Category Archives: Uncategorized

Awkward Photos of Amazing Talks

have been to many great talks the Joint Meetings so far. I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you here, but the photos I took are, well, awkward. Luckily the AMS has real photographers to capture the live visual spirit of these talks better than I could. But, in the spirit of the vast majority of JMM talk photos, here is my offering of terrible photos of great talks. I have foregone even cropping these (so you can truly imagine yourself in the audience).

William Cook’s talk “Information, computation, optimization: Connecting the dots in the traveling salesman problem”.

Let’s start with William Cook’s MAA Invited Lecture. Cook’s talk, about solving the TSP and related problems, was a wonder of computation, theory, history, and beautiful visualizations. Among many other achievements, he and his team have managed to compute the optimal pub-crawl route to visit all of the pubs in the UK. This was the first time I’d heard of Julia Robinson’s work on the related “assignment problem,” and Cook’s explanation of how the TSP can be tackled with linear programming was very illuminating and clear.

James Tanton’s “HOW MANY DEGREES ARE IN A MARTIAN CIRCLE? And other human (and non-human) questions one should ask about everyday mathematics”.

James Tanton gave Friday’s MAA Invited Lecture for Students, from which I learned SO many surprising things.  From the origin of the name of the sine function to finger multiplication, I wondered how I had never known this, and how someone was able to make me laugh so much while teaching me.  I had run into Tanton’s work while developing math circle problems, but this was the first time I had seen his talk in person.  I will not miss a chance to see him speak again.

Tadashi Tokieda’s talk, “Toy Models”.

Tadashi Tokieda’s MAA Invited Address was possibly the most fun and wonder-filled math talk I have ever seen.  He illustrated surprising physical and mathematical phenomena with simple toys.  His way of speaking and joking with the audience as he explains and illustrates is extremely charming. I wish that basically every scientist I know could have been there.

Moon Duchin’s “Political Geometry: Voting Districts, ‘Compactness’, and Ideas about Fairness”.

The MAA-AMS-SIAM Gerald and Judith Porter Public Lecture is sort of a grand finale to the big JMM lectures, and this one was a perfect conclusion. Or beginning, really—Moon Duchin’s lecture on using mathematics to describe and potentially fight gerrymandering was inspiring.  Perhaps even, as an audience member said during the Q&A period, “historic”.  Duchin revealed how both simple and sophisticated mathematics have essential roles in preserving/resurrecting American democracy. And she has plans for how we can all get involved!  Sign me up!

Mathematically Bent Theater

Last night Colin Adams and the Mobiusbandaid Players performed four fantastic skits to a standing-room-only audience. The skits are a must-see JMM event!

The first was a tale of thievery among mathematicians in the old wild west mining finite fields for theorems.

The hero (Andrea Young, left), a horse (Adam Boocher, right) and the villain (Richard Bedient, behind)

The villain tried to steal a theorem, unfortunately his horse bears the brunt of the retaliation.

There was a skit in which a family held an intervention for their pre-med son, who turned to math. And one where an editor and a reviewer conspired against an author. Finally, there was an address by the new president of the AMS, who promised to build a wall between the AMS and MAA offices in DC.

Colin Adams, “Make math great again! No more square roots… And from now on (A+B)^2 = A^2 + B^2.”

Cat Cafe

If the frenzied environment of the JMM has got you flustered, perhaps a feline environment is what you need. I stumbled across The Cat Cafe on Google Maps and immediately recognized it as a game changer.

Game changer

I heard others had been escaping to the cafe and so I knew I had to go. I ran into a couple JMM attendees while there.

Tabatha, a post-doc at Purdue, has spent most of the JMM napping, but hopes to catch its tail end.

Tammy is tuckered after chasing down every string theory talk she could find.

Ernie forgot to secure funding to go to the JMM and tried to borrow my badge.

Schrodinger wasn’t sure he’d make it to the JMM and is glad to be attending. Here he is reflecting on category theory.

Wow. Everyone here is exhausted.

Not Ernie.

The Cat Cafe is open daily from 8:00-3:00.

Out in Math

It was really difficult to decide what talks to go to Thursday afternoon, so much was happening at once! But I’m really glad I ended up going to the MAA Panel on Out in Mathematics. The panel focused on issues that LGBTQ mathematicians can face when dealing with students, administrators, colleagues, and potential employers. Audience members shared their own stories and difficulties. Despite whatever challenges we may face after returning home, it was moving to be together in a safe, supportive space where people could share and work through some of those challenges.

Juliette Bruce, Shelly Bouchat, Frank Farris, Ron Buckmire, and Emily Riehl

It was upsetting (though sadly not that surprising) to hear about some of the harassment and discrimination that continues today. Though discomforting, sometimes those are the most productive and important feelings one can have. As a cis man in Massachusetts who is often assumed to be straight, it can be too easy for me to become complacent.

The panel was organized by the cleverly named Spectra which has been meeting for the better part of three decades. The 1995 JMM had been schedule to be in Denver, but in late 1992 Colorado passed a constitutional amendment that banned local anti-discrimination laws. The MAA and the AMS quickly moved to change the venue to San Francisco, so that the meeting would be something everyone could feel safe attending. Out of this a group of mathematicians (now Spectra) started organizing panels, on-site receptions, and off-site receptions at JMM meetings.

I always appreciate learning about histories like this, because I appreciate the work done by those who have come before, and because seeing how far we’ve come makes me feel a little bit better about how far I see we still need to go.

Asking around: what we’re up to at JMM

Colorado College students Hanbo Shao and Lyujiangyang Yu outside William Cook’s talk “Information, computation, and optimization: Connecting the dots on the Traveling Salesman Problem”. They enjoyed the talk: “It gave me a new angle on the traveling salesman problem; I didn’t know it could be solved with linear programming.” Next up, they were headed to Jill Pipher’s “Nonsmooth boundary problems” (this year’s Noether Lecture) or maybe to the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics reunion.

Michelle Manes and Aly Deines.  Michelle said “The Gibbs Lecture was the bomb.”  Aly concurred, adding that last night’s AWM reception was also amazing, and that William Cook’s traveling salesman lecture was really fun.  Next up, they were headed to the Noether lecture.

Heidi Goodson is enjoying interviews, great tacos (she recommends Salud!), and free coffee towards the back of the exhibit hall.

The view from the hallway, looking into Jo Boaler’s standing-room-only talk, “Changing mathematical relationships and mindsets: how all students can succeed in mathematics learning”. Reportedly, this talk was awesome.

Abe Mantell at the email center near registration on the ground floor of the San Diego Convention Center. Fresh from two simultaneous (!) committee meetings, Abe has also (?) been enjoying the view of Coronado Island and the MAA session on Math and Sports. He is also hoping to make it over to the MAA session on Math Circle Topics with Visual or Kinesthetic Components.

Guess the next term in this sequence? Dana Mackenzie is working hard in the press room, as Mike Breen looks on.  Dana is excited to see Judea Pearl (creator of Bayesian networks and the belief propagation algorithm) receive the 2018 Ulm Grenander prize.  Judea and Dana’s “The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect” comes out in May of 2018.

Carla Cotwright-Williams is excited “to use my math to help shape policy”.  She’s going home tomorrow to spend a week relaxing and getting ready to start her new position as a data scientist with the Department of Defense.

sarah-marie belcastro and Tom Hull are excited about SO many things at the JMM this year—sarah-marie has at compiled least 10 pages of activities for the meeting. They are both thrilled with the number of great panels and sessions devoted to inclusivity and equity in mathematics. “People are using almost new paradigms to think about this—new to me anyway, and I find it really exciting,“ Tom says.

Farhad Jafari and Greg Lyng are at the meeting interviewing job candidates and hosting a booth at the Grad School fair. “All prospective grad students should apply to the University of Wyoming,” Farhad says. Greg also especially enjoyed Edriss Titi’s address, “The Navier-Stokes, Euler, and related equations”

Mathematicians Teaching Intro Stats

Yesterday, I went to a panel about mathematicians teaching statistics. My department is a math/stats department so I have had the opportunity to TA many statistics classes, and I’ve really enjoyed it. The panelists all followed a similar trajectory of being forces to teach a statistics class, doing so as if it were a math class (heavily focused on definitions, equations, and procedures) and then over ten to twenty years reconstructing their class into something more focused on concepts, real world examples, and technology.

From left Charilaos Skiadas, Hanover College, Sue Schou, Idaho State University, Chris Oehrlein, Oklahoma City Community College, and Pati Frazer, St. Lawrence College

A lot of my students know how to follow the procedures of a hypothesis test quite well, but I can tell they don’t know really understand what a p-value is, and I wish I knew how to impart that understanding in the brief once-a-week discussion sections I have with them. The logic of hypothesis testing is more important, and more likely to stick with them than the details of each of the different models used in various hypothesis testing. If they do go on to use statistics in their work, they will likely be using technology, and it is the deep understanding of what a hypothesis test is that will ensure they use that technology appropriately. What I don’t think I fully appreciated before this panel was the extent to which a focus on procedures and equations can get in the way of learning statistical thinking.

The panelists have gathered a lot of useful information on this page, including links to real world data, curriculum recommendations from the MAA and ASA, and statistics teaching communities. I’ll be looking back to this the next time I get to TA (or teach!) an intro stats class.

What are you excited about at JMM 2018?

I asked a handful of participants (including myself) what they’re excited about at JMM 2018. The answers highlight how wonderfully eclectic this conference is.


Mathematics for the Masses

[Note: this is a post by Ben Thompson, 2017 AMS-AAAS Media Fellow.]

Talithia Williams shared some exclusive clips from her upcoming PBS series, NOVA Wonders, as part of her lecture this morning, “Mathematics for the Masses.” You can find now on YouTube a video featuring Talithia analyzing the feasibility of Santa’s Christmas Eve flight.

In the lecture, she told us she shared the video with her own children when they started doubting the reality of Santa. They decided to reject the null hypothesis (that parents are the true culprits) if presents were still under the tree at home despite the fact that they were away for Christmas. With a last-minute shopping trip made by some helpful neighbors before the Williams’ return, a Type I error was made! While her children still have more to learn about Santa, she was able to start teaching them about hypothesis testing.

After sharing other examples of sharing math with a wider audience, Talithia was joined by Ron Buckmire and James Alvarez on a panel focused on how to make math more accessible. As a department chair, Ron asked professors to identified students who might benefit from or enjoy taking more math classes even if they had never considered it before or weren’t at the top of the class. Over winter break he would mail those students a letter saying their professors enjoyed having them in class and he encouraged them to continue in the discipline. Many of those students came back the next semester for more math classes that they hadn’t been planning to take.

Talithia’s work with PBS came after her popular TED talk (though she reports half of the views on YouTube were from her mother) that introduced people to statistics by showing them how to collect and analyze their own health data.

This morning she suggested analyzing data from a school’s football team as an effective way to interest and engage students. NOVA Wonders will premiere in April. She also has a book coming out that month, Power in Numbers: The Rebel Women of Mathematics.

Wednesday: Off to the Races

The math fun frenzy starts off with a short lull, waiting to pick up a packet at the registration desk, lower level in the B area of the San Diego Convention Center.

The JMM can seem like a race—running from meeting to talk to math friend to math friend, trying to get in as much math, inspiration, and hanging out as possible in four days. I always remind myself to chill out and not overschedule, but it’s hard to hang back when I see so many things that I want to do.

Some years, I have spent a truly excessive amount of time poring over the printed program and using unintelligible (even to me) shorthand to write down things that look interesting. I would then have to look up where they were and then get lost and miss the talks I wanted to see. No longer! This year I am having great success using the JMM 2018 app, which I think is better this year than it was even last year. It has a schedule maker which syncs with my Google calendar, and this great “Map It” feature that shows me where in the convention center each talk is.

Here are some of the things that are on my schedule today:

Talithia Williams’ talk, “Mathematics for the Masses”, 9-9:50 AM in room 8, upper level of the San Diego Convention Center

Abstract: In recent months, we’ve witnessed Americans grapple with the significance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through events ranging from the Paris Agreement to the nationwide March for Science, where people marched to defend the role of science in society. In the wake of a renewed excitement for STEM, I’m thrilled to be joining the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) family as one of the hosts of a new NOVA series called NOVA Wonders premiering this spring. NOVA is the most-watched primetime science series on television, reaching an average of five million viewers weekly. NOVA Wonders is a six-part series that will journey to the frontiers of science, where researchers are tackling some of the most intriguing questions about life and the cosmos. My goal in hosting the show is to open individuals to the power of mathematics and data to pursue answers to questions in a clear and purposeful way. During this talk, I plan to share with you an early clip from NOVA Wonders and discuss ways that we can take our mathematics to the masses and share techniques that have been successful in my mathematical environment. We all have a responsibility to inspire a new generation in STEM and nurture the dreams of future mathematical leaders.

Gunnar Carlsson’s talk, “Topological Modeling of Complex Data”, 11:10 AM-12 PM in room 6AB, upper level of the San Diego Convention Center

Abstract: One of the fundamental problems faced by science and industry is that of making sense of large and complex data sets. To approach this problem, we need new organizing principles and modeling methodologies. One such approach is through topology, the mathematical study of shape. The shape of the data, suitably defined, is an important component of exploratory data analysis. In this talk, we will discuss the topological approach, with numerous examples, and consider some questions about how it will develop as mathematics.

Association for Women in Mathematics Panel “Using Mathematics in Activism”, organized by Michelle Manes, 2:15– 3:40 PM in room 1, upper level of the San Diego Convention Center.

Abstract: There is a romantic notion that mathematics is somehow so pure that it is separate from the “real world” and untouched by it. However, mathematicians live in the world and are affected by it, and that in turn affects their work. Many mathematicians tackle problems and issues in their communities, in the country, and in the world. Activism can mean many things: engaging with the general public through social media or through traditional media via op ed pieces and letters to the editor; outreach with marginalized populations; advocacy work in professional organizations; and even mathematical research in the context of social and political justice. Our panelists will share their experiences as activist mathematicians and they will help lead a conversation about what we can each do to effect change around issues we care about. This session is open to all JMM attendees. Panelists include Federico Ardila, San Francisco State University, Piper Harron, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Lily Khadjavi, Loyola Marymount University, Beth Malmskog, Colorado College, Karen Saxe, American Mathematical Society and other panelists to be announced.

MAA-JCW-NAM-AWM Panel, “Implicit Bias and Its Effects in Mathematics” organized by Semra Kilic-Bahi, Colby-Sawyer College, Maura Mast, Fordham College at Rose Hill, Naomi Cameron, Lewis & Clark College, Andrew Cahoon, Colby-Sawyer College and Charles Doering, 4:15–5:35 PM in room 2 upper level of the San Diego Convention Center.

Abstract: Implicit bias occurs when someone explicitly rejects stereotypes and prejudices, but unconsciously holds negative (mostly) associations. People are not hiding their prejudices, but rather, they just do not know they have these unconscious feelings or thoughts that affect their decision-making and behavior. Social scientists are identifying implicit biases as one of the most pervasive barriers to equal opportunities for minorities and women in today’s society. This panel discussion addresses how implicit bias might manifest and affect our classrooms, departments, and campuses in terms of academic and scholarly opportunities and evaluations. Panelists are Ron Buckmire, National Science Foundation, Jenna P. Carpenter, Campbell University, Lynn Garrioch, Colby-Sawyer College, Joanna Kania-Bartoszynska, National Science Foundation and Francis Edward Su, Harvey Mudd College.

Well, I’m off to the first talk!  Hope everyone has a great day at the meeting—stop and let me know how it is going if you see me around.

AMS Office of Government Relations Activities at JMM

The author of this piece is Karen Saxe, Director of the AMS Office of Government Relations. See the Office website and her blog for more information about our work in Washington, D.C.

 It’s 2018! And no better way to start a new year than by participating in the Joint Mathematics Meetings! There are great invited talks; research talks; panels on teaching, activism, and leadership in our community; and fun social events. I’m excited to see all four of the Joint Invited Addresses, to be given by Gunnar Carlsson, Moon Duchin, André Neves, and Jill Pipher. Also, looking forward to a video by JPBM Communications Award winner Vi Hart talk about her “doodles”, which I have long-admired. She will entertain and challenge us on Saturday as part of Mathemati-Con. And, I also always look forward to the Current Events Bulletin Session on Friday afternoon.

My office, the Office of Government Relations of the AMS, sponsors and cosponsors events throughout the week. The primary goal of this post is to tell you about them. The first two workshops — held during the two days in advance of JMM — require registration; please contact us at 401-455-4116 or for further information.

We kick off Monday evening with a NSF-EHR Grant-Writing Workshop, run by Ron Buckmire and Lee Zia. They will tell us about programs in the Education and Human Resources Directorate, and how to prepare competitive proposals. This session is free.

2017 Chairs Workshop, in Atlanta

Tuesday all day we are busy at our annual Department Chairs Workshop. This full-day event provides opportunities for new and not-so-new department chairs to connect with each other and learn from more experienced department leaders about what makes the duties of a chair different from those of other engaged faculty members. This year we will begin by looking inward and “grow” during the day. Our first session is on improving our students’ experiences; the second on building partnerships within an institution (with, e.g., alumni and admissions offices and other academic departments); the third on building external partnerships (with, e.g., industry and other academic institutions in a geographic area); and we will end the day putting all the other three sessions in context by hearing about the responsibilities, duties and expectations that deans, provosts and other chief academic officers have for their chairs. There is a separate fee for this workshop.

Finally, JMM begins on Wednesday! The Office of Government Relations is running four panels this year.

Thursday’s AMS Committee on Education Panel Discussion will discuss how to prepare our undergraduate, masters, and Ph.D. students for a broad range of careers.  In particular, the panel will focus on career options for mathematics students, how to teach students to use mathematics to solve problems originating in non-academic settings, what are the key mathematics courses that can help students succeed in a broad range of jobs, what should be the priorities for workforce development in the mathematical sciences, and how to help students get jobs. This takes place 1:00-2:30 pm in room 11B of the San Diego Convention Center.

After that, make your way to room 8 for the 2:35-3:55 pm SIAM-MAA-AMS Joint Panel that will continue this conversation. Panelists from industry and government will share (a) what they wish they had known and done as graduate students/postdocs, (b) what you can do at your career stage if you are interested in making connections with business, industry or government, and (c) what suggestions they have for math doctoral programs to increase preparedness of their students for work in business, industry, and government (BIG).

The AMS Committee on Science Policy Panel takes place on Friday, 2:30-4:00 pm in room 11B. Mathematician and U.S. Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA 9) will be joined by other mathematicians who work at the NSF and at the Department of Defense to give insiders’ views of the federal funding landscape. The panel will comment on the value of, and opportunities for, engaging in national and local advocacy to support sustained funding for research.

Current AMS Congressional Fellow Margaret Callahan

If you are interested in working in Washington, D.C. for a year in the U.S. Congress or at one of the agencies, I encourage you to join us at the AMS Congressional Fellowship Session. This is an opportunity to hear about the fellowship program, and to meet our current fellow and former fellows and ask questions about the year-long fellowship. This fellowship is open to anyone with a Ph.D. in mathematics, and can be a positive experience at any stage of your career. This session takes place 4:30-6:00 pm on Friday, again in room 11B.