SIAM News Blog

Industry Members Manufacture Ideas for SIAM

By Thomas A. Grandine

During the fall of 2013, SIAM canvassed its industrial members to get a better sense of the demographics and mood of this important segment of our membership. Of the 665 surveys sent out, 130 (19.5%) were returned, very close to the 20% target that is typical for surveys of this type. The results of that survey are available to read and digest: SIAM_industry_member_-survey. While the results of the survey were in many respects unsurprising, a few unexpected results did present themselves. Among the findings that startled me:

  • Fully one third of all employers reimburse their employees for their SIAM membership.  I had expected a much lower number and am very pleased to be wrong.
  • Of survey respondents, fewer than 5% are women. This is considerably lower than for SIAM as a whole.
  • Fewer than 10% of the respondents have published an article in a SIAM Journal in the past six years.  I’m surprised that the number is so small.  That said, I’m also part of the guilty majority.
  • More than half our industrial members have not attended a SIAM conference in the past six years.
  • Almost 80% of our industrial members have had no role in a SIAM conference presentation in those six years.

Along with the statistical information collected, the survey exercise also generated some 62 suggestions for services SIAM should provide its industrial members or ways that things could be done better.  Some of these represented interesting, new ideas that SIAM has not previously considered as far as I know:

  • “Establish a dialog between SIAM and industrial chief technology officers.”
  • “Establish official industry liaison.” Bill Kolata is SIAM’s liaison to the Industry Committee and officers, but not to the industries themselves.
  • “Offer webinars.” SIAM Presents offers conference presentations, but nothing like tutorials, seminars, or live, online instruction.

Another recurring theme was to provide many more activities at the local level:

  • “Support local chapters focused on industry.”
  • “Local SIAM presence relevant to industry.”
  • “Provide tutorials at the local level.”

I think the requests for local activities are hinting at a larger problem.  The single biggest obstacle to increasing the dialogue between academia and industry is not unwillingness to participate on the part of academia, but unwillingness to participate on the part of industry.  Requests for local activities are one way of requesting that industry participation be made easier to accomplish, suggesting that the problem isn’t so much “unwillingness” as “inability.”  Having local activities eliminates the need to run travel requests through corporate bureaucracies with an uncertain outcome.

I was astounded by the large number of suggestions for new services that SIAM already provides (or recently provided which were dropped due to lack of interest):

  • “A book program that is written for applied mathematicians working in industry.” (SIAM Mathematics in Industry series)
  • “A book series on industrial mathematics” (see above).
  • “Educate faculty about what industry needs.” (Mathematics in Industry reports, 1992, 2012. The 1996 report was followed up by six regional workshops; the 2013 report is being followed up by a workshop in April at the IMA in Minneapolis).
  • “Distribute information about non-academic career paths.” (SIAM Careers brochure; see also here).
  • “Provide web access to public datasets useful for research.” (SIAM already offers this service)
  • “Lead initiatives that connect industry to academic partners for collaboration.” (SIAM offers this member benefit; see here).
  • “Provide a reference library of all SIAM Journal articles.” (LOCUS, library subscriptions, corporate memberships)
  • “More activity in Algebraic Geometry.” (SIAG in Algebraic Geometry was recently formed).
  • “Provide a forum for industrial mathematicians.” (The SIAM Conference series on Mathematics for Industry was recently discontinued due to lack of interest).
  • “Provide a program of visiting lecturers” (The SIAM Visiting Lecturer Program).

This list makes clear that more attention needs to be focused on communicating with members about the many services that SIAM already provides.  Moreover, there are many more activities that are in the planning stages, all designed to enhance the value to industrial members of their SIAM memberships and responsive to many of the suggestions:

  • “Lead initiatives that connect industry to academic partners for collaboration.”
  • “Expand industry focused events at the SIAM CSE Conference.”
  • “More industry tracks at conferences.”
  • “Minisymposia focused on industrial research.”
  • “Arrange student visits to industrial research labs.”
  • “Outreach to universities to highlight, inform, and promote industrial mathematics.”
  • “Maintain, update, and upgrade NETLIB.”

Please share your thoughts and suggestions on this article, the industry survey, industrial mathematics, or anything else SIAM related in the comment box at the bottom of the page.

Tom Grandine serves as SIAM’s Vice President for Industry, and is a Senior Technical Fellow of The Boeing Company.

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