2012 Trends in Undergraduate Research in Mathematical Sciences Conference
This announcement is published in MAA's Resources for Undergraduate Research column.
The Trends in Undergraduate Research in Mathematical Sciences (TURMS) conference will be held October 26-28, 2012, at the Westin O’Hare Hotel in Chicago.
The conference will be organized by the Mathematical Association of America and is supported by grants from the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation. Organizers include Joseph Gallian (University of Minnesota Duluth), Aparna Higgins (University of Dayton), Darren Narayan (Rochester Institute of Technology), Michael Pearson (Mathematical Association of America), and Ivelisse Rubio (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Humacao).
Faculty and graduate students will be invited to address several issues pertinent to undergraduate research in the mathematical sciences. The conference will explore the following topics: (1) student demand for undergraduate research that is not being met; (2) strategies for creating undergraduate research opportunities for all mathematics majors; (3) opportunities for undergraduate research during the academic year; (4) competition between disciplines for funding to support undergraduate research in mathematics; and (5) the role of undergraduate research in tenure and promotion decisions at different institutions—an issue that is essential to getting junior faculty involved.
Junior faculty and graduate students at the conference will benefit from networking with more experienced faculty. The conference will hold a session for junior faculty that provides advice when applying for external grants to support undergraduate research. The conference program will include a panel session for graduate students on how they can best serve as mentors to undergraduate researchers. Some REU programs have graduate student mentors, and we will present best practices from these programs.
A conference webpage will be developed where conference details and announcements can be found. After the conference, summaries of outcomes of panel and breakout sessions will be posted. In addition the website will include an electronic copy of the conference proceedings, which will be published as a special issue of the journal Involve, and will be available to everyone free of charge.
BackgroundToday the number of doctoral degrees granted to U.S. citizens remains strikingly low, and there is a shortage of graduates entering Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
Undergraduate research programs serve not only as an outlet for creative thinking, but also as an introduction to the profession. We have found that these experiences are valued by graduate schools, businesses, and beyond. Students involved in these programs work on research problems, present to a professional audience, and develop professional-level writing skills, all under the guidance of qualified mentors.
All of these skills are necessary to succeed in academia, business, industry, or government, and such experiences are valued by graduate courses, businesses, and beyond. As a result undergraduate research programs in mathematics will help address the national concerns mentioned above.
Despite numerous successful programs for undergraduate research, there is an unmet demand for more opportunities. However there has not been an assessment of the demand for undergraduate research that is going unmet. TURMS will bring together faculty from undergraduate research programs across the nation to assess the current demand and develop strategies for increasing the number of opportunities for students to participate in mathematical research.
Although this conference will build upon two successful conferences—the 1999 Conference on Summer Undergraduate Research Programs in Mathematics, and the 2006 Conference on Promoting Undergraduate Research in Mathematics—it will have significantly different goals.
This conference will attempt to gauge the demand from students for undergraduate research and discuss paths for creating more opportunities. In addition to giving a broad view of the many federally funded programs supporting undergraduate research in mathematics, we will highlight many innovative programs run by colleges and universities as models for future growth. We will also feature programs that engage women and minority students in undergraduate research. The conference will also aim to broaden participation among faculty by inviting both recent Ph.Ds and graduate students help add to the pipeline of future mentors.
For many years the main paths to undergraduate research in mathematics were through the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Programs. In recent years many programs have emerged which have significantly increased the number of undergraduates engaged in mathematical research.
In addition to approximately 75 federally funded NSF-REU sites and the NSA Director’s Summer Program, there are many other programs that have increased the number of opportunities for undergraduates. These include programs supported by the National Science Foundation in which undergraduate research plays an important role: the NSF-Long Term Undergraduate Research Experiences Program (LURE); Research Experience for Undergraduates Supplement Program; the Science and Talent Expansion Program (STEP); Mentoring at Critical Transition Points program (MCTP); Undergraduate Biology and Mathematics program (UBM); the Expanding the Mathematical Sciences Workforce in the 21st Century (EMSW21) (which funded the Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics (CURM) at BYU); and the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program.
There are other programs that provide additional opportunities for undergraduates including the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM), the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute UP program (MRSI-UP), the MAA National Research Experience for Undergraduates Program, and the Ronald E. McNair Scholar’s Program, (the last two of which focus on students from underrepresented groups).
The Conference on TURMS will aim to bring together faculty from all of the above programs to discuss best practices and broaden the umbrella for undergraduate research in mathematics.
This conference will include faculty from many of the programs mentioned above as well as new faculty seeking to get involved with undergraduate research. The conference goals will be to explore the following critical issues: (i) Assessing the student demand for undergraduate research that is not being met; (ii) Determining strategies for creating undergraduate research opportunities for all mathematics majors; (iii) Increasing opportunities for undergraduate research during the academic year; (iv) Competing against other disciplines for funding to support undergraduate research in mathematics; and (v) Clarifying and emphasizing the role of undergraduate research in tenure and promotion decisions at different institutions – an issue that is essential to getting junior faculty involved.
Conference Ideas and GoalsOver the past 26 years, the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates Program has provided opportunities for tens of thousands of undergraduates. Despite being the increase in opportunities, entry into these programs remains very competitive. NSF-REU directors have the daunting task of selecting a small percentage of applicants to participate in a program that could be one of the most influential factors in determining whether or not undergraduates pursue a graduate degree in mathematics. Year after year, many qualified students are turned away. Multiply this scenario across 75 such NSF-REU programs across the nation and we have a large pool of students eager to engage in undergraduate research but are unable to do so.
To date, there have been no attempts to quantify the student demand that is not being met. This will be a central goal of the conference. Faculty will discuss ideas for addressing this challenge, such as seeking agreement among NSF-REU in mathematics sites to share application data. Another strategy is to contact mathematics department heads to see how many of their students applied, but were not accepted into REU programs. Since this model could be replicated in other areas beyond mathematics, it could be valuable in assessing the overall demand for undergraduate research. Showing that the demand for externally funded programs is exceeding the supply will help justify a need for more federal programs to support additional opportunities. In addition this gap provides motivation for support from colleges and universities to create their own REU programs. The combination of external and internally funded programs will move us closer to providing an undergraduate research opportunity for all mathematics majors.
The conference will include a keynote address from Lloyd Douglas, who served as an NSF-REU Program Director for ten years. The address will include a history of the program as well as how the program and supported sites have evolved. In addition to the vast increase in programs new
themes have emerged. These include: Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) programs which focus on engaging high school teachers in research experiences; Pre-REU programs which are aimed at younger students; NSF-REU programs that focus on students majoring in mathematics education; and NSF-REU Programs that are multi-disciplinary in nature.
We will follow the practice of the two previous conferences of publishing a volume of conference proceedings ( and ). We have arranged with Mathematical Science Publishers, and editor-in-chief, Kenneth Berenhaut of Wake Forest University to create a special issue of the mathematical journal, Involve, with the conference proceedings. A printed version will be available to subscribers, and an electronic version will be available to everyone at no cost.
Models for Locally Run Programs
Budgets are tight at institutions all over the nation. If internally undergraduate research programs are to be successful they have to be efficiently run at little or no cost.
An internally program at the Rochester Institute of Technology that started with two students has now expanded to a summer program that internally funds over 100 undergraduate researchers, with support from the institute’s Honors Program, and generous donations from RIT alumni. We have found that alumni from industry have an especially high regard for students that are involved in undergraduate research. As a result, many alumni have stepped up to “sponsor a student”, and over the past nine years, they have supported over 50 presentations by undergraduates at national mathematics conferences. In addition administrators have integrated mentoring of undergraduate research as part of a faculty member’s teaching and service loads. The inclusion of undergraduate research as part of faculty member’s tenure and promotion files at RIT has provided a large incentive for faculty to get involved. The conference will include strategies for other institutions to adopt similar practices.
Two programs that have emerged over the past decade were the Center for Undergraduate Research Mathematics (CURM) at BYU and the MAA National Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program, both of which provided mini-grants to faculty to start a small undergraduate research program in mathematics. These economically efficient programs are terrific models for internally funded programs. One of the goals of the conference will be to explain these models in detail, hear from faculty that have run these programs, and discuss how these ideas can be adopted locally.