Publishing Research with Undergraduate Co-authors

This is a guest post from Ursula Whitcher, Associate Editor at Mathematical Reviews.

One of the highlights of the Joint Math Meetings every January is the undergraduate student poster session, where hundreds of students present original research projects. Have you mentored undergraduate research? Are you working on a paper based on your results? If so, where will you submit it?

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The 2016 SACNAS conference reignited my dreams

The following is a guest post from Duncan Rocha

First, allow me to introduce myself. I am Duncan Rocha, a Tejano/Scottish crossbreed from San Francisco, California. I am a little more than two months into my college experience at Harvey Mudd College as a physics major, and so far it has been more than I could possibly ask for.

My father was the record-breaker in his 100% Mexican-American family. Being the first to go to college and eventually earn a masters degree, he conducted research in many branches of physics. Naturally, as a young boy, those were the shoes I wanted to step into. Growing up, though, has made me realize that my interest in physics has not been a string of boyhood fantasies and ideals. It has been a true passion for understanding the universe. As I grew older, I took physics into my own hands, flipping through any material I could find. I learned about research at the LHC, Fermilab, and many other facilities. To me, that was the dream. If I could just make it to Ligo, to the LHC, to an office in a university, I could fill the shoes that a great physicist wears. My childhood dreams, of lab coats and notebooks and complicated mathematical symbols scribbled on a blackboard, would be fulfilled. That is the image I has always painted myself into, but I have never really felt like it was within my reach. Especially as my other dreams faded out of existence, like going to the MLB hall of fame or becoming a star musician, it felt like my dream of being a great physicist was fading too. I never felt like the opportunity might never present itself, and if it were to, it would be years, if not decades, in the future.

I was wrong.

I walked into the SACNAS conference without a clue about what to expect. As I stepped into the exhibit hall, I was simply astounded. The pure vastness of the conference left me a little dazed. I think I managed to mutter a small “whoa” as I wobbled in, eyes wide at the sight. Thousands of people packed corridors upon corridors of booths, each flying different colors of schools, research institutes, or companies. Not only that, but the entire fair was surrounded on three sides by what I estimated was close to a thousand research boards. I began to explore the sea of science and math, but one booth quickly caught my eye. I strolled on over, not really sure what to say or where to begin, because the name of the booth had suddenly opened floodgates in my mind. It was Ligo. All of the stories I read about it, all of the chatter about gravitation waves and the fascination of all the intellectuals and even my own father, all of it came to the forefront of my mind when I approached the booth. This was it! This was an opportunity to step into the shoes of the image of the adult Duncan I had sculpted as a kid, and I was chatting with a man who could give me a chance to fulfill that dream. There is nothing more I could have asked for than to spark that flame, to reignite the hope I had when I was a kid that I would someday become a great physicist. I didn’t even care that a freshman almost certainly couldn’t get an internship at Ligo, I just needed something to reestablish the dream of my future. After that first encounter, I went on to explore the rest of the conference, but those two or three minutes at the Ligo booth were the most impactful for me of any other moment.

I hope, and as a matter of fact I know, that I was not the only young student who had their hopes and dreams reestablished by the SACNAS conference. I know they will continue to inspire young Latino/as and native American minds to aspire to become leaders in their fields.

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What is this “Graduate School thing” again?

Recently a former REU student stopped by to tell me of her plans. She will graduate within the next semester and plans to attend graduate school afterwards. But she told me something surprising: she really doesn’t know what one does in graduate school.

Even though I don’t want to admit it, I have this conversation with undergraduates pretty often. So let me present a FAQ about graduate school. Continue reading

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Are you thriving or surviving?

We are lucky to have another guest post from the amazing mathematician and educator Candice Price, who recently moved to Southern California!

Maybe I am just too demanding? Maybe I am just like my advisor, too busy? Recently, this thought left me thinking a lot about my academic future. I discussed this with one of my mentors, and favorite people, Chelsea Walton and she posed the following question to me: “Candice (this is what she calls me), are you thriving or surviving?” Having just started a tenure track position, this question came at a critical time in my career. Thinking about my career in these terms, striving versus surviving, I focused on the following aspects of my career.

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Lessons learned at an REU are lessons for life

This is a post written with the goal of reaching undergraduate students who have participated in a research experience for undergraduates (REU) or are in the process of completing one. I have been thinking of the lessons that students can learn during a research experience, especially how to make the positive effects of the REU last well beyond the summer, perhaps forever. Like most things in life, this requires effort from the student as well as the research mentor, so I urge faculty mentors to consider these suggestions too. What follows is a result of conversations with faculty members Lei Cheng (Olivet Nazarene University), Albert Kim (Middlebury College), Qin Lu (Lafayette College), Neelesh Tiruviluamala (University of Southern California), Talitha Washington (Howard University), and Ping Ye (Quincy University). Continue reading

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Service Statement: Beat Overcommitment

Service to your institution and to the broader mathematical community is an invigorating experience. Whether its connecting with people to provide opportunities for engagement in mathematics, opening doors for youth who wouldn’t have access otherwise, or filling a need in your department, service is an inherently important function of an academic. One of the challenges for junior mathematicians is determining what service initiatives to become involved with. It is easy for us to be excited about many service opportunities, only to later realize we’ve become extremely overcommitted. Many friends of mine who are tenure-track faculty find themselves especially challenged in this capacity, finding that their service commitments greatly impact the time they spend on scholarship.

This is especially true for underrepresented mathematicians. As one of the only faculty in several underrepresented groups on my campus I receive an extraordinarily disproportionate amount of service requests. There is no feasible way for me to participate in all of these opportunities even if my job was solely those commitments. So what does one do to reduce their service load?

One strategy is to set a hard limit on the number of service requests one engages in for a given window of time; for example, committing to only 3 service initiatives in a particular semester. Personally, a real difficulty with this is dealing with FOMO (fear of missing out). The challenge I have found with deciding what service to engage in is not saying no to the things that I don’t want to do, but saying no to the many things that I am intrinsically motivated to participate in.

In order to approach this service overcommitment dilemma I asked myself a fundamental question: without specific details, what can I offer to the mathematical community that is something I am passionate about, something that is not commonly offered, and something that I feel would be my unique contribution. This lead to my service statement:

“Empowerment, engagement and inclusion through mathematical problem solving.”

A brief introduction: I entered the mathematical world through high school math competitions. Contests set the foundation for the opportunities that lead to my career path. During the time I was involved in these programs, I always noticed a striking issue of underrepresentation in these arenas. Combining my interest in mathematical problem solving with addressing issues of underrepresentation in mathematics, I’ve decided to make my service statement all about using mathematical problem solving as a vehicle to increase representation in math.

So how does this help with the service dilemma? When propositioned with a service request I now ask one simple question before deciding to accept or reject: “Is this in line with my service statement?” If no, I am very likely to say no. This has allowed me to focus my service on issues I am deeply passionate about. It has reduced my stress around completing service tasks significantly. Moreover, it has labeled me in the community as a go-to person for my initiative. This has opened doors to many opportunities that lie right along-side my goals.

I high recommend a service statement. It has been a tremendous help in managing my contributions to the community, and engaging in a wholeheartedly fulfilling way.

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An Academic Party of One

This is a guest post from the one and only Candice Price.

I was teaching when I wrote this so forgive me if it goes astray. But I have been to many panels on work life balance. They normally consist of (mostly) women discussing how they balance being a wife or mother and being a mathematician. Which is great! Some of my favorite people are wives or mothers. But I am not. So I sometimes feel like the information discussed doesn’t apply to me. I am wrong. Even without being a wife or mother, it is important that I, a single, non parental academic, make sure that I balance my work and life. Here are some of the pitfalls and solutions I have discovered when it comes to balancing my single non parental life with my work life.

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Posted in General, postdocs, Tenure | 5 Comments

The Power of Two: Two Tips for Mathematicians

Every person I know, even mathematicians, have their favorite numbers. Mine used to be 13, because I liked being contrarian. Then I switched to 17 because it was the seventh prime number and I also liked 7. But what is so special about the number 2? Of course, it is the only even prime, but what else?

If you did not know before, you might be interested to learn (from Wikipedia) that 2 is the only number x such that the sum of all the reciprocals of the powers of x equals x. Wikipedia will also tell you that “powers of two are central to the concept of Mersenne primes, and important to computer science.” There are even interesting things to learn about the power of two in poetry. But why should readers of the e-Mentoring Network blog care?

On these blog pages, readers will find personal success stories to learn from and thoughtful essays chock-full of solid advice. My goal writing here has been a lot more modest. From the beginning, I have tried to share things I have learned from the vast literature about productivity and then personally tried to implement into my own idiosyncratic life. In my first post here, I wrote about writing things down, how “getting things out of your head and into a trusted system” can be helpful. Then I wrote about how making a plan for your summer as you ease into it might be a good idea. Finally last summer I wrote about digital organization. Along the way I also wrote a little post about giving math talks and there too I have tried to share what I learned from others and what seems to work well for myself (whenever I can get myself to listen to myself!)

So this post is about two great tips involving the number 2 that I learned along the way. They will perhaps not double your happiness or fortune, but I promise you that you will not regret it if you do decide to take them along for the ride.

Here is the first one: The Two-Minute Rule. I learned this from David Allen’s famous book Getting Things Done, but it is easy to learn it independently of his program. The rule is quite simple:

If you find something on your to-do list that you could do in two minutes, just do it!

Of course this works well if you have a to-do list, but it can be applied to many other contexts. So here are some corollaries:

Corollary 1. If you are going through your email inbox and you see some emails that are easy to answer quickly (and, this is absolutely essential, only if they are worth answering), then go ahead and respond.

Corollary 2. If you have to print out some handouts for your class that you have already prepared, just go ahead and print when you remember to.

Corollary 3. If you need to go to the bathroom, just go!

(Ok, maybe the last one there did not need to be included, but some of us need to be occasionally reminded of this! This and “You should go and fill up your water bottle when it is empty.”)

What is the point of the two-minute rule? It is simple: It clears your inbox, it clears your to-do list, it helps you move forward, and it makes you feel good about yourself. That is a handful of points all at once. But there is more.

The two-minute rule also trains your mind to look at tasks on your list in a time-sensitive way. You learn eventually to think more carefully about how much certain types of tasks will take you. This is amazingly helpful when you are thinking of taking on new tasks. You might find that you just have too much on your plate already. Wouldn’t that be a good thing to notice before you take on more?

Alright, time to move on to the second tip invoking the special powers of 2: To rhyme with the first one, I will call this The Two-Week Rule. Here it goes:

When you receive a revise-and-resubmit request from a journal about your paper submission, turn it around in two weeks.

Sometimes this may mean that you will be dropping some of the other balls on the air to the ground, but it will only be temporary. And once you do turn that paper around in two weeks, you will feel so great! And yes, it is almost always doable. Ok, if you were asked to incorporate a new semester’s worth of data to the paper, then maybe not so much. But often the requests are much more minor than that. Even when the referees are asking for “major revision”, you can often take care of it in two intense weeks.

I have used this tip myself with much success. Each time I have received feedback, even some that I was quite unpleased with, I gave myself one whole day to fume and bicker, and then I started the clock. Literally. Once I actually counted the total number of minutes it took me to handle a set of referee reports. I have seen that it has taken me about twenty-four hours. That is one full day, but spread over a couple weeks, it is not that bad. And in the end, you can still keep the “submitted” tag on your CV for that paper until it is accepted!

I have to admit that I do not do this all the time. In fact there is a paper that is still sitting in the depths of my computer filing system waiting to be revised. My defense: the four referees each requested that I do something totally contradictory to the others’ requests. So I basically gave up. But was that wise of me? No. I do believe in the paper, so I should get my act together and take care of it. And after writing this post, now we all know that I have to do it in two weeks. What do you think? Can I?

Gizem Karaali is associate professor of mathematics at Pomona College and a founding editor of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics. She is also an associate editor of the Mathematical Intelligencer and of Numeracy. Follow Gizem at @GizemKaraali_.

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New year, same goal: more research

I began the academic year with a renewed hope that this year would be different: that I would be smarter in how I allocated my time so as to focus on research and that I would be steadfast in my approach to saying no to the things that do not directly support this goal. Yet seven weeks have passed since the start of the spring semester and as I reevaluate and make a list of the goals I want to accomplish by the end of this academic year, I noticed that this list contains some of the same research items I aimed to complete by the end of the fall semester.

Let’s be honest: things come up. There are many additional expectations, responsibilities, and opportunities in this profession aside from our teaching and research duties. So how can we properly allocate our time to achieve our goals as researchers? Here are a few things that come to mind, along with some advice I have received along the way.

Foster Collaborations. In my last blog I wrote about building research collaborations and how I have made great friends along the way. Another great benefit of collaborative projects is the higher level of productivity. When working with others you can approach problems from a variety of perspectives, which can lead to finding the breakthrough needed to finish the results. As a research group member, I feel accountable for the part of the work I am to contribute to the project. I understand that others are counting on me, and this expectation forces me to focus on the project much more than I would if I only had myself to report to. Which leads naturally to the next point:

Involve students in your research. Last academic year I supervised three undergraduate thesis students. I had to spend time on my research in order to be prepared to discuss that week’s topic with them. These projects resulted in two publications and multiple conference presentations. Having involved my students in my research kept me motivated and excited about my work. I highly recommend other junior faculty include students in their research.

If your teaching load prohibits supervising projects during the academic year a great option is to apply for a CURM mini-grant. This grant provides faculty funds for a course buy-out, and a stipend for the student researchers. If you would prefer to work with students during the summer, but your school does not have an REU site, consider applying for the MAA National Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program. This program provides “stipends for faculty researchers and local minority undergraduates, as well as costs for student room and board for a period of six to eight weeks.”

Learn to say no. I will get this off my chest: As a Project NExT fellow (shout out to my Silver Dot 2012 cohort!) Professor Joe Gallian taught us to say yes to every opportunity so that we would find our niche within the mathematical community. His advice has lead to some great career opportunities that would not have materialized had I declined to help/participate. However, there is a point beyond which we overcommit ourselves and are therefore less productive and effective in our research endeavors. A mentor once told me that a good way to respond to requests that might not support one’s research goals, especially for pre-tenure faculty, is to say “Let me talk to my advisor/chair/suppervisor about this and I will get back to you soon.” This gives you adequate time to think about how this new commitment supports your goals, and keeps your advisor/chair/suppervisor informed on the work you are thinking of undertaking.

Ask for help. When you’ve said yes to too many things, nothing is more powerful than finding help. For example, I started a speaker series in my department and the first few years I did everything myself: inviting speakers, dealing with the necessary paperwork, finding funding sources, etc. However, this year, I reached out to my fellow civilian colleagues and asked if they would codirect the series with me. Three said yes and now the workload is divided among four. This makes the organization more manageable, and, more importantly, considerably more students are attending the lunchtime talks as a result of our teamwork. Another benefit of working with others is that the series will continue even after I leave. This is something I am quite proud of and something that would not have occurred had I not asked for help from my colleagues.

Get organized. Being able to find things is a challenge for me. My desk is always clean, but as one of my old office mates pointed out, it is because I stuff my desk’s drawers full of papers. Professor Gizem Karaali has contributed a wonderful blog about organization basics for mathematicians. It can all start with an empty email inbox! Read her article and do your best to stay organized and get an early start to your spring-cleaning.

What else do you do to stay focused on achieving your research goals? Feel free to share your tips and tricks in the comments.

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Are you thinking of working in industry?

Written by Sharon Arroyo ( and Les Button (

Opportunities in industry for people with hard-core mathematical skills can be very rewarding. In this article, we give our perspective on how to search for a job in industry. We first discuss how to match your skills and career goals with a role. We then give information about the job search, and finally point you to a resource concerning interviewing.

The first order of business is to consider what type of working environment suits you. Your ideal working environment will likely evolve over time, but this information will help frame your initial job search. For example, you might consider the following questions: Continue reading

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