Understanding the SIAM Membership---Current and Future

November 13, 2001

Talk of the Society
Thomas Manteuffel and James Crowley

In our quest for a better understanding of the SIAM membership and its needs, we are in the process of conducting a survey of the membership. We undertook the survey with two primary goals: (1) to better understand who we are; and (2) to learn how well SIAM's products and services are meeting the needs of the membership.

We last conducted such a survey in 1994. Since then, the demographics of the membership have shifted. We want to understand the trends that are shaping our membership; through the survey, we hope to refine our understanding of the changes that have occurred. What are the percentages of our members who work in industry and in academia? What is the percentage of women in our field? How important are the computational aspects of our discipline to SIAM members, as compared with seven years ago?

For any organization, it is important to know how members feel about the products and services offered. For SIAM, the list of activities includes journals, books, conferences, and this publication (SIAM News). It is our hope that members will take the time not only to fill out the survey, but also to provide substantive suggestions.

You have our assurance that all of your comments and suggestions will be submitted to the elected leadership for consideration. The last survey guided a number of changes and new thrusts, including a revamping of SIAM Review and an increased emphasis on computational science and engineering. We hope that the current survey will provide equally strong guidance from our membership.

One issue of interest to your elected leadership is a healthy pipeline of students entering the discipline and adequate numbers of young professionals pursuing applied mathematics and computational science as a career.

Recent statistics from mathematics and computer science departments in the U.S. are somewhat encouraging, yet concerns remain that the supply of highly qualified individuals entering the discipline is insufficient. It would be interesting to learn what is happening in other parts of the world; we encourage readers with information about similar trends in their regions to contact us.

According to the Annual Survey of the Mathematical Sciences (Notices of the American Mathematical Society, February 2002; http://www.ams.org/notices/200102/2000-survey-first-rpt.pdf), 1127 doctorates in the mathematical sciences were awarded in the U.S. in the academic year 1999-2000. This is roughly level with the number awarded the previous year. Slightly more than 50% of the new PhD recipients were U.S. citizens---a record high for the past ten years.

The survey revealed some interesting employment trends. Of the 957 new doctoral recipients known to have jobs, 31% had taken nonacademic positions (in industry or government labs especially).

Of particular interest to SIAM members are the graduates with degrees in applied mathematics and computational science (such as degrees in computer sciences related to scientific computing or in computational science). What makes this group difficult to track is that our discipline is fed by such a wide variety of academic departments-mechanical engineering (computational fluid dynamics) and physics (dynamical systems and computational physics) being a few examples. As a consequence, we do not currently have a comprehensive picture of the young professionals now entering the field that can be loosely described as applied mathematics and computational science.

The Annual Survey of the Mathematical Sciences provides information about graduates from departments in the mathematical sciences (mathematics, applied mathematics, statistics, operations research, and the like). According to the study, 105 of the new graduates had written their dissertations in applied mathematics, 27 in control and optimization, and 59 in numerical analysis or approximations. Even this, however, is a very rough cut. Clearly, aspects of analysis, discrete mathematics, and differential equations are central to applied mathematics as well.

By the same token, parts of computer science are very closely related to the interests of a large fraction of the SIAM membership. The Taulbee Survey, published annually by the Computing Research Association (of which SIAM is an affiliate member), provides statistics on new PhDs awarded in the U.S., by subarea. In recent years (1997-1999), the survey has indicated that computer science departments awarded between 27 and 40 new PhDs per year in the area of numerical analysis/scientific computing. This area clearly falls within the interests of SIAM. Other areas are related as well---theory/algorithms (56-89 PhDs) and programming languages/compilers (48-79 PhDs), for example.

Despite the difficulties of counting new graduates in the varied areas that make up our discipline, the general theme is clear. Our leadership is concerned that we produce sufficient numbers of high-quality graduates to maintain our field, a field that offers exciting research challenges and requires skills that continue to be in high demand.

One way the community can respond is to involve students in SIAM activities. Invite your students to join SIAM, to become an active part of the community, and to attend relevant conferences. Students can join SIAM at a very low rate-$25 for one year (which provides them with all the benefits of regular membership).

If your institution is an academic member of SIAM (look in any SIAM journal for a list), you can nominate six students for complimentary student memberships. These student memberships are part of the academic membership package.

By the time you receive this issue of SIAM News, your membership renewal notice should have arrived in the mail. They were mailed a bit later than usual this year because the SIAM office has been converting to a new software system. We hope this does not cause you any inconvenience, and that you will respond quickly to the notice. Your membership is important to us, and it signifies your commitment to applied mathematics and computing. And as always, we welcome your suggestions.


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