Everyone talks about how stressful the tenure process can be but no one talks about how emotionally loaded this experience can be. Not so much because you fear or worry about a negative outcome — this is just the outer layer of multilayer set of emotions you will experience as you prepare your tenure packet — but rather because you are forced to think critically of
- what you have done so far,
- why this matters,
- how this defines who you are, and
- how this sets the foundation of what you are about to become. Continue reading
This is a post that requests comments and advice from the readers. The issue is the following: Student X finished her PhD in mathematics at a highly-ranked university. Upon graduating, she was able to get a three-year postdoc position in a math department that emphasizes research, so that everything seemed to go well so far. As she was finishing her postdoc and searching for jobs, she had a couple of interviews but nothing very promising and then it was March and X had no tenure-track job offers. However, she had an offer to do a second postdoc at a different university for 2 more years. Question #1: Is it a good idea to do a second postdoc if her plan is to get a tenure-track faculty position? Continue reading
As a beginning Ph.D. student in Mathematics at Howard University, I was excited to finally spend my days doing what I loved! Graduate courses seemed to build on much of the abstraction that I had only seen little of as an undergraduate student. In my second semester, I took a Biostatistics elective taught in the Biology department. All of a sudden, I was forced to analyze real biological data and draw scientific conclusions. At the end of the semester, I had left my first love and fallen madly in love with Statistics! The only problem was that Howard didn’t have a Statistics program. I had to make the tough decision of whether to stay and finish a Ph.D. in Mathematics or to leave to pursue a Ph.D. in Statistics.
It may seem obvious or second nature, but I often have to remind myself when working on something to make sure that I’ve taken a look at what was done before. I am going to provide a story to illustrate what I mean and how this has helped me in my career.
I still remember “the dark days” of my years in graduate school. It was 1989-1990, my 4th-5th year in the mathematics Ph.D. program at UC Berkeley. I had passed my written and oral exams, had Henry Helson (a world-famous analyst) as my advisor and was now “doing research” in functional analysis. I use the quotes for emphasis (perhaps sarcasm is a better word), because what I was doing was trying to work on a problem that I’d found myself and was literally getting nowhere. I was learning new mathematics, but was really not making any headway on the unsolved problem that I hoped would bring me the coveted three letters after my name. Yup, each day I would bang my head against the wall for hour after hour, and at the end of the day I would be nowhere closer to solving the problem. I would talk to my advisor on a regular basis, but he also didn’t know how to approach the problem that I was trying to tackle using ideas/techniques that I felt might lead to a solution.
PAESMEM is now inviting nominations for its next round of awards; nominations are due June 5, 2013.
PAESMEM stands for PRESIDENTIAL AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE IN SCIENCE, MATHEMATICS & ENGINEERING MENTORING, and it’s widely regarded as the nation’s highest mentoring award. There’s a long list of mathematicians and mathematics programs who have won in the past. They include several MESA programs (New Mexico, University of California, Washington, Maryland and Arizona), mathematics institutes (such as the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute and the Center for Innovation at Stevens Institute), a few departments (including the departments of mathematics at University of Nebraska, Lincoln and University of Iowa) and many well-known mathematicians (including Carlos Castillo-Chavez, Bob Megginson, Peggy Cebe and Phil Kutzko just to name a few).
Winning PAESMEM creates a positive self-reinforcing cycle. The previous awardees were recognized for their success. In turn, successful programs gain significant recognition, spreading the word about these programs and individual mentors, alerting more people to these great mentorship opportunities.
To nominate a program or individual (including yourself!), see the full instructions at
I have visited some mathematics departments that offer “teaching postdoc” positions. Clearly, this is a 2-3 year position that involves more teaching than a ‘standard’ postdoc. So, what exactly are these teaching postdocs positions and what are their benefits? The most common pitch for a teaching postdoc is that it trains you to prepare for a tenure-track job at a four-year college. These postdocs are for people who seek a career in teaching.
Have you ever attended a conference focused on preparing for careers in the mathematical sciences? Have you ever considered organizing such a conference? A group of friends and I co-organized such a conference recently, and I’m writing to share some reflections.
For those that are on the cusp of Phinishing and have had the fortune of receiving an offer from an academic institution, congratulations! If you have not had the opportunity to attend a workshop on negotiating, read on. Your first offer is just a starting place.
Your salary is always negotiable. In public (and many private) institutions, salary information on faculty is available and reviewing this will give you an idea of the typical range at your institution. Also useful is knowing national averages, which is published annually in the AMS Notices. This report from the AMS contains the most recent publication. Make sure you are aware of your institution’s group when reading this report and note that these graphs represent information from only those departments that responded to the survey. Remember your benefits are also tied to your salary, so there is a compounding effect on your retirement plan.
This is the time of the year when students who have applied to graduate programs in mathematics hear back from those programs about admission and funding. If you are a student in the process of choosing a graduate program this year, one of the most important things you will do is to visit the potential graduate schools to try to determine if they are a good match for you. I can’t stress enough the importance of visiting the schools and talking to the faculty and the current graduate students there. When you visit each school, be sure to ask questions that give you the information you need to make the decision. Here are some ideas:
I work at a Research I university where students hear about faculty conducting research all the time. Some students actually know what this means, while others have worked with faculty on their own research projects. (I’m not claiming these two sets of students overlap.) But if you’re a student, how do you find a project to work on? Even worse, if you’re a faculty and you have a student who wants to work with you, how do you find a projects which will yield a meaningful experience for the both of you?