during our CHAT about work/life balance, we posed the question, “what do you do outside of the department and how do you make time for it?” Depending on the topic, one question might be plenty, but I suggest being prepared with more in case the conversation falls flat.

So even if you have enough to talk about, a group that is too large can cause a logistical nightmare. How do you have a discussion with thirty other people where everyone is involved? You don’t. I want to describe how we facilitated a CHAT with a large group and while it is certainly not the only option, it happened to work pretty well.

Our largest event included students and faculty and was held at a local restaurant. We wanted to be sure that everyone could participate in the conversation and could hear from both students and faculty. To do so, we created small, random-ish groups that guaranteed the student-faculty ratio was the same in each group. We used two different stacks of playing cards (one for faculty, one for students), gave one to each participant, and split groups by suit. There were three sets of questions, and we would reassign the groups after each question set. This set up smoothly facilitated connecting students and faculty with each other while allowing everyone to share their experiences.

You might ask how these CHATs foster diversity and community. CHATs provide an opportunity for individuals to share their perspectives and recognize each other’s different experiences. By opening lines of communication and addressing issues affecting our community, CHATs can create a climate that welcomes diversity.

CHATs, along with other events focused on community, have improved communication among grad students and between grad students and faculty while improving how our community responds to diversity.

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Five Things to do as a Graduate Student in Mathematics

I would like to share with you my first year experience as a graduate student in mathematics at Washington State University, and I want to give you some suggestions about what you should do as a graduate student in mathematics. In Spring 2015, I started my first semester as a Ph.D student in Applied Mathematics, and during that semester, I wrote two math textbooks in differential equations and linear algebra, and I also gave three seminar’s talks in Applied Mathematics, as well as, I participated as invited technical program committee (TPC) member and invited reviewer for many international conferences and journals in applied math, physics, electrical engineering, and computer engineering. Most of these conferences published their accepted papers in major trade peer-reviewed publishing companies such as Springer and IEEE Xplore. Therefore, the following is a list of five different things that I highly recommend you to do as a graduate student in mathematics:

  • Join professional organizations in mathematics and other related fields: When I started my graduate studies in mathematics, I joined the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). It is easy to become a student member in SIAM because they offer a free membership for graduate students in some universities. There are also several math associations and societies such as American Mathematical Society (AMS) and Mathematical Association of America (MAA) that can provide you with good discounts on the prices of their student memberships.
  • Create a professional website: If you are a newly admitted graduate student in mathematics, I recommend you to create a professional website that includes your research interests, curriculum vitae, work experience, and courses you are currently teach. The advantage of having your own professional website is that many people will contact you by your website email to invite you as technical program committee (TPC) member, reviewer, editor, math team member for conferences and journals in mathematics and applied sciences. If you are going to teach a class, it is a good idea to add a section in your professional website that contains your lecture notes, solutions to your class assignments and quizzes, and study guides for exams.
  • Teach a course you like to teach: If you have been offered a teaching assistantship position at your department, I believe that most universities give you the option to request the courses you like to teach. Therefore, I recommend you to choose courses that interest you more than others because if you like the course you teach, your students will more likely appreciate the way you teach.
  • Participate in research groups: If you are a new graduate student in your department, I recommend that you contact your department chair, coordinator, advisor, and graduate studies chair to ask them about any available research groups to join so you can participate in the group’s research publications and seminar’s talks.
  • Participate in extra-curricular and academic related activities: When you start you graduate studies in mathematics, you will face the stress of work and study load. So, what you should do to relief this stress?. The answer is simple; many universities and colleges have student associations and clubs such as a graduate student association and peer leadership program. For example, when I was student at Washington State University (WSU) and American University of Sharjah (AUS), I was an active member in a peer leadership program, and I had also taken part taken part in competitions such as The International Electronics Synopsys Competition.

In conclusion, from the fifth point I mentioned above, I would like to focus on one case which I consider a great achievement in my work as a peer leader. One day, while I was walking along the corridors of AUS, I saw a student wondering, knowing neither where to go nor what to do. That student was as perplexed as a person going astray in the desert without being able to decide his direction. I approached him and asked him what he wanted. He told me that it was his first day at AUS and he did not know where and how to start. I assumed him that everything would be alright. Then, that student released a sigh of relief exactly the same feeling of our friend in the desert when a plane out of the blue sky took him out of the mire. That freshmen student was like a ship in a rough sea beaten by high waves, sometimes taking it west and some other times right. Imagine what would that person feel when he suddenly finds someone to lead him to the shores of safety. I helped him throughout the registration process. Since then, that student became one of my best friends. Maybe you are still thinking of our poor friend in the desert? Relax; he was lifted by a helicopter. So my job strengthens relations and builds a highly cooperative community. During my work as peer leader, I oftentimes go around talking to students, familiarizing myself with their problems and offering them the help they may stand in need of. This is just to show you an example of how a successful graduate student can positively impact the lives of other students. Finally, I recommend you to follow at least most of the five things mentioned above to be successful in your career as a graduate student.

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Great Funding Opportunity for 1st & 2nd Year Students

From the Director of the Mathematics Division at the NSF:

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based Master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. The program provides up to three years of support, including an annual $34,000 stipend, for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant achievements in science and engineering research. Continue reading “Great Funding Opportunity for 1st & 2nd Year Students” »

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Thank You Tyler

As we welcome a new Editor-in-Chief Matthew Simonson, I want to express my admiration and gratitude to the outgoing Editor Tyler Clark, who over the past three and a half years has made the Graduate Student Blog what it is today. May happiness and success follow him wherever he goes.

Frank Morgan, Publisher


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Fresh Beginnings

A new school year is upon us, bringing new classes to teach or to take, depending on your year, new classmates to mentor or intimidate, depending on your mood, and in the illustrious high-paying danger-and-intrigue-filled world of grad student math blogs, a new editor-in-chief. Our outgoing editor-in-chief Tyler Clark of crossword-puzzle-making fame left big shoes to fill, and thus I hope that those of you who have been active on the blog in the past, as well as those discovering it for the first time, will join me in making it a success.  If you are currently a masters student, PhD student, postdoc, person with valuable advice to share with the aforementioned shady characters, or just a lost soul in math or some math-esque discipline, come write for us!  You could even earn yourself a coveted spot on our world famous “AMS Grad Student Blog Editorial Board,” guaranteed to earn you fortune and fame.  Please contact me using the form below this post.

To kick off the new year (school year, Congressional fiscal year, Jewish/Gujarati/French Revolutionary calendar year, etc.), I’ll present a new type of puzzle.  And by new, I mean new to most of you, I hope: Continue reading “Fresh Beginnings” »

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