AMS President George Andrews supports a number of initiatives for the AMS, including a Fellows program. Long-standing secretary of the MAA Martha Siegel characterizes the various mathematical societies.
I flew in to San Francisco early this morning for the Joint Mathematics Meetings. I am now in the Moscone center, sitting in on the AMS council meeting. Before the meeting began, I got a chance to sit down and speak with AMS President George Andrews, who hails from Pennsylvania State University.
Asked what his role in the AMS is, he first pointed out that the person who really runs the AMS is the Executive Director. The role of the president is to preside at meetings (such as the current one) and to initiate and promote actions for the society.
For example, he would like to see a Fellows program supported by the society. This has been proposed before, but was narrowly voted down. The council meeting dwelled for a good long time on the issue of how to organize the selection of Fellows, so that the nomination/selection process is fair, so that the desired number of Fellows are selected, and so that as few people as possible feel offended not being recognized. My favorite suggestion was that, instead of using a 2/3 cutoff for voting, a 2/π cutoff should be used. In the end, the issue was given to a smaller committee.
On another note, I asked about his research. (The great part about math conferences is that just about everybody here will have an enthusiastic, in-depth answer to this question.) Overall, he said he would categorize himself as a number theorist, with a focus on combinatorics; interestingly enough, he has also done some work with physicists.
Finally, I asked what, in his view, this conference is all about. In short, it’s about everything. There are special sessions where researchers can share their work, addresses and colloquia where all can be inspired, and, of course, meetings of the AMS and MAA to handle the business sides of these organizations.
This brings me to my second encounter. One nagging question I had is, “what is the difference between the AMS, the MAA, and SIAM?” I briefly met MAA Secretary Martha Siegel. I asked her to differentiate the above-mentioned three societies. SIAM, she said, I mainly focused on applied mathematics, with many of its members working in the government or in industry. The AMS and MAA are focused on the academic side of mathematics. The AMS is more focused on research, whereas the MAA is focused on undergraduate education.
The MAA, said Dr. Siegel, has a wonderful attraction to those who love mathematics and also love teaching. The MAA should strive to cultivate such people, making all areas of math accessible, that is, graspable by all mathematicians.