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Evolving and Innovating

By Nick Higham

I start my term as SIAM President 33 years after I first joined SIAM as a student member. That year, 1984, I attended the SIAM Summer Meeting—the equivalent at the time of the SIAM Annual Meeting—in Seattle, WA. It had 692 attendees and included 10 invited presentations and 20 minisymposia, delivered with a parallelism of four.

By comparison, the 2016 SIAM Annual Meeting in Boston, MA, had two and a half times as many attendees, 60% more invited speakers, and nearly eight times as many minisymposia, with a parallelism of up to 17 – and that’s excluding the many activities at the SIAM Conference on the Life Sciences, with which the meeting was jointly held. SIAM conferences have come a long way in 33 years.

The strapline for the 1984 meeting read “A week-long SIAM meeting featuring topics in applied mathematics of broad interest, plus a trip to the Northwest with opportunities for boating, hiking, camping, bicycling, fishing, tennis and good eating.” This tells us two things: SIAM did not always use the Oxford comma, and in those days attendees had time to think about leisure pursuits. (In case you’re wondering how I can remember these details, the booklet for the meeting is available under “Archives and Future Meetings” on the Conferences page of the SIAM website, and I recommend browsing the archives as a way to relive memories of past conferences).

This is an exciting time for SIAM, with changes happening that affect all aspects of SIAM’s operations, and I look forward to helping address the opportunities that lie ahead in the next two years. Here, I will outline some of the things that are on my mind, and I welcome feedback from readers.

Conference attendees enjoying lunch during the 1997 SIAM Annual Meeting at Stanford University. SIAM photo.
For many years, SIAM leadership has been aware that publishing models are changing, and that SIAM’s journal programme must be prepared to adapt in response to these changes. SIAM has continued to introduce new journals, most recently the SIAM Journal on Applied Algebra and Geometry (electronic only, like all new SIAM journals), and has catered to open-access publication by allowing authors to pay an article processing charge (currently $2,500) to make a paper freely downloadable. Nevertheless, because journal subscriptions have remained steady, SIAM has not yet made any major changes to its publishing model. My knowledge of new journals from other publishers, such as Forum of Mathematics and PeerJ Computer Science, on whose editorial boards I sit, has taught me that almost every aspect of SIAM journals could be handled differently. I am keen for us to experiment with some changes. A failed experiment could be richly compensated by a successful one that moves us ahead of the competition or introduces a new development that would be inevitable in a few years’ time. We also need to keep abreast of the latest technologies, such as Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID), which is scheduled for implementation in the SIAM journal submission process by early 2017, and the evolving scholarly publishing tools provided by the CrossRef organization.

Returning to the topic of conferences, less than 25% of SIAM members attend a SIAM conference in any given year. For members who live outside North America, attending a conference may be inconvenient or prohibitively expensive. I am interested in whether we can do more to allow those unable to attend a particular SIAM conference to benefit from it. We currently make slides and audio of selected lectures available on SIAM Presents, and publish articles on notable talks in SIAM News. Each meeting also has its own hashtag to encourage tweeting. Is there more we should be doing?

SIAM has a well-developed “people pipeline,” which allows volunteers to work their way up from, say, being a student chapter officer to an activity group (SIAG) officer or a member of one of SIAM’s many committees, perhaps going on to become an elected council or board member or to hold one of the major offices. This process works only if SIAM identifies and encourages suitable people, particularly in a way that reflects membership diversity. This is not an easy task, and the Committee on Committees and Appointments (which does not appoint to itself!) works very hard each year to produce a suitable set of appointments, taking into account names suggested via recommendations on the Officers, Board, and Council page of the SIAM website. Not only do we need to appoint well, we also need to ensure that the leadership roles to which we appoint have an appropriate focus and workload. I hope we can keep the people pipeline well stocked during my presidency.

Important challenges for the funding of applied mathematics arise from the recent election of Donald Trump in the U.S. and the June 2016 referendum in which the U.K. voted for Brexit. Both events bring about uncertainties regarding the funding of research in their respective countries. SIAM’s Committee on Science Policy will have much to keep it busy.

When my term as Vice President at Large ended in 2013, efforts were already underway to prepare for the development of a new SIAM website. Such is the magnitude of the task that the new site is still under development, but it is anticipated that it will be completed in the next few months. SIAM is already making good use of social media, particularly through its Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts. The new SIAM News website, launched last year, provides a single source for blog posts, SIAM News articles, news stories, videos, etc. about applied math and computational science. Suggestions for articles and blog posts for SIAM News are always welcome, and should be sent to managing editor Karthika Swamy Cohen (karthika@siam.org). The new www.siam.org website will complete SIAM’s efforts to have a fully up-to-date web presence, and will be much more useful to members, volunteers, and SIAM staff. Stay tuned for more about it.

 Nicholas Higham is the Richardson Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Manchester. He is the current president of SIAM.
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