Call for PhD + epsilon Blog Co-Editor Applications

The AMS invites applications for a co-editor of this PhD + epsilon blog.  This blog’s editors are mathematical scientists who have completed their Ph.D. but not yet received tenure. They write about their experiences and challenges as early-career mathematicians, and encourage all mathematicians to join the community of followers and to post comments.

Topics have included balancing research and teaching, seeking tenure, mathematical topics, meetings and conferences, giving talks, balancing job and family, collaborating, teaching tools and resources, giving and grading exams, mentoring, moving, writing papers, and humor.

The position of co-editor requires excellent communication skills, a commitment to posting once or twice a month, and monitoring of comments. The posting process itself is done in WordPress, a free and open source content management system for blogs.  Familiarity with WordPress is a plus; otherwise a willingness to learn it – with AMS documentation and support – is a must.  AMS blogs are hosted on blogs.ams.org, and AMS staff liaisons help promote awareness of the blog and the blog posts on ams.org, AMS social media and other means. The co-editors are expected to commit for a three year period, with an opportunity for both the co-editor and AMS to review the commitment each year.

Applicants for the co-editor position are requested to provide a sample of their writing (from a blog or for a similar audience), CV, and their reason for interest in being co-editor, along with a vision statement for the blog (such as examples of topics for blog posts).

The AMS requests applications by December 15 to pps-staff@ams.org.

 

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stories

I admit this is a stretch as an illustration, but one of my amazing Calculus 2 students made a sort of story out of our study of lines and planes in space… Way to go Delaney!

Math needs more stories. All kinds of stories: about where ideas come from and what they mean; about the people who do math–how, why, and where they came from; about the beautiful and messed up parts of the community, and how these are and are not changing. Stories are the connective tissue of a body of ideas, essential to making these many theorems into a community. The kinds of stories we hear and the people who tell them influence how we imagine and understand this community, and ourselves in relation to it.  That’s why math needs more stories–because so many of the stories we hear come from voices and are about people similar to those that have been dominant in math for hundreds of years. If we want a broader, fairer, more inclusive mathematics, we need to make a point to hear everyone’s stories.

In some ways, stories are the whole point of this blog–we share our stories as early career mathematicians to connect with others who are, will be, or were early career mathematicians themselves.  However, I confess that I’m more interested in other people’s stories than my own.  In one part of my dream life I would be a sort of mathy Studs Terkel, interviewing people about their lives and their reflections on mathematics.  I probably need to get tenure before I can start spending too much time on that. Luckily, there are other people out there doing a great job of gathering stories.  You may have gotten the same email I did from the AMS yesterday about two new books of stories about mathematicians: Limitless Minds: Interviews with Mathematicians, by Anthony Bonato, and Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World, by Mariana Cook.  These look great, and I just impulse bought them (when I’m going to have time to read them, who knows).  Probably the right choice would have been to ask my library to buy them so that everyone at my institution could read them… okay, now that I think about it, I will probably do that after I get done writing this blog.

There’s actually a different upcoming event that prompted me to write this blog, though: the AMS and Story Collider are collaborating on a storytelling event about the experiences of early career mathematicians at the this year’s Joint Mathematics Meetings! To quote from a call for submissions:

On January 17, 2019 at 8pm The Story Collider, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing stories about how science shapes our lives, will host a special edition of their live show at the Joint Mathematics Meetings, in partnership with the American Mathematical Society. The theme of the show is influences on early career mathematicians.

The show will be recorded and stories may be considered for airing on The Story Collider podcast. If you are curious or would like some inspiration, read more at https://www.storycollider.org/submissions or browse The Story Collider podcast archive at http://soundcloud.com/the-story-collider.

Aaaaa! I’m so excited about this.  I considered submitting a story idea, but, as usual, I couldn’t think of anything about my own story that would be super interesting.  Looking back, though, I realize that’s what everybody thinks.  Imagining those words from someone else, I would tell them that they were wrong–each of our stories is probably way more interesting than we think it is.  In any case, I am looking forward to the event, and I hope that this happens again.  If so, I will suck it up and try to contribute.

Perhaps even more exciting than this one event is a new AMS fund for early career mathematicians. As Nancy Hoffman of the AMS explains, “The impetus for this event comes from the building of a new endowed fund at the AMS – The Next Generation Fund. This fund is dedicated to supporting early career mathematicians now and for years to come. To help build awareness of this new resource and our fundraising efforts, we want to shine a light on stories about how each generation of mathematicians affects the next.”

I love this idea.  I don’t know yet what projects this fund will support, but this got me thinking–what do early career mathematicians need the most?  What did help, or would have helped, me more than anything in my first years out of the PhD?  I think my number one answer is community. Leaving behind my graduate school friends and connections, and everyone else that I cared about in that place, I felt extremely alone.  It was an adventure, and I met lots of great people and formed connections around the world, but it was (and continues to be, sometimes) pretty lonely.  And looking for jobs (over and over again) can be a really devastating experience–it’s all the fun of repeated rejection, with the spice an intense sense that you are not good enough and never will be, and a dash of having no idea where you’ll live or how you’ll make a living in a few months. How can a fund help people with these feelings of rootlessness, disconnection, and anxiety?  Maybe helping people find a network in their new communities, or using the funds to foster local or ongoing collaborations?  Maybe a giant party where everyone on the job market can get together and nobody is allowed to talk about job applications or interviews?  I don’t know.  But I am looking forward to finding out, and it reminds me to send out encouraging thoughts to all of you who are applying for jobs at this time of year.  You’re killing it!  Keep it up!  You have all of my hope and cheers.

What would you do with a fund to support early career mathematicians?  Let me know in the comments.  And happy Thanksgiving!

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SK Day 2018

Another fall break, another Sonya Kovalevsky Day at Hood. I’ve written about this before, but it’s a big deal for us and we’re proud to have pulled off another successful event. This year we brought another few dozen local high school girls to campus to learn about math and careers in math and related fields.

SK Day Participants. Photo courtesy of Tommy Riggs

The girls spend the morning attending two of four workshops. This year Carol Jim in our Computer Science department ran a workshop on Python Turtle, an introductory programming environment based on Logo. Which, if you happen to be about my age, is about as pleasant a descent into nostalgia as you can get. Our department chair Ann Stewart got the students playing with ratios and irrational numbers on monochords, former Hood professor and current NSA mathematician Gwyn Whieldon taught students about South American mathematical history, and Hood chemistry professor Dana Lawrence talked about math in the sciences, and what’s in a mole.

In the afternoon our students ate lunch with the girls and answered their questions on math and what college is like, one of our seniors gave a presentation on the life of Sonya Kovalevksy, and we concluded with a panel discussion from local women in math-affiliated careers.

We had generous sponsorship from PNC Bank and US Silica, with additional financial and other assistance from Frederick County Public Schools.

Van Nguyen, Me (plus epsilon), and Jill Tysse. Photo courtesy of Tommy Riggs.

I didn’t have a ton to contribute this year, to be honest – at 8 months pregnant I didn’t want to take on too much responsibility in case things got going early. But the other organizers, Jill Tysse and Van Nguyen, made all the planning look easy. And I picked up the donuts and coffee.

We had one new addition this semester: an essay contest for a generous Hood scholarship from our admissions department. They’d been looking for ways to get departments more involved with admissions, and were dangling scholarships for any departments who could figure out how to use them. We didn’t want to make the day itself into a competition, since that seemed counter to the spirit of SK Day, but we thought an essay contest would work nicely. We look forward to selecting winners in a month or two.

Jill wrote a great article for our local MAA section newsletter on how to run your own SK Day – pages 8-10. She covers everything from big-picture planning, to funding, to logistics. It’s a lot of work, but a valued tradition for us. It’s great exposure for Hood and the math department, helps to broaden the mathematical horizons of local girls at a time when many start to drift away from math, it boosts our students resumes and our dossiers, and it’s pretty fun too!

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