Why care about the American Association for the Advancement of Science as an early-career mathematician?

Photo courtesy of author.

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Luis Sordo Vieira is a PhD mathematician and Postdoctoral Associate at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, a SIAM Science Policy Fellow, and a member of AMS, SIAM, SMB, AACR, and AAAS. I had the pleasure of meeting Luis at the AAAS Annual Meeting in February, and I am so happy he has written this opinion piece about why early career mathematicians should be more engaged with the AAAS.

I received my PhD in 2017 in number theory where I was funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. I am now a postdoc working with Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher on multiscale modeling of disease. I want to share what I see as an underused resource for early-career mathematicians, from the humble perspective of a Latino-American postdoc. That is, I want to share why I think the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest general scientific community, is a truly valuable resource for us and why we need to get more involved with the AAAS. I will attempt to break it up into three main sections—1. Science! The reason we all do what we do, 2. Networking, and 3. Advocacy.

To be clear, I write this as an individual citizen and I do not represent any company, institution, association, or entity as I write this. Hence, every nonsense statement is my own fault.

Robots built by high school students at AAAS Annual Meeting. Photo courtesy of author.

Science- I just attended my first AAAS annual meeting in Washington, DC. The AAAS annual meeting felt like the grown-up version of watching the magic school bus! I learned that NASA has a publicly available database of biological experiments done in space! I learned that we can now distribute entangled photons over 1200 kilometers by satellite (Yin et al.), and I learned about The Artificial Pancreas project, a device that delivers insulin to patients as-needed based on mathematical modeling. I heard about the wonderful work of Dr. Kristin Swanson—how she is using mathematical methods to study response in glioblastomas, the same type of cancer that took Senator John McCain’s life in 2018. I saw a talk by the first female CERN director, Dr. Fabiola Gianotti, who taught her audience about the discovery of the God Particle and the importance of international collaboration. I met a fantastic group of people that are interested in the role of science communication. I attended sessions on how to better communicate my research, a skill that surely will help me write better grants and papers. I even went to a session on how to improve my LinkedIn profile! And yes, employers actually do use LinkedIn, so if you don’t have one, make sure you get one. I got to see some robots in action, built by high school students! There were sessions on reproducibility and data-sharing, and even a session to bring your kids to learn science. The AAAS Annual meeting made the science world look bigger than ever.

During the Business Meeting of the Mathematical Section, I got to request scientific sessions I would like to see at the next AAAS meeting. I suggested two that are close to my heart: The Mathematics of Gerrymandering and Mathematics for Social Justice. Furthermore, AAAS offers several webinars, some of which are of direct interest to mathematicians. Their flagship publication, Science, is an incredible resource to learn about current policy issues as well as general science and career advice.

Lastly, I would argue that it is critical to see what sort of science you can contribute to that is interdisciplinary, and/or what sorts of positions are available applying your mathematical and analytical skills outside of traditional math departments.   Interestingly, the Annual Report of the AMS from 2015-2016 (Golbeck et al.) shows that out of the 1,746 new US PhD recipients for which employment is known, 1,449 are currently employed in the US, for which 495 (34%) of them end up in Business and Industry and 70 of them are in Government (5%). Thus, it is not at all unlikely that you will end up outside of a math department. The reality is that getting a tenure-track position at a research institution is becoming more difficult. Thus, attending the AAAS annual meeting and reading general science magazines, such as Science and Nature, will give insight into the kinds of positions that will use your skills. I truly believe that the training as a mathematician will allow you to work effectively in several different roles. However, you must not be passive, waiting for opportunities to happen. Be proactive, and expose yourself to the larger science community. I would be willing to argue that mathematics departments across the country should encourage their students to attend general scientific meetings. Not only will this benefit the students, but a mathematics community more connected with the larger scientific community will benefit the mathematics community itself.

Networking– Within three days at the AAAS annual meeting, I met Dr. Deborah Lockhart, the Deputy Assistant Director of the Assistant Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the NSF, Dr. James Crowley, Executive Director at SIAM, Dr. Jennifer Pearl, the Director for the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship (if you don’t know about this program, take a break from this blog and go look at it!) and Dr. Karen Saxe, Director of The AMS Office of Government Relations. To be clear, when I say meet, I mean I had one-on-one conversations with them about what I want and need as a young mathematician. I even got the chance to personally thank Dr. France Cordova, Director of the NSF, for the service that the NSF provides graduate students through their Graduate Research Fellowship Program. I met several scientists working in diverse areas of science. As transdisciplinary collaborations are becoming increasingly valuable to funding organizations and science as a whole, this is a perk that is incredibly valuable for today’s science world. I also got the chance to meet several postdocs that now work in the federal government through the Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program. I was thoroughly impressed by the posts that these fellows now hold. I will give two examples, although I met several others. Dr. Anita Burgos works in the office of Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and helps her draft legislation. Dr. Zulmarie Perez Horta is a Program Officer at the NIH. Both of these fantastic scientists now have an excellent background on how the federal government works, an outstanding understanding of the grant process, and an incredible ability to communicate. These are transferable skills for any job that you might want in the future.

White House science adviser Kelvin Droegemeier gave his inaugural public address at the 2019 AAAS Annual Meeting. Credit: AAAS, Robb Cohen Photography & Video.

Advocacy– Lastly, I wanted to talk about what I believe to be one of the most significant and important perks of the AAAS. We live in a world where facts are often confounded with opinions and feelings. We feel the pressure of existential problems for our generation—climate change, measles outbreaks, discriminatory usage of AI, etc. It is critical for scientists to stand up for what we believe. Through our training, we have the analytical expertise to dispel myths, to explain the difference between correlation and causation and to understand and explain p-hacking. We have the ability to literally create new math. Our training has led us to develop skills that can literally save the world. It is here that I ask for your help. The AAAS offers significant resources for science advocacy. Critically, AAAS has over 120,000 members, many of whom are actively participating in science advocacy. Not too long ago, I went to a talk by Dr. Jeff Hasty at UCSD on engineering genetic clocks through the principle of quorum sensing. Loosely speaking, quorum sensing is when a population reacts once a certain threshold of numbers of members is reached. To me, the principle of quorum sensing applies to science advocacy, and thus why the number of members of the AAAS is a significant resource. The AAAS offers several tangible resources on science advocacy, policy and communication. This includes several workshops for communication, a communications tool-kit, fellowships to participate in science policy at the federal level (one of these co-sponsored by the AMS), fellowships to advance the public knowledge of science, and a workshop for graduate students to learn about policy and advocacy. The AMS sponsors math graduate students and faculty for these fellowships and the Office of Government Relations website gives application and deadline information as well as about former fellows that their experiences.

Several extremely influential mathematicians came to me after the meeting and expressed how much they value my opinion. My voice was heard at the table, and yours should be heard too. You know what is best for your future, your training, and opportunities that will help you advance. I suggest all young mathematicians attempt to take an active role in the decision-making processes in our scientific societies. We know how we best receive information and process it (I get a lot of my information through the usage of social media, don’t you?). We know that not all of us want to pursue a traditional path in a mathematics department, and hence, we would like alternative training and skills that are readily transferable. Previous generations are willing to listen, and we are willing to speak. Will you join me?

Posted in Advocacy, Communicating Mathematics, Graduate students | Tagged | 3 Comments

Mathematical Sciences and the NSF Big Ideas

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Juan Meza is the Division Director of the NSF’s Division of Mathematical Sciences. Immediately before joining the NSF, he served as Dean of the School of Natural Sciences at the University of California, Merced.

In 2016, the National Science Foundation proposed ten new activities called the 10 Big Ideas. These were intended to be “long-term research and process ideas that identify areas for future investment at the frontiers of science and engineering.” The Big Ideas also represented “unique opportunities to position our Nation at the cutting edge – indeed to define that cutting edge – of global science and engineering leadership”. Three of those activities should be of particular interest to the mathematics community: Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR), Quantum Leap, and Understanding the Rules of Life. Each of these Big Ideas has a planned budget of \$30M per year for five years. In total, these three activities represent a \$450 million investment from NSF and therefore represent an excellent opportunity for fundamental research. In this article, I would like to present a brief introduction to one of the Big Ideas and suggest some ways for mathematical scientists to engage in these activities.

Harnessing the Data Revolution

The activity that I’ll discuss is called Harnessing the Data Revolution, which seeks to establish theoretical, technical, and ethical frameworks that will be applied to tackle data-intensive problems in science and engineering. Based on several trends over the past 10 years, this activity will use insights gained from data to transform science and engineering and contribute to data-driven decision-making that impacts society. The HDR vision has five interrelated efforts:

  • Foundations of data science;
  • Frameworks, algorithms, and systems for data science;
  • Data-intensive science and engineering;
  • Data cyberinfrastructure; and
  • Education and workforce development.

One component of HDR that the mathematics community is already involved in is the Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science (TRIPODS) program that is part of the first effort in foundations of data science. In 2017, NSF funded 12 new Phase I institutes across the country ( press release). This program encourages teams of mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists to develop the foundations of data science. We anticipate having two phases for this program with a solicitation for larger Phase II proposals in the future.  Based on feedback from the community and the popularity of the original round of awards, NSF decided to support a second round of Phase I awards.  This new round of awards has the same underlying structure, but with an additional feature of including researchers in electrical engineering.

Another new component of the HDR Big Idea will be a set of Institutes for Data-Intensive Science and Engineering.  This activity will seek to create an integrated set of institutes that can accelerate discovery and innovation in multiple areas of data-intensive science and engineering. The goal will be to harness diverse data sources and develop and apply new methodologies, technologies, and infrastructure for data management and analysis. The HDR Institutes will also support convergence between science and engineering research communities, data science expertise in foundations and applications, and systems and cyberinfrastructure. In addition, we envision that the HDR Institutes will enable breakthroughs in science and engineering through collaborative, co-designed programs to formulate innovative data-intensive approaches to address critical national problems.

HDR Institutes will also be developed through a two-phase process involving a conceptualization phase followed by a convergence phase. The conceptualization phase will be implemented in 2019 via two complementary funding opportunities. The first opportunity will encourage individuals with compelling science problems and/or technical expertise to self-organize into teams with the aim of developing innovative, collaborative research proposals through an IDEAS Lab process.

Ideas Labs are based on a British model called Sandpits, which has been around since the early 2000s. Several groups at NSF have used this mechanism as a way to bring together individual PIs to form proposals that address challenging scientific problems. The Ideas Labs themselves will take place in May over the course of a week. Groups will be formed from the applicants to the program based on the skills each person brings to the workshop. Each group will work together to study the designated challenge and to generate novel ideas for research proposals. Ideas Labs are especially suited to individuals who are willing to step outside of their particular area of interest or expertise, enjoy creative activity, can think innovatively, and are open to, or seeking, new collaborations.   Successful teams will be invited to submit a full conceptualization proposal pursuant to the solicitation.

The second opportunity will encourage applications from teams of researchers proposing a framework for an integrated set of science and engineering problems and data science solutions. The conceptualization process will result in two-year awards aimed at building communities, defining research priorities, and developing interdisciplinary prototype solutions. The subsequent convergence and co-design phase will be implemented in the 2021 timeframe with awards that integrate and scale successful prototypes and new ideas into larger, more comprehensive institutes that bring together multiple science and engineering communities with computer and computational scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians around common data science approaches.

For more information on the HDR Big Ideas please visit: https://nsf.gov/hdr

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Which Members of Congress have a say over the NSF?

Another shutdown has been avoided. Science did well in the final deal, and this includes \$8.1 billion for the NSF for the fiscal year 2019 (FY2019); this is the first time the NSF has received appropriations over \$8 billion and marks a 4% increase over last year. Negotiations for fiscal year 2020 have begun, and we expect the president’s proposal in mid-March (the first step in the process). You can read about how the annual “appropriations” works at the AMS Government Relations website.

The recent partial government shutdown rudely reminds us that the NSF is part of the government and, therefore, subject to its whims. “Huge” whims these days.

You might wonder:

  • Which Senators and Representatives have the most say over how much money the NSF has to give out in grants?
  • Can members of Congress tell NSF how to spend their funds and thus determine the direction of NSF-funded research?
  • Can we trust them to make decisions about the research trajectory for the country?

There are scientifically trained people in Congress, and on November 18, 2018 I wrote about the newly elected members who have some background in STEM fields. [Note that in that piece I overlooked at least one new member with a science background—Jim Baird (IN 4) has a PhD in Animal Science Monogastric Nutrition.] Roughly 5% of the current congressional members have STEM backgrounds, and about 10% of the new members. 

It is not necessarily those individuals who make decisions about the NSF or about the US science enterprise more broadly.

Congressional members can introduce legislation on any topic they want; they are most easily able to introduce legislation and promote policies through the committees on which they serve. Scientifically trained congressional members might well want to serve on the committees overseeing the NSF and other science agencies, but committee membership is subject to rules, is by rank and status, and members—especially newly elected members—might not get their desired committee assignments.

Digression: In November, we elected nine new Senators and 92 new members to the House (this is the “freshman class”). All 435 seats in the House were up for grabs, as were 35 Senate seats (all House seats and one-third of the Senate seats are up for election every two years). In the Senate, 32 incumbents ran, and five of them lost. Republicans gained seats and now have a majority of 53 (up from 51). Different story in the House, where Democrats took control and now hold 235 seats (with one seat, NC 9, still undecided as of this writing). You may know this already and can read about the election results for Senate and House all over the web. You can read interesting factets about the demographics of the freshman class, too. For example, for the first time ever we have Congressional members (in fact, we now have 2) who are female and Muslim; one—Ilhan Omar—is from my home state of Minnesota. And, while we are on the topic of the great state of Minnesota, it is the only state left with a divided state legislature (Democrats control the state House and Republicans the state Senate). Oh, and while we are on state legislatures, for the first time in US history a state has a legislature that is majority female (Nevada)!

Back to Congress and the NSF………

The NSF was signed into law in 1950 and its funding is renewed each year by Congress, through the annual appropriations process. There are four congressional committees with power over the NSF—the “appropriating” and “authorizing” committees for each of the House and Senate. The Appropriations Committees—specifically, the Subcommittees on Commerce, Science and Justice in each chamber—decide how much money the NSF receives each year. This money is in turn awarded to scientists to support their research through grants. The NSF is the only federal agency that funds research broadly, without an “mission driven” agenda. The majority of funding for mathematicians working in academia that comes from the federal government comes from the NSF. For FY2018, the NSF received $7.8 billion. This is up over 2017, but (still) less than the amount appropriated in 2010 and arguably not what the US needs to remain global leaders in scientific discovery and education. I work with decision-makers to provide increased and sustained funding for the NSF.

While the Appropriations Committees in each of the House and Senate are the same in their names and subcommittee structure, this is not the case for the authorizing committees. The NSF authorizing committees are the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (SST) and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (CST). In the House, the SST’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology holds jurisdiction over the NSF, as well as university research policy and all matters relating to STEM education. In the Senate it is the CST’s Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather. [Note: if you are wonky about this sort of thing, yes, some of these are new. In particular, the Senate CST reconfigured its subcommittees in January.]

To review, or put in a more visually-easing format, the four committees I am talking (uh, writing) about right now are:

SubcommitteeOf what committee?ChamberPower
Commerce, Science and JusticeAppropriations CommitteeSenateAppropriating
Commerce, Science and JusticeAppropriations CommitteeHouseAppropriating
Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and WeatherCommittee on Commerce, Science and TransportationSenateAuthorizing
Research and Technology Committee on Science, Space, and TechnologyHouseAuthorizing

The authorization committees provide guidance about how the NSF spends and manages their appropriated amount. In January 2017, just as he was leaving office, President Obama signed into law the most recent NSF authorizing law—the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act.  To give you an idea of what sort of things are in such an authorization law, the Republicans had been pushing for Congress to have the power to determine how much money goes to each research area supported by the NSF. That is, they were pushing to fund the NSF “by directorate.” Due, in part, to efforts by scientists reaching out to their members of Congress and the concerted efforts of scientific society government relations staff, this particular provision did not succeed in making it to the final law, and leaves (at least for the time being, especially with the Democrats in charge in the House again) the NSF to determine for itself how to distribute funds among research areas.[1]

It is arguably important that members of the mathematics community know who sits on these committees. (Why? members of congress pay particular attention to their own constituents and if yours are listed below in any of the tables, you can play a bigger role informing them about the importance of basic research as funded by the NSF). Appropriations committees are powerful and membership on these committees is sought by many members of Congress.[2] Here are the current members of each of these four committees:

Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Justice (of the Senate Appropriations Committee)
Chair Jerry Moran (KS)
Ranking member Jeanne Shaheen (NH)
Republican membersDemocratic members
Lamar Alexander (TN)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Susan Collins (ME)
Lindsey Graham (SC)
John Boozman (AR)
Shelley Moore Capito (WV)
John Kennedy (LA)
Marco Rubio (FL)
Patrick Leahy (VT)
Dianne Feinstein (CA)
Jack Reed (RI)
Christopher Coons (DE)
Brian Schatz (HI)
Joe Manchin (WV)
Chris Van Hollen (MD)
Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Justice (of the House Appropriations Committee)
Chair José Serrano (NY 15)
Ranking member Robert Alderholt (AL 4)
Republican membersDemocratic members
Martha Roby (AL 2)
Steve Palazzo (MS 4)
Tom Graves (GA 9)
Matt Cartwright (PA 8)
Grace Meng (NY 6)
Brenda Lawrence (MI 14)
Charlie Crist (FL 13)
Ed Case (HI 1)
Marcy Kaptur (OH 9)
Nita Lowey (NY 17)
Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather (of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)
Chair Cory Gardner (CO)
Ranking Member Tammy Baldwin (WI)
Republican membersDemocratic members
Ted Cruz (TX)
Ron Johnson (WI)
Rick Scott (FL)
Dan Sullivan (AK)
Roger Wicker (MS)
Richard Blumenthal (CT)
Gary Peters (MI)
Brian Schatz (HI)
Maria Cantwell (WA)
Subcommittee on Research and Technology (of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology)
Chair Haley Stevens (MI 11)
Ranking member Jim Baird (IN 4)
Republican membersDemocratic members
Roger Marshall (KS 1)
Neal Dunn (FL 2)
Troy Balderson (OH 12)
Anthony Gonzalez (OH 16)
Dan Lipinski (IL 3)
Mikie Sherrill (NJ 11)
Brad Sherman (CA 30)
Paul Tonko (NY 20)
Ben McAdams (UT 4)
Steve Cohen (TN 9)
Bill Foster (IL 11)

One interesting note here is that Congresswoman Stevens is a freshman. In fact, four out of the five subcommittees of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology are being chaired by freshman. This could be a strategic move to let these newly elected members of Congress show their constituents at home that they are active in areas that they campaigned on, as opposed to only following the lead of party leadership.

The whole committees, of which these are subcommittees, are also important for us, and committee membership is easy to find at the websites of the full committees.

There are, of course, other congressional committees with jurisdiction over matters of concern to many mathematicians. For example, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee considers matters related to open access, and the House Education and Labor Committee covers topics ranging from workforce training to student financial aid in higher education to improving employment conditions for contingent faculty.

If you would like to reach out to your Congressional delegation, please refer to the resources on the AMS Office of Government Relations webpage. Topics you might want to discuss with your members of Congress include: the importance of fundamental research in mathematics; your own grants and how important federal funding is for you and your students; policies that support the global mathematics enterprise; the important role of mathematics in all STEM education; and broadening participation by women and under-represented minorities in our field.

[1] For much more on the Democrats’ priorities for the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, see: https://eos.org/articles/johnson-plans-to-restore-credibility-to-house-science-committee

[2] Each of the House and Senate have rules for how committee assignments are made, the structure of each committee, how many committees each member can sit on, etc. These rules are updated and evolve with each new Congress; each chamber has a website with explanation:
Senate: https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Committees.htm
House: http://clerk.house.gov/committee_info/index.aspx
This site is also informative: https://www.congress.gov/committees

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Call To Action: The Shutdown Hurt Science; Ask Congress To Avoid Another

Take action today and tell your elected officials–especially if they are members of the Conference Committee–to demonstrate resolve and forge a final package before February 15. You can use this editable email (written by Research!America) to contact your Congressional delegation–make your voice heard!

The congressional committee is tasked with reconciling differences in legislation and producing a deal that can not only pass both chambers, but meet with the president’s approval.

Scientists will be feeling the impact of the shutdown for some time. The NSF, as they resume operations, is publishing information. Many deadlines have been pushed back, making it clear that progress in science will be delayed.

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NSF’s “We are Mathematics” Video Competition deadline extended

The deadline for entries to the NSF “We Are Mathematics” Video Competition has been extended to February 28, 2019. This extension is due to the partial government shutdown. The NSF was closed but is now up and running again, and their activities are resuming as soon as possible.

See my January 9 blog post about this contest, for more information: https://blogs.ams.org/capitalcurrents/2019/01/09/enter-to-win-fame-and-fortune-we-are-mathematics-video-competition/

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Students! We want you to attend the “Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) Workshop”


The American Mathematical Society (AMS) sponsors two students to participate in the Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) workshop, organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This annual event introduces STEM students to the federal policy-making process, and empowers them to become advocates for basic research throughout their careers. Selected students will participate in a three-and-a-half day workshop in Washington, DC learning about the structure and organization of Congress, the federal budget and appropriations processes, and tools for effective science communication and civic engagement. The AMS will cover all workshop and travel costs.

The next workshop will be held March 24-27, 2019 in Washington, DC. Sponsored students must attend the entire workshop.

Eligibility requirements: Students eligible for AMS sponsorship must be enrolled full-time in an undergraduate or graduate degree program in the mathematical sciences at an institution located in the U.S. Students from foreign countries are eligible.

How to apply: Please submit a one-page resume, a brief statement of interest (maximum 500 words), and the names of three references. References are not required to submit letters but should be asked for their permission to list their name. Submit all materials here: https://www.ams.org/government/dc-case-fellowship

NEXT APPLICATION DEADLINE: 11:59pm Pacific Time on Sunday February 10, 2019

More information about this exciting opportunity is found at: https://www.aaas.org/programs

Posted in Advocacy, Communicating Mathematics, Graduate students, Student opportunity, Undergraduate students | Tagged | Leave a comment

Enter to win (fame and fortune): “We are Mathematics” video competition

Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

Have you received NSF support for your research or worked on an NSF-supported project?

Are you enthusiastic about making videos?

Do you yearn to explain your mathematics to a broader audience?

The National Science Foundation (NSF) invites you to submit a short video (up to 3 minutes) showcasing your NSF-funded work in the mathematical sciences in a way that is exciting and accessible to a broad audience. The portal for submission is open and will close at 11:59 PM EST on February 15, 2019.

Anyone whose work in the mathematical sciences has been or is currently supported by NSF (and is 18 or older) can enter, including

  • principal investigators (PIs),
  • co-PIs,
  • Graduate Research Fellows,
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellows,
  • REU site coordinators, REU students,
  • trainees in an NSF-funded traineeship program,
  • scholars in an NSF-funded scholarship program.

Entries can be submitted by individuals or teams at the following levels (each comes with a $3000 prize):

  • Level 1: K-12 or Undergraduate
  • Level 2: Graduate
  • Level 3: Postdoctoral or Early Career
  • Level 4: Mid or Advanced Career

Videos will be evaluated by a panel of judges, based on the following criteria:

  1. Creativity (20%)
  2. Clarity and accuracy of mathematical concepts and ideas (20%)
  3. Communicating mathematics in an accessible and exciting way (40%)
  4. Artistic and technical quality (20%)

Winners will be featured at the 2019 National Math Festival. This is a free and public celebration held in Washington, D.C. each odd-numbered spring. In 2017, over 20,000 math lovers participated!

For more information or to register and submit an entry, visit the competition website.




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AMS Office of Government Relations Activities at the Joint Mathematics Meetings


Each year at the JMM, my office organizes four events.


We host an annual workshop for department chairs, held in the same location as and just prior to the JMM. This one-day workshop for mathematical sciences department chairs and leaders is organized in a workshop format to facilitate the sharing of ideas and experiences between peers and to create an environment in which attendees can address departmental challenges from new perspectives. The January 15 workshop features four interactive sessions, encouraging networking and sharing of ideas amongst participants:

  1. Reassessing the relationship between pure and applied mathematics (Doug Mupasiri, University of Northern Iowa & Jennifer Zhao, University of Michigan-Dearborn)
  2. Math in the data movement (Doug Mupasiri & Gloria Marí-Beffa, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  3. Professional development and evaluating faculty (Malcolm Adams, University of Georgia & Jennifer Zhao)
  4. The next step: moving to higher administration (Gloria Marí-Beffa)

The deadline has been extended to Wednesday January 2. If you miss 2019, we invite you to attend the 2020 workshop in Denver!


The Office of Government Relations works with two of the AMS policy committees—the Committee on Education and the Committee on Science Policy. Each of these holds a session at the JMM each year.

This year the Committee on Education will host a Guided Discussion (Thursday 1:00-2:30 pm in Room 315, BCC) on “Evidence-based teaching: how do we all get there?” David Pengelly (Oregon State University), Dev Sinha (University of Oregon), and Ravi Vakil (Stanford University) designed and will lead the discussion. Compelling reasons and resources are now in place to support shifting our pedagogy toward evidence-based active learning methods that substantially improve student success.  These include the recent CBMS Statement on Active Learning, MAA Instructional Practices Guide, and MIT Electronic Mathematics Education Seminar.  However, implementation is not quick and easy. There are still plenty of obstacles, individual and institutional, along with opportunities. This event will foster small group discussion, and solicit ideas. Issues include graduate student and early career training; developing departmental experts who can lead and mentor large enrollment courses; an inventory tool of teaching practices for observations and training; program evaluation and deeper, more authentic learning outcomes; programming for department chairs; redesigning the publishing of teaching materials, possibly through new economic models. Audience members should leave better prepared to implement active learning pedagogy themselves and advocate for it in their departments, connect with faculty elsewhere in doing so, and influence national efforts.

The Committee on Science Policy session (Friday 2:30-4:00 pm in Room 316, BCC) will be a staged conversation with the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) new heads of the Directorates for Mathematical & Physical Sciences (MPS) and Education & Human Resources (EHR).  Dr. Anne Kinney is a PhD astrophysicist and came to NSF/MPS in January 2018. MPS supports fundamental research in astronomy, chemistry, physics, materials science and mathematics.  Dr. Karen Marrongelle holds a PhD in mathematics education and joined NSF/EHR in October 2018. EHR supports STEM education at all levels. I will facilitate the conversation about Dr. Kinney’s vision for the Division of Mathematical Sciences, Dr. Marrongelle’s vision for mathematics work in EHR, and their joint views on how the mathematical sciences fit with larger programs at the NSF. There will be time for audience Q&A.


Lastly, we host the Congressional Fellowship Session on Friday afternoon, 4:30-6:00 pm in Room 316, BCC. This one-year fellowship provides a public policy learning experience, demonstrates the value of science-government interaction and brings a technical background and external perspective to the decision-making process in Congress.  Learn more about this program and speak with current and former AMS Fellows. Panelists this year are the current AMS Congressional Fellow James Ricci (Senator Amy Klobuchar office) and Jennifer Pearl (PhD mathematician and Director of the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science). Application deadline for 2019-20 AMS Congressional Fellowship is February 15, 2019.


Where else will we be?

On Saturday 11:00-11:50 am, JPBM Communications Award winner Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures, will receive her award and be interviewed by Talithia Williams of Harvey Mudd College. I am pleased that U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen will join us and give remarks at the beginning of the event. Senator Van Hollen represents Maryland and is a co-sponsor of a bill to award Congressional Gold Medals to Hidden Figures Christine Darden, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the U.S. Following the interview, starting at noon, Shetterly will be available for a meet-and-greet and autograph signing.


Looking forward to seeing you all in Baltimore!

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Sexual Harassment and a “Call to Action”

UPDATE: At the bottom of this post I discuss Secretary DeVos’s proposed changes to Title IX guidelines. Since I published this post, the comment period has opened. You can give feedback until January 28, 2019. This link should bring you directly to the place for comments: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=ED-2018-OCR-0064-0001

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines define sexual harassment as:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

There’s been a lot of action in D.C. amongst science organizations on sexual harassment recently. I’m glad.

It is old news (really old news) that we have a problem in mathematics departments across the country. I don’t single out our academic field as being the only one with bad players and an entrenched culture that often protects and even supports them, hardly. As a community, we need to engage in these larger national conversations, educate our colleagues as we can, make it a priority to reduce (and ideally eliminate) harassment in our own field, and hold all mathematical scientists responsible for their actions. In addition to the horrors of sexual harassment, we must also face the problem of workplace sexism. Lenore Blum describes this “quieter but equally destructive problem” in her explanation of her resignation from Carnegie Mellon University earlier this fall. Both sexual harassment and sexism work to keep women excluded from successful academic careers.

Other AMS blogs have addressed this topic, read here and here and here. This column offers info about what is going on in D.C.-based conversations in Congress, at NASEM, AAAS, NSF, and at the Department of Education that we should all know about. [NOTE: I put that phrase in italics simply to emphasize that, of course and thank goodness, there are many conversations going on about this, including on many campuses.] The acronyms just mentioned are spelled out below; keep reading.

In early October, the Ranking Member of the House Science Committee, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, introduced a bill to address sexual harassment in the sciences. The AMS has endorsed the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act (H.R. 7031), which calls for research into the cause and consequences of sexual harassment in the sciences and the exploration of policies to reduce the prevalence and negative impact of such harassment. If you are so inclined, look to see if your Representative is a co-sponsor and, if so, write and thank them for their support.

A report released in June by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) studied the influence of sexual harassment in academia on the career advancement of women in the scientific, technical, and medical workforce. It found that sexual harassment in STEM fields is a “serious issue for women at all levels in academic science, engineering, and medicine, and that these fields share characteristics that create conditions that make harassment more likely to occur,” and “the consequence of this is a significant and costly loss of talent in science, engineering, and medicine.” It has been repeatedly reported that women are harassed out of careers in these fields; a 2016 Atlantic article describes the many forms this harassment can take. Referring to previous research, the NASEM report notes that 58% of female faculty and staff (across all disciplines) experience sexual harassment.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) adopted a Fellow revocation policy on September 15. The AAAS will consider revoking Fellow status “in cases of proven scientific misconduct, serious breaches of professional ethics, or when the Fellow in the view of AAAS otherwise no longer merits the status of Fellow.” On October 1, AMS Executive Director Catherine Roberts participated at a daylong meeting of scientific and engineering society leadership to discuss our community’s response to the issue of harassment in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical (STEMM) fields.

The NSF, which provides the majority of federal funding to the mathematical sciences academic research community, has announced new measures to protect the research community from harassment. The new policy  went into effect on October 21 and requires “awardee organizations to notify the agency of:

  1. Any findings or determinations that an NSF-funded principal investigator or co-principal investigator committed harassment, including sexual harassment or sexual assault.
  2. The placement of the principal investigator (PI) or co-principal investigator (co-PI) on administrative leave, or of the imposition of any administrative action relating to a harassment or sexual assault finding or investigation.”

Upon receiving such a report, the NSF will work with the awardee organization to determine an appropriate course of action. The NSF considers the PI and co-PIs to be in positions of trust and thus one possible course of action will be the removal of PIs and co-PIS from the grant. Other possible actions include reducing award funding, and suspension or termination of awards.

The reporting requirement currently applies to PIs and co-PIs. It is not considered a final step by the NSF, and is part of their ongoing issues to address these issues. This is a remarkable new policy. Over 2,000 U.S. institutions of higher education and other organizations (including the AMS) receive NSF funds.

What are our responsibilities, as a professional society, in regard to how we address sexual harassment in mathematics?

The AMS has taken important steps in this evolving landscape. [Again, a NOTE: This is not to imply that other professional societies are sitting idle; they are not.]

The AMS Policy Statement on Anti-Harassment expands on the society view that “harassment, sexual or otherwise, is a form of misconduct that undermines the integrity of AMS activities and mission.” The AMS Policy on a Welcoming Environment positions the society as supporting “equality of opportunity and treatment for all participants, regardless of gender, gender identity or expression, race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion or religious belief, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, or veteran status.” In order to foster an atmosphere encouraging free expression and exchange of ideas, the AMS includes a statement concerning its expectations towards maintaining a welcoming environment in registration materials for all its meetings, and has put in place a mechanism for confidential and anonymous reporting of violations.

[Final NOTE: I am not trying to give you the idea that the AMS is the only disciplinary society to take such steps; please don’t leave with that impression! Take a look at the policies of whatever society you consider “home” and if they are unsatisfactory, take action!]

What can you do? Act on this “call to action”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released her anticipated and controversial proposal revising the Obama administration Title IX guidelines, including new modifications to how sexual harassment and assault are defined and investigated on campuses. This proposal is of course not specific to mathematics or even science, but will affect all of higher education. For example, the new rules grant an accused student the right to cross-examine their accuser. DeVos’s proposal has come under severe attack and has advocates worried, as your quick Google search will show. There has been much written about this and I will not add anything here. What I want to call your attention to is that the proposal will be open for public comment for 60 days after it is posted. The proposal has been sent to the Office of the Federal Register but has not yet been scheduled for publication. Anticipated publishing date is unknown, so it is best to actively monitor the federal register, looking for posting date. Once the ruling appears there, a link will appear for you to make comments. You can also read these general guidelines about how you will be able find this new proposed policy and how to comment during the 60 day period. This is your opportunity to weigh in on Secretary DeVos’s sexual assault policy.

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The election outcome and what it means for mathematicians


This post contains three parts:

  • a long section on the newly elected members of Congress and the potential committee shake-ups that will affect the NSF and other science agencies;
  • a shorter section on redistricting legislation that passed on November 6; and
  • An even shorter section on the number of women coming to Congress in 2019.

Election day winners and losers and what it mean for committees with jurisdiction over the NSF

In the November 6 election, seven newcomers with a graduate degree in a STEM field, or a medical degree, were successful in their bids for seats in the House and will join the 116th Congress in Washington, D.C. on January 6.

The seven are Sean Casten (D-IL), Joe Cunningham (D-SC), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Elaine Luria (D-VA), who are all engineers; pediatrician Kim Schrier (D-WA); Lauren Underwood (D-IL), a registered nurse; and dentist Jeff van Drew (D-NJ).

Elaine Luria has a BS in physics and a Master of Engineering Management (MEM). As an engineer, she operating nuclear reactors in the Navy.

Chrissy Houlahan has an undergraduate engineering degree from Stanford and an MS in Technology and Policy from MIT. She has taught high school science and most recently worked for a non-profit focusing on early childhood literacy in underserved populations.

Joe Cunningham has a bachelor’s degree in ocean engineering. He worked in this field, in industry, until the 2008 recession when he returned to law school.

Sean Casten a BA in molecular biology and biochemistry, a MEM and an MS in biochemical engineering. His career has been in the private sector and focused on clean energy technologies.

Re-elected to Congress are PhD mathematician Jerry McNerney (D-CA) and PhD physicist Bill Foster (D-IL).

There are four committees with power over the NSF; these are the “appropriating” and “authorizing” committees for each of the House and Senate. These committees also appropriate funds for and regulate and write policies governing NASA, NIST and other science programs.

The Appropriations Committees decide how much money the NSF receives each year, money that is then awarded to scientists to support their research. Senate-side, not much will change: we expect Richard Shelby to remain as chair, and Jerry Moran to remain as chair of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee (this subcommittee has NSF in its portfolio). In the House, the flip to Democrat control means that there will be more musical chairs. While not yet certain, it is expected that Nita Lowey will chair of the Appropriations Committee and José Serrano will chair of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee.

In appropriations, committee structure is neat in that it is identical in both chambers. Not so with other committees. In each chamber there is a committee with oversight of the NSF (non-funding policies). These are the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Eddie Bernice Johnson has submitted her bid to chair the House committee and we expect that will come to pass. Jeff Mervis of Science magazine interviewed her and they spoke about her thoughts on the work of the committee, including oversight of the NSF, academic espionage, STEM education, and sexism in science. In the Senate, John Thune will probably not continue as chair of the Senate committee because he is expected to be named the majority whip; in this case Roger Wicker will probably take over as chair of this committee.

While bringing new science proponents to Congress is great news, we also lost some allies. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), John Culberson (R-TX), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), and Kevin Yoder (R-KS) all lost their re-election bids. Comstock has been a leader advancing women in STEM fields and combating sexual harassment in science. Culberson is a proponent of planetary science and space exploration, and his efforts have led to years of increased funding for NASA. Hultgren’s district includes Fermilab and he has been an effective supporter of the Department of Energy’s national laboratory system. Yoder has been a strong voice for basic science research and for medical research in particular and his efforts have resulted in higher funding for the National Institutes of Health. Comstock and Hultgren are current members of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Culberson and Yoder both serve on the Appropriations Committee, with Culberson chairing the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee.

The House also lost Jacky Rosen (D-NV)–a computer programmer, software developer, and proponent of programs to support women and girls in science–but she won her bid for the Senate seat so will remain in Congress. It is not clear whether or not Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) will remain, as his election has gone to a recount. Nelson is an astronaut and major ally of the STEM community.

Redistricting reform in the states

The mathematical and statistical sciences have always played a fundamental role in drawing voting district plans, and with modern predictive techniques and computing power, can play an increasingly powerful role in this process. The AMS does not endorse any one approach or metric for measuring fairness of voting district plans. We do urge, however, that mathematics and statistical science be employed to evaluate the fairness of district plans and have put out a policy statement to this effect.

Congressional redistricting is done by the states and there is a wide variety of complicated and ever-changing laws guiding the decennial process.

Colorado, Michigan and Missouri all passed measures amending their state constitutions to create independent redistricting commissions. This brings the total number of states to nine that will use independent commissions to draw state legislative districts and eight that will use these commissions for state and federal districts following the 2020 census.

Colorado voters considered two ballot measures to amend the state constitution; each passed with over 70% of the vote. Under the two amendments (Y is for congressional lines, Z for state legislative ones) a twelve-person commission comprising four Republicans, four Democrats and four unaffiliated members will be tasked with coming up with the new maps. Districts will need to be competitive. Competitive is defined in Colorado as having a reasonable potential to change parties at least once every ten years, and measuring competitiveness entails evidenced-based analyses, voter registration data, and past election results.

In Michigan, Proposal 2 passed and transferred the power to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts from the state legislature to a 13-member independent redistricting commission. Proposal 2 requires commissioners to prioritize specific criteria, including compliance with federal laws; equal population sizes; geographic contiguity; demographics and communities of similar historical, cultural, or economic interests; no advantages to political parties; no advantages to incumbents; municipal boundaries; and compactness.

The Missouri measure is arguably the most interesting to the mathematical and statistical sciences community. Missouri currently has two legislative redistricting commissions that draw maps for the state house and senate respectively. Voters in Missouri approved Proposition 1, which created a position called the “non-partisan state demographer.” There will be no change to the composition of the commissions. Amendment 1 requires the state demographer and commissions to consider specific criteria, including what the initiative calls partisan fairness and competitiveness, contiguity, compactness, and existing boundaries of political subdivisions. Partisan fairness means that parties shall be able to translate their popular support into legislative representation with approximately equal efficiency. Competitiveness means that parties’ legislative representation shall be substantially and similarly responsive to shifts in the electorate’s preferences. Wasted votes (as in the efficiency gap) are to be counted in measuring fairness. Missouri voters supported this constitutional amendment which also makes changes to the state’s lobbying laws, and sets campaign finance limits for state legislative candidates.

Utah had a similar measure on the ballot to set up an independent commission and set criteria for the line-drawers. As of now, Proposition 4 has the majority of the votes, but it is a very slim majority and the result has not been finalized.

In addition, several states passed ballot measures having to do with voting rights, including on automatic voter registration (NV, MI, MD), requiring photo-IDs (AR and NC), and restoring voting rights for felons (FL).

Number of women in Congress

Ok, I cannot end without telling you this piece of news. This election sends over 100 women to the House of Representatives. This shatters the old record of 84 of the 435. The number of female Senators will remain 23.

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