Experiencing the SACNAS conference

This post is written with contributions from graduate students Megan Ly (Megan.Ly@Colorado.EDU) and Alexander Diaz (adiaz4@nd.edu).

The SACNAS annual conference took place at the end of October this year near Washington DC. SACNAS stands for the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science and its mission is to foster the success of Chicano/Hispanic and Native American scientists – from college students to professionals – to attain advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership. The SACNAS National Conference motivates, inspires and engages participants to achieve their highest goals in pursuing education and careers in STEM fields, and mathematics is always well represented. The conference is largely dedicated to support students through scientific talks, professional development sessions, recruitment by exhibitors and long-lasting mentoring. Below are the reflections of two graduate students, Megan Ly and Alexander Diaz, who attended as evidence of what SACNAS does for students. I urge undergraduate and graduate students, especially from minority groups, to consider attending future SACNAS meetings.  Continue reading

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The importance of having a network of mentors and reaching out to all of them

We should not just reach out to our mentors when we have career or academic related questions but also when we may have a more personal issue and need the guidance and reassurance of individuals that have a different perspective. We don’t just need one or two mentors but an entire army of mentors at our fingertips that we can call on, especially in a moment of urgency. About two weeks ago, I was overwhelmed trying to help various individuals at critical points in their academic careers who sought out my advice and guidance, including my son. While I wanted to do everything I could to help all these individuals and provide them with the best possible advice, I did not have a good perspective on certain topics to do this for all them. In particular, when it came to helping my son decide on the particular colleges to which he should apply and my graduate mentee find a graduate program more in line with his passion. Continue reading

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Building a Research Army

I am what the math community calls a young mathematician (although my grey hair disagrees wholeheartedly!) and I am often looking for new and interesting math to work on. Last calendar year was particularly fruitful in this endeavor, as I had no teaching responsibilities at West Point and was able to focus on my research. So I hope that other young mathematicians might benefit from some of my lessons learned in building a research army.

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Back to School: Universal Mentorship

This is the only time of year when I think folks on the quarter system, as opposed to semesters, have it easy. We’re in our second week of classes at Mudd, and even for those still savoring their last refreshing sip of summer, it is most definitely Back to School season. It’s in the air. I’m also returning to Mudd from sabbatical, so it’s a great opportunity for me to take stock and think deliberately about the upcoming school year.

I’m starting this year convinced that mentorship is universal. Mentorship isn’t a map with a specified domain and codomain. There isn’t a fixed group of mentors or mentees. Our roles may be fluid, and everyone is a candidate for both giving and receiving mentorship; it is universal. Below the fold, I’ll describe my experience at PCMI this summer and how it reinforced my understanding of the universal nature of mentorship.

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Mentorship and Gender

Thanks to Greg Martin for this guest post! Greg has been writing interesting and important material recently concerning gender inequity in mathematics. For the eMentoring network, he writes about mentorship and gender. What follows are Greg’s words.

Mentorship and Gender

Personal, dedicated mentorship is an extremely important part of postgraduate education and the academic career. So are mentor-like networks of more senior members of the discipline, as well as supportive networks of academic peers. Those who don’t have adequate access to these resources are at a significant disadvantage, even with full use of “official” resources such as courses and job postings. In an extreme case, a position might not even be officially publicized before being offered to the student of a close colleague. At the very least, consultation with someone who has broader experience and academic success can help an up-and-coming mathematician to optimize their allocation of energy.

Unfortunately, these mentorship opportunities are not equally available to everyone in mathematics; in particular, there is a systemic bias against female students and mathematicians. Implicit biases cause us (all of us) to systematically undervalue women in mathematics – female applicants to graduate school, female speakers at conferences, female authors of papers, female faculty members being evaluated for tenure. In particular, they cause us to be less likely to devote our time to mentoring women. Continue reading

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What can I do this summer to be ready to start a PhD program in the fall?

Congratulations to those students who have been accepted to a PhD program in the mathematical sciences starting in the fall! You are about to start an unforgettable part of your life. What you will soon realize is that the first year of graduate school is a time of important transitions in the way you study, the way you think about mathematics, the way you think about yourself and the way you think of your professors. Below I offer some suggestions of what you can do this summer in order to be better prepared for the transition to grad school. Continue reading

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Summer Cleaning: (Digital) Organization Basics for Mathematicians

At the beginning of last summer I wrote about a neat trick to make your summer a productive one. And I heard from some of you who took me up on this suggestion; it seems that this actually works for many people! So, this year, for those who are willing to experiment with new ideas, I have another summer recommendation: Let us clean!

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Good Practices for a Marketable Future in the Mathematical Sciences

A few weeks ago, I attended an IMA workshop on careers in mathematics and talked to graduate students and postdocs about this topic. The conversation focused on what actions to take as a graduate student that can be helpful in various jobs in the mathematical sciences. I summarize my thoughts here. Continue reading

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The intersection of motherhood and graduate school: the good, the bad, and the cute babies

The conversation of balancing work and life is not new to the mathematics community. Moreover, the question of how to balance raising a family while (fill in the blank with any step in an academic’s career path) has received much press in recent years, albeit disheartening. The story shared in this article is meant to offer another perspective, one of empowerment, support and ultimately, awareness of what one truly needs to be successful both as an academic and as a parent. Below, Dr. Amanda Ruiz, mother to Carolina and a junior faculty at the University of San Diego, shares her story of becoming a mother while in graduate school and the lessons she learned along the way. This is by no means a complete list of “do’s and don’ts.” Instead, this story serves only to begin the conversation of one’s own needs as one begins the balancing act that is parenthood and academia. We hope Dr. Ruiz’s experience will inspire, inform and empower your own journey, or the journey of the academics you mentor, through parenthood.

Amanda and Carolina graduating with a PhD in Mathematics from Binghamton University

Amanda and Carolina graduating with a PhD in Mathematics from Binghamton University.

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Compartmentalizing your life

These last five weeks I have been traveling every week while trying to juggle my teaching, research, and family responsibilities. Thankfully I have successfully fulfilled all my teaching and service responsibilities! Even if this meant almost no sleep, I was able to devote 2-3 hours of fun activities to my kids every weekend (in addition to my regular parental responsibilities) and one date night with my husband. Hey, I even got to stop by and drop off a gift at my friend’s baby shower and go shopping for dresses with my 4-year old daughter to an upcoming baby shower this weekend where we are required to dress alike. From the outside, it may seem like I have an incredibly balanced life even when 3-4 days per week have been spent away in meetings, giving talks, and meeting individuals all day. But the balance is far from ideal. Why? Unfortunately, I have neglected two things that are also very important to my life – my personal needs and my research. In every travel engagement I literally had a full schedule each day, starting early in the morning and ending very late and with no breaks. Thus every time I got back I had a pile of work waiting for me. I had the best intentions of taking care of my research and myself but unfortunately I could not get more than a couple of hours of research and a couple of brief text messages with my best friend during these five weeks. While these might seem like some consolation, they are puny and shameful efforts, in both cases. Continue reading

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