What are your plans for the academic year 2021-22?


On the job market? On sabbatical next year? Looking for a new direction to go with your math background?

If you haven’t considered applying for the AMS Congressional Fellowship, I am going to try to convince you to consider it. The application portal is open until February 1. Feel free to write to me for more information and with questions (kxs@ams.org).

Your mathematical knowledge about how a disease outbreak might spread through a population, or about how a transportation grid might be made more efficient, or about what artificial intelligence can or cannot do, are just a few examples that could help shape legislation. Outside of direct mathematical knowledge, legislation is drafted regularly about college access and affordability, and broadening participation in science. As you might expect, this summer we have seen expanded interest in the latter, and we should soon see a legislatively-mandated report on racism in science.

The September 1 blog post was written by the 2019-2020 AMS Congressional Fellow Lucia Simonelli. Lucia worked on Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s climate team and is now Senior Policy Fellow at Carbon180. Our 2018-2019 fellow was James Ricci, who subsequently served a second year at the Department of Energy, in the Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research. The 2017-2018 fellow was Margaret Callahan who now works at the Department of State as part of Advanced Analytics team in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations conducting qualitative and quantitative research and analysis of global conflict issues to advise policymakers. Margaret was one of several mathematicians who served as fellows her year; I wrote an article about all of them and their placements which, if you are interested in this fellowship, I suggest you read. The complete list of all AMS Congressional Fellows is found on our website.

The fellowship is a fantastic opportunity, for mathematicians at any stage of career. For mathematicians who have been an academic for a while, it can engage you in a new way, provide you with a way to “give back” through public service, and prepare you to run for public office. It can provide you a way to help move Congress to understand the scientific enterprise and the needs and aspirations of those of us who work in higher education; enrich your teaching; and bring you to a new level as a leader in the academy. For earlier career mathematicians, the experience can also be transformative, and lead to a career path outside of academia. This might sound like a call for you to leave academia; please don’t misread my intention! I love higher education and loved working as a professor and department chair but fully understand that not all PhDs in mathematics do in fact want to travel that career trajectory. Plus, I am in a position to understand what *you* can bring to the government, and why *they* appreciate our help in building policy and writing legislation.

The AMS Congressional Fellowship is just one of many that mathematicians can apply for, to spend time working in the federal government. A recent article by Jennifer Pearl and Ali Nouri in Inside Higher Ed describes more of these. Jennifer and Ali were both fellows and have both spent their careers in government and working with scientific professional societies. Jennifer, a mathematician, served in the Executive Branch, at the National Science Foundation. Physicist Ali did his fellowship in the Senate. I know both of them, and had the privilege to work with Ali when I was the AMS Congressional Fellow, in Senator Al Franken’s office. As is so typical of the (very large) fellows’ cohort, both of them are smart and interesting people, with fun side interests and projects. Watch a few of Ali’s Above the Fray videos, to get an idea of the kind of way he is bringing science to a broad audience.

The fellowship year begins with an extraordinary orientation period. This is filled with presentations about how Congress works, the history of various science policy-making bodies, and networking sessions. Every single fellow I have ever talked to agrees that what is so striking about the fellows is that—like Jennifer and Ali—each person is incredibly bright and interesting and articulate. One thing that differentiates this group of scientists from others is the earnest enthusiasm for bringing scientific expertise to non-experts, and trying to use scientific expertise to improve our nation. The AMS fellow joins a much larger group of fellows, many of whom hold powerful positions in the federal government and across the country in state governments and on university campuses; this network of over 3400 mathematicians and scientists is, truly, amazing to be a part of.

Fellowship applications can be made through February 1, 2021. For more information and to apply, go to the webpage. For additional information, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at kxs@ams.org.




About Karen Saxe

Karen Saxe is Director of the AMS Office of Government Relations which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who affect mathematics research and education. Over many years she has contributed much time to the AMS, MAA, and AWM, including service as vice president of the MAA and in policy and advocacy work with all three. She was the 2013-2014 AMS Congressional Fellow, working for Senator Al Franken on education issues, with focus on higher education and STEM education. In Minnesota she has served on the Citizens Redistricting Commission following the 2010 census and serves on the Common Cause Minnesota Redistricting Leadership Circle. She has three children and, when not at work especially enjoys being with them and reading, hiking and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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