Last summer I had the great pleasure of visiting the Summer Program in Mathematical Problem Solving (SPMPS), a 3-week residential math enrichment program for rising 8th graders from schools in which at least 75% of the students qualify for free lunch. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED this program, and strongly believe it should serve as a model for many outreach initiatives across the country. This program is a big deal: it was even featured in the New York Times. Why do I love SPMPS so much? Here are just a few reasons:
- SPMPS provides enrichment opportunities to outstanding, mathematically gifted, and mathematically motivated students who are robbed of pursuing their passions because of lack of resources, lack of finances, or lack of community support. I faced this issue both as an elementary and a high school student, and it wasn’t until a teacher recognized my interests that I was able to attend a similar program. Without it, I would not be where I am today.
- For many attendees of the program, the 3-week experience is their first time entrenched in an academic environment on a university campus. Moreover, they meet college students, college graduates, and faculty members from different universities throughout the program. This exposes the students to the possibilities that are out there.
- One aspect I love about SPMPS above all is the program’s continued investment in the students outside of the camp program. Tutoring programs and New York High School entrance exam prep is provided by the program executive body.
I can’t emphasize enough how transformative an experience this program is for the students, and how much I wished such a program existed where I grew up when I was a rising 8th grader. Teaching at SPMPS was a great joy, and I highly recommend it as an outreach initiative to get involved in!
The program is currently looking for Instructors and Residential Counselors for the 2014 summer program. For more information on how to become involved this summer, see “Jobs At SPMPS”
I just found out that January is National Mentoring Month!
The idea of mentorship is central here (the eMentoring Network!), so this is a good excuse to remind myself: I think all of us can act as mentors (and mentees). Undergraduates can act as peer-to-peer mentors, helping out classmates. Joining a local math club is also a good way for us to support each other. Graduate students can also help out in math clubs, and can reach out to mentor undergraduates. A nice word from a grad student can go a long way for an undergraduate. For folks that already have PhD’s, the opportunities for mentorship are limitless.
Two organizations that standout for fostering mentorship are SACNAS and the National Alliance. At SACNAS, one can join (or start!) a local chapter, or become involved in the national organization. And the National Alliance is always looking for new mentors. You could also start or joint a mentorship program at your home institution (there’s a cool and exciting program at my home institution).
Happy new year!!
I remember very clearly my first few days as one of the newest members of the faculty in my department. My colleagues were very welcoming, but I was really impressed with the warmth of the students’ reception. Many visited my office just to chat, get to know me and to share some of the cool topics they were studying: the ubiquitous nature of the Fibonacci sequence, the life and mathematics of celebrated women mathematicians, how mathematics changed the game of baseball, and so on. Then, one day, a bubbly undergraduate stopped by, eager to talk about his topic on the history of magic squares. As he rambled on, a deluge of ideas flooded my mind. A year earlier, I had attended a research conference/workshop on solving polynomial systems of equations and I was captivated by a talk on magic squares given by a graduate student at the cusp of finishing her doctoral studies. A light went off immediately: this was my chance to really engage this student. And so, I asked, “How would you like learning even more about these magic squares and perhaps contributing something new about them?” Continue reading
Hello again folks! It’s nice to be writing again. I’ve been on a partial medical leave of absence since last June. This isn’t the first time that I’ve had to deal with longterm illness. And I have many friends, as I’m sure you do, that have had to deal with personal loss and tragedy early in their careers — by which I mean pre-tenure.
Since we early-career mathematicians must be concerned about current and future career instability, illness and loss take on extra dimensions of complexity. In this post, I reflect on my own experiences and the lessons I’ve learned from those around me.
I have been thinking of the many mentoring opportunities that conferences offer. It is usually not the typical long-term mentoring that students look for from their advisors, but it is very important for many reasons.
The SACNAS conference took place about six weeks ago and I was reminded of how quickly students and faculty can connect with one another in the right environment. As they arrive, students know that this conference is a friendly place where pretty much all the events are tailored for their benefit: faculty are there to talk to students, the scientific symposia are designed to be understandable by students, and there are tons of professional development sessions for students, postdocs and professionals.
One of the first sessions of the conference is called “conversations with scientists” and the room is set up with round tables full of math students and math faculty meeting one another. The idea is for math conference participants to meet right at the beginning of the conference so that they recognize each other as they run into one another later on.
Faculty prompt students for their current academic status, their future plans and their professional dreams. “Have you considered going to graduate school?” “Have you participated in an REU?” And so the conversation starts. Most important is the fact that the atmosphere is such that students feel very comfortable approaching faculty and asking for advice and talking about their background. This session sets the stage for later lunches and random meetings.
Nowadays, many mathematics conferences include undergraduate poster sessions and other student events. For those of you who are involved in organizing conference sessions for any organization, you might consider the “conversations with scientists” model of bringing people together early on and creating a good environment for mentoring students throughout the conference.
There are lots of things that undergraduate students can do to be successful. I have written a few here that I find very important and often neglected. See what you think.
At many schools across the country, the Fall Semester is underway. (My university’s first day of classes was exactly three weeks ago.) That means many students are beginning their final year of college and wondering what the future holds. Well, if you’re thinking about graduate school in the mathematical sciences, you should remember this maxim: you should never have to pay to get a doctoral degree.
Perhaps you’re not sure if you want a doctorate degree, a master’s degree, or any degree other than a bachelor’s. Even so, many of the applications to receive funding for a postbaccaloreate degree will be due soon — within the next three months — so it’s best to start thinking now about how you’d pay for such a program. I’d like to offer some advice on how to receive funding.
If you are on a tenure-track faculty position, you will have to go through performance reviews. Most universities implement a third-year review for Assistant Professors, a review for tenure and promotion to Associate Professor during year 6, and later a review to Full Professor. The reviews are based on a great deal of documentation and information about the candidate’s performance in areas of teaching, research and service. Most of the documents have to be provided by the candidate to the appropriate department committee and ultimately to a college Promotions and Tenure committee. Most universities provide some mentoring for new tenure-track faculty, but there is inconsistency across the universities in the amount of mentoring toward preparing your dossier. This post is to alert those of you in tenure-track positions that the process of gathering all the information that your committees request is substantial and requires organization. I will concentrate on reviews for Assistant Professors. Continue reading
Now that the new academic year is about to start, I thought it would be a good idea to mention a good way to keep track of research ideas in graduate school and beyond. Whether you are a graduate student searching for a dissertation problem, a postdoc or a faculty member engaged in research, you must be ready when an idea strikes you. Research questions and ideas do not usually just fall on our lap; you have to look for them, remember them and look for connections among them. A good way to organize these research ideas is to keep a journal (a paper or electronic notebook) where you write them down. Here are some suggestions. Continue reading
Most of us who have teaching, advising, and service commitments are guilty of using time we had set aside for research for something else. We block out some time in our schedule and even post it on the door but then, something comes up. A student needs to see us or we need to set up a time for a meeting and, somehow, we use research time to fit in those appointments. At the end of the week we realize that only a small fraction of the time set aside for research was actually used to do research. We try to justify it saying that we’ll make up the time later in the day or at home. I am writing this post to suggest that one of the most important habits for success is to respect your research time.