SIAM News Blog

What Does SIAM Offer its Industrial Members?

By Thomas Grandine

Most SIAM members are aware of the published benefits of individual membership in SIAM: subscriptions to SIAM News and SIAM Review, discounts on books, journals, and conferences, and opportunities for networking and enhanced visibility in the applied mathematics and computational sciences community. Through these publications and activities, SIAM membership provides access to cutting-edge research. Membership also confers eligibility to vote in SIAM elections.

In thinking about my more than 30 years of SIAM membership, I realize that I’ve taken advantage of several additional benefits not usually included in the standard list. Perhaps the most important is the role that SIAM can play as a conduit for mathematical technology. SIAM fosters personal connections between its members that enable them to form important symbiotic relationships. In the most successful cases, industrial members of SIAM are able not only to access important research, but also to form bi-directional pipelines through which that technology can be pumped directly into their companies—in the form of usable software, computational aids, and test suites. Through the same pipeline, the industrial partners can return new applications and problem formulations, along with data on algorithmic performance, computational bottlenecks, and domain of applicability, to their academic counterparts. This feedback influences research directions, ensuring that the pump is primed for subsequent infusions of new technology. In the best cases, the pipeline plays a prominent role in the preparation of academic grant proposals that grow from industrial partnerships.

These symbiotic relationships lead to another important advantage for SIAM members within their own companies. Because technical employees are often trained not as mathematicians, but as engineers and scientists in other disciplines, they tend to participate in activities of technical societies other than SIAM. For example, The Boeing Company sends hundreds of employees to the annual American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference, but typically only one or two to the SIAM Annual Meeting. This relative vacuum creates a golden opportunity for motivated employees who do attend SIAM meetings to differentiate and promote their skills within their own organizations, equipping themselves with unique abilities and professional connections that are useful to their companies. In other words, SIAM helps create an environment rich with opportunities for significant career development and success.

Employees who successfully differentiate their own mathematical skills within their companies can offer the companies, in turn, a means for differentiating their products and services within the marketplace—thereby leveraging the benefits at a still higher level. One example of this is the introduction of Gorilla Glass by Corning years earlier than would have been possible otherwise, mathematical modeling having permitted the elimination of much of the usual start-up experimentation. Gorilla Glass, moreover, is only one of the mathematically leveraged high-tech components of the modern marvel that is the cell phone.

SIAM membership offers its industrial members a sounding board for technical ideas. Over a period of decades, I have applied an industrialized version of a metric used by Nick Trefethen to assess the value of conferences; in the ideal case, he wrote in SIAM News (July/August 2011), the idea for a new paper would emerge from every conference he attended. For a very long time, I have used a similar metric, keeping track of good ideas from conferences that can be brought to bear on problems at Boeing. I do not recall attending a single SIAM conference that did not generate at least one such idea, and many have produced several. Because these ideas can have such a significant impact on Boeing’s products and services, a single idea usually justifies the time and expense of an entire week at a conference.

One important resource that industrial mathematicians do not have access to is graduate students. By building bridges between industrial mathematicians and graduate programs in important areas, SIAM facilitates access of this type. As a graduate student in 1985, I met Dave Ferguson, a Boeing employee, at a SIAM conference in Albany. Our casual conversation eventually turned into a job application and interview, and I joined Boeing less than a year later. That relationship, fostered by SIAM through informal conference activities, shaped my career in profound ways.

Beyond their value as potential new employees, graduate students are central to many SIAM-sponsored community service opportunities for industrial members—including career fairs, workshops, colloquia, and other outreach activities. Exposure to graduate students and their faculty in an enthusiastic setting provides validation for the choices many of us have made in our careers, re-energizing, reinvigorating, and, most of all reminding us that we have some of the coolest jobs in the world.

Finally, SIAM offers the potential for travel and adventure. Early in my career, it never occurred to me that my professional contacts would lead to opportunities to collaborate and share research results all over the world. I have learned many amazing things and met many fascinating people. I did not anticipate early on all that 30 years of SIAM membership might lead to, but it’s clear in hindsight that it’s one of the best long-term investments I’ve ever made.

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

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