Meet the Candidates for SIAM President

October 1, 1999


Interested in promoting greater interaction and synergy at SIAM meetings, Joyce McLaughlin put her ideas into action this summer at ICIAM 99---with Hilary Ockendon of Oxford University, she organized two special minisymposia, one for women mathematicians and the other for women postdocs.

Based on recent telephone conversations with Thomas Manteuffel and Joyce McLaughlin, the two candidates for SIAM president (2001-02), SIAM News is taking the opportunity to give readers a slightly more in-depth view of their ideas and goals for SIAM than that provided in the ballot (mailed in October; due at SIAM by November 24). As usual, the nominating committee seems to have gone out of its way to give the membership a tough choice. Both candidates are from academia, McLaughlin from the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she is the Ford Foundation Professor, and Manteuffel from the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Colorado, Boulder (for 15 years he worked at national labs---Sandia and Los Alamos---and he currently visits Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on a monthly basis). Both have unequivocally demonstrated interest in and insight into SIAM's current operations, as well as its future directions. SIAM executive director James Crowley, whose phone has a well-worn direct-dial button for the SIAM president, asked a few questions, but for the most part the candidates simply expounded on their ideas.

Both candidates take as a given that SIAM will maintain the activities its members value the most, in particular journals and conferences. "We're all very mobile," McLaughlin said; "we share information about research results by talking to each other. SIAM conferences have provided an excellent vehicle for this exchange." She believes that SIAM conferences should be structured to include more "activities that encourage discussion and interaction, and develop synergy." As examples she offered panel discussions and minisymposia on emerging topics, and workshops that target industrial members or present industrial problems. Funding officials, with their exposure to a broad spectrum of areas and expertise in making connections, would play an important role in some of these activities, she said.

For Manteuffel, a hard look at SIAM annual meetings, with an attempt to make them more appealing to the membership, in part through experiments with new locations and formats, is one important issue. As to the more specialized conferences sponsored by the SIAM Activity Groups, one of the leadership's tasks is to ensure that SIAM doesn't splinter but rather continues to thrive "as a unified group."

Of the SIAM journals, Manteuffel pointed out that with electronic publishing, "there have been a lot of turns in the road." SIAM needs to be a leader in the mathematical publishing industry, he said, while staying alert to what others are doing in that area. SIAM has led on some important issues-for example, the early electronic posting of papers, McLaughlin said.

In both the journal and the conference programs, McLaughlin emphasized the need for a move further into computational science and engineering: "That community needs to be drawn more into SIAM; SIAM is the logical home for CS&E." In this respect, she continued, SIAM needs to draw people from the applied areas---like computational chemistry, biology, and materials---and to provide activities that will interest them, that will give them ways to interact with each other and with a broad spectrum of SIAM members.

Pointing to the many programs now being created in CS&E, Manteuffel believes that SIAM should stay aware of the programs and express opinions, without "getting out in front and putting out a blueprint." In particular, he said, "We should listen to the people who will be hiring our 'products'---Boeing, Kodak, the ASCI folks," for example.

Ensuring that the community is heard in a national forum is a priority for Thomas Manteuffel, who has visited Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) to make the case for mathematics as a component of important interdisciplinary initiatives in science and technology.

Industry is the driver behind a lot of the things we do, Manteuffel said. SIAM needs to find ways to increase industry participation---perhaps by inviting people from industry to meetings, by conducting outreach programs, or by holding special workshops for industry. For McLaughlin, the idea of industry-oriented short courses, both at SIAM meetings and at locations of particular industry concentration, e.g., Detroit, is appealing. She also envisions "going global with this short course program, perhaps in Europe in partnership with ECMI." She also supports fostering industry-academia connections; "many people feel cut off from the community when they take industry jobs."

Along with industry, both candidates assign high priority to activities for students and people at the beginning of their careers. Manteuffel advocates a continuation of "excellent" activities like the student conferences, the first of which was held at Clemson in 1996. Citing the success of SIAM's diversity workshops for graduate students and postdocs, McLaughlin believes that career development could be addressed through organized activities at meetings. The recent MIT study, she said, brings out a specific need: Once they have tenure, women are wondering what happened to the mentoring they got as students and as assistant professors. Many SIAM members might benefit from career-development activities at this level, she said.

Both candidates have been actively involved in "policy" issues, McLaughlin as chair of the board of trustees for three years (1996-98) and Manteuffel as chair of the Science Policy Committee and as a SIAM representative to the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics. Both attended the most recent JPBM meeting in Washington, in April 1999, chaired by current SIAM president Gilbert Strang. (The SIAM president chairs JPBM every third year; the position revolves among the three JPBM societies---the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America, and SIAM.) In the lively discussions, both Manteuffel and McLaughlin were noteworthy for their calm, focused, well-articulated contributions.

Helping the community to be heard in a national forum is one of SIAM's functions, Manteuffel said. We need to articulate what SIAM is and what our members' strengths are, he said; we also need to express their concerns.

"I don't believe the message of what SIAM does, of what the people in SIAM do, gets across," he said. "I don't think people understand how powerful mathematics is. We should give serious consideration to having our own lobbying effort." (AMS, while participating with MAA and SIAM in JPBM, simultaneously maintains its own Washington office, with activities consisting at least in part of lobbying.)

"Our view of funding structure differs from that of the AMS," Manteuffel continued. "SIAM is more group-, project-, and applications-oriented. The funding agencies should hear that message."

"Applied math and computing," McLaughlin said, "are the common core of all the sciences." We could play a leadership role, she continued, working cooperatively with the funding agencies, for example, "by finding people to write white papers, helping to promote initiatives."

In times of bad funding prospects, which seem to have set in at least for the coming year (see current SIAM president Gilbert Strang's column), McLaughlin believes that "we have a responsibility to reach a large group that is not particularly scientifically aware: Congress." SIAM needs to work on explaining how applied mathematics and computing research con-tribute to advances in technology and how these advances drive economic growth.

Both McLaughlin and Manteuffel returned often to the issue of "public awareness," with the "public" including Congress and agency officials but also a more general audience. McLaughlin, a strong supporter of SIAM's participation in the AAAS media fellow program (The 1999 fellow Ian Mitchell, of Stanford University, spent ten weeks this summer at The Chicago Tribune.), hopes that within a few years the program will have provided "a cadre of people with an interest and some experience in communicating about mathematical research to nonmathematicians." She is also open to the possibility of workshops at SIAM meetings, where, for instance, senior people could get advice on effective communication with their government representatives and junior people could acquire nontechnical writing skills.

Manteuffel, citing current reports of the huge portion of the U.S. GNP that is attributable to recently developed technology, had a succinct message: "We need to do some education if we're going to continue doing what we want to do, which of course is mathematics. How do we do our PR correctly?"


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