Start an AMS Student Chapter

Before you ask, my university does not currently have an AMS Graduate Student Chapter. I learned about this opportunity through my involvement this year in creating a SIAM graduate student chapter. But the two organizations offer practically the same deal to interested students, even down to the due dates for required forms. Hence the following advice applies equally well to either organization. This article will also include some facts which seem specific to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), but most likely have analogs in your neck of the woods.

Assuming you’re able to secure a quorum, summer is the perfect time to begin a new student organization as many due dates occur at the beginning of the academic year. You will need a faculty advisor and five students, some willing to serve as officers. The petition process consists of two basic steps: establishing rules of procedure and writing an annual budget. More thorough instructions for the petition are detailed by the AMS. You should also check with your university about establishing an official student organization. At UCSB, clubs must register with the Office of Student Life at the beginning of the year. This provides your chapter with a bank account and procedures for disbursement of funds.

Where to find initial members? Instead of starting our SIAM chapter from scratch, we took the existing graduate student seminar in applied mathematics and brought it under the SIAM umbrella, giving us an instant pool of members. We found this helpful to build momentum for our first year. Additionally, if included in your budget proposal, then you will be able to enjoy coffee and cookies at your usual seminar! Which brings us to the next topic.

To write an annual budget you need activities. If you followed the previous advice, you already have one item to include in your budget. You may also consider:

  • inviting a guest speaker;
  • creating an outreach program for a local middle school;
  • hosting a poster session;
  • organizing a “themed” colloquium.

The AMS provides student chapters up to $500 per academic year, and an additional $500 for “large groups with extensive activities”.

What do I mean by a themed colloquium? Here are two examples. First, think of all the interesting facts about the sphere! Why not host a graduate student colloquium focused on S^n? As someone who studies nonlinear partial differential equations, I would talk about Fourier analysis on the sphere and its relation to representation theory, or how spherical geometry is used when studying hyperbolic PDEs with finite speed of propagation. Each week one graduate student would present a topic in their focus area. The second example comes from the UCSB student chapter of SIAM. We are planning a lecture series this fall centered around the Top 10 Algorithms of the 20th Century. We’re currently in the process of finding graduate students from around campus to speak about their favorite algorithm at an advanced undergraduate level.

When writing your proposal, target more than the AMS budget document. Are there other funding sources on your campus? At UCSB, the Graduate Student Association offers clubs up to $600 per year directed towards events which provide “a means for graduate students to enrich their educational experience”. When you find a new source, make note of their deadlines and guidelines. Finally, after you have secured funding, you will need advertising copy for flyers, emails and the chapter website. I believe it is best to write a proposal which attempts to address all of these goals and later specialize it for each task.

I will close with a few tips for advertising your chapter events.

  • Speak with your department administrators to learn how to distribute announcements through their various email lists. If your event extends across department lines, ask administrators in other departments.
  • Don’t forget a printing budget. Post color flyers around the department a few weeks before a big event. Turn your budget proposal into into a pamphlet highlighting planned activities for the year. Hand these out at your university’s open house for student clubs. Create a poster featuring the chapter logo for the open house and to post outside other events.
  • Most importantly, find faculty advocates in addition to the chapter advisor. These individuals will be the most effective at drumming up attendance for chapter activities. To host an undergraduate-focused event, contact those professors who guide undergraduate research or the person who advises the math club. If you’re planning an applied mathematics event, cultivate relationships with engineering professors who head large research groups.

Do you already run a student chapter of AMS or another mathematical society? Please share your suggestions for events and advice for beginning a new chapter.

About Derek Smith

Former weather dude and scientific software developer. In the upcoming 2015-16 year I will complete my PhD at UCSB in nonlinear dispersive equations. I enjoy spending time with my two young daughters and running.
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