Needed: Help for a Worthy SIAM Program

May 25, 2004

By James Crowley

Since its inception more than ten years ago, the SIAM Student Travel Fund has helped 350 students attend SIAM conferences. The good news is that students are as interested as ever in attending SIAM conferences; the bad news is that the fund is not currently large enough to meet the demand.

Students are an important part of SIAM conferences. Readers may be surprised to learn that since 1996, students have accounted for about 20% of SIAM conference attendees.

A bit of background for readers new to SIAM: Jack Dongarra et al., co-authors of the SIAM book Solving Linear Systems on Vector and Shared Memory Computers, got the fund going in 1991, when they decided to donate their royalties to a fund that would help students attend SIAM meetings. A small group of students received the first awards in 1992. Since then, the authors of 26 SIAM books have followed the lead of Dongarra and colleagues, signing over part or all of their royalties to the fund.

Authors' royalties continue to make up a significant part of the fund. For the record, we believe that authors expend significant effort in producing their books and are entitled to their royalties. That the STF has been so successful is a reflection of considerable generosity on the part of many authors.
Beginning in 1999, SIAM has also encouraged individual members to contribute to the STF, inviting people to make donations on the membership renewal form. Here again, SIAM members have shown their generosity. Since 1999, though, these donations have slowed, for reasons that are not completely understood. As a consequence, the fund is stretched rather thin; in 2005, we may be forced to reduce the number of awards we make.

Encouraging students to participate in SIAM activities is one of the most important ways we can promote the disciplines we represent. Among other measures, we dramatically reduce conference registration fees for students; even so, travel expenses can be prohibitive unless the students can find other sources of travel sup-port-departmental funds at their institutions or grants to their departments or advisers. Awards from the Student Travel Fund are small-at $500, they can only help defray expenses-but ingenious students can sometimes leverage additional funds and cover the full costs.

Looking back to the early years of the SIAM Student Travel Fund, we find that most award recipients who can be identified have gone on to successful careers in applied and computational mathematics or in related fields. Many are members of applied mathematics, mathematics, or computer science faculties---they can be found, for example, in the applied mathematics departments at the University of Washington and the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Ron Buckmire, who received an STF award in 1994, is now a recently tenured associate professor of mathematics at Occidental College. "I graduated from RPI in August of 1994," he says; "the SIAM grant allowed me to go to a SIAM conference and discuss my thesis results with the research community."

Some of the award recipients have pursued careers in industry. One member of the initial class of 16 recipients (1993) is the founder of a startup that makes commercial software for data mining and visualization. Another started out at Boeing and later moved to a small startup. Yet another is at Lucent's Bell Labs. The initial class was also an international one: One former student lives and works in Medellin, Colombia, and another in Aachen, Germany.

Most STF alumni, in short, continue to contribute to our discipline, and many remain SIAM members. We like to think that the awards these students received from the Student Travel Fund, and their experiences at the conferences, were an important part of their journey into the discipline.

Certainly, attending conferences is an effective and rewarding way for students---and everyone else---to become active members of the community, advancing their knowledge of the field and networking with peers. "Conferences are still a big part of my career," says Fred Holt, who was among the initial award recipients. Conferences provide a compact survey of current work, he says. "Often, my nose gets so close to my problem-of-the-moment that I forget how much interesting work is being done."

Holt, now at Panthesis, Inc., a spinoff from the Boeing Phantom Works, also points to the value of networking with the community. "I suspect that few young mathematicians really appreciate the value of professional relationships, in looking through their current work to the next opportunity."

Finally, he confirms that the STF can make a crucial difference for a student: "The Student Travel Fund enabled me to attend a conference I otherwise would have had to skip."

Student Travel Fund Contributors

On behalf of the 350 student beneficiaries, we thank all who have contributed to the SIAM Student Travel Fund, including the following SIAM book authors:
Natalia Alexandrov, E. Anderson, Greg Astfalk, Zhaojun Bai, David Bailey, Ven-kataramanan Balakrishnan, Richard Barrett, Michael Berry, Christian Bischof, Petter Bjørstaad, L.S. Blackford, S. Blackford, Stephen Boyd, Tony Chan, J. Choi, A. Cleary, E. D'Azevedo, James Demmel, John Dennis, Inderjit Dhillon, June Donato, Jack Dongarra, Jeremy Du Croz, Iain Duff, Laurent El Ghaoui, Victor Eijkhout, Eric Feron, John Gilbert, Anne Greenbaum, Sven Hammarling, G. Henry, M.Y. Hussaini, Ken Kennedy, David Keyes, Chuck Koelbel, John Lagnese, (the estate of) Cornelius Lanczos, Richard Lehoucq, Michael Leuze, John Lewis, Michael Mascagni, A. McKenney, Paul Messina, Beresford Parlett, A. Petitet, Linda Petzold, Roldan Pozo, Daniel Reed, Charles Romine, Axel Ruhe, Youcef Saad, Robert Schnabel, Robert Schreiber, Horst Simon, Richard Sincovec, Danny C. Sorensen, G.W. Stewart, K. Stanley, Virginia Torczon, Bernard Tourancheau, Donald Truhlar, Henk van der Vorst, Robert Voigt, D. Walker, Layne Watson, R.C. Whaley, and C.Yang.

Readers, book authors or not, are encouraged to make much-needed contributions to the fund (STF, c/o Lauren Steidel, SIAM, 3600 University City Science Center, Philadelphia, PA 19104-2688; steidel@siam.org). As always, students can obtain information about the STF from Joanna Littleton (littleton@siam.org).


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