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A Note from the Director, Division of Mathematical Sciences at NSF

1 March 2011 1,198 views No Comment
Sastry G. Pantula

    It is an exciting time to be at DMS [Division of Mathematical Sciences] at NSF [National Science Foundation]. It is a great place to work, and a place where research and diversity THRIVE! Here, I would like to focus on three items: my goals, new opportunities, and the budget at DMS.

    My Goals

    My first goal is to see that mathematical, statistical, and computational sciences THRIVE, not just simply survive, at DMS. Second, I would like to diversify our work force and broaden the participation at all levels of training. Finally, I would like DMS to be the best place to work for a diverse group of energetic researchers and program assistants.

    THRIVE, here, is an acronym. I hope that: THematic (core) and multidisciplinary Research is well funded and that our research has a high Impact, is very innovative in solving major societal issues, and is highly Visible. Finally, we want to Educate future researchers, problemsolvers, and critical thinkers. Our communities can help in making our excellent contributions visible to the public and show how we are the backbone for innovation. Articles written to news media and magazines in other sciences, Math Awareness Month, Mathematical Moments, and Statistical Significance are some examples of activities that help with the visibility of our professions. Also, we eagerly await the reports from a NAS [National Academy of Sciences] study called Math Sciences 2025. Click here to provide feedback on this project.

    I hope to work with our communities to diversify our work force (students, postdocs, faculty, and leadership) and support broadening participation at all levels. Hopefully, with your help, DMS panels and program officers represent diversity, as well. Finally, I hope to be remembered as someone who was fair to all our programs and valued the contributions of each person in all divisions at NSF. I plan to build on the harmony that exists and make DMS an attractive place for a diverse group of folks who love to come to DMS to serve our professions. DMS has several positions open in various programs now.

    New Opportunities

    A recent MPS [Mathematical and Physical Sciences] Advisory Committee (MPSAC) working group made a strong case for support for basic research and provided several examples of how basic research from the past helped develop many useful inventions (like laser, GPS, cell phone, PET scans, …). The working group report states, “Support for basic research is an essential part of the NSF mission.” Also, “A successful innovation strategy requires significant investments across NSF core programs.” DMS intends to continue its significant support for basic research in core areas of mathematics and statistics. In addition to the basic research, data-enabled science (DES), computing science, grand challenges in cyberinfrastructure, and multidisciplinary research play a very important part of DMS activities. Prior to my arrival at NSF, our previous NSF director signed a memo from which I quote: “NSF should create a program in Computational and Data-Enabled Science and Engineering (CDS&E) …” and “CDS&E is now clearly recognizable as a distinct intellectual and technological discipline lying at the intersection of applied mathematics, statistics, computer science, core science, and engineering disciplines. It is dedicated to the development and use of computational methods and data mining and management systems to enable scientific discovery and engineering innovation.” Massive and complex data are here to stay and [to] provide [a] diverse set of opportunities for both theoretical and applied areas of computational, mathematical, and statistical sciences.

    In March 2010, an MPSAC working group on DES wrote in its report that, “Mathematics and statistics lie at the intersection of all quantitative fields engaged in DES, through the power of their abstractions, and they swiftly convey breakthroughs in one field into related ones.” The working group recommended obtaining significant funds to support DES research through CAREER awards, work force development in understanding and inference with massive and complex data, and provide REU supplements for DES training. See the MPS website and “A Report of the NSF Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure Task Force on Grand Challenges” to learn more about CDS&E. This task force report recommends support for research programs in “advances in discretization methods, solvers, optimization, statistical methods for large data sets, and validation and uncertainty quantification” and training of “the next generation of data-scientists who can work in a multidisciplinary team of researchers in high-performance computing, mathematics, statistics, domain-specific sciences, etc.”

    In addition to the above, multidisciplinary activities related to research at the intersection of biological and mathematical and physical sciences (BIO-MaPS), math-bio initiatives with NIGMS, threat reduction with DTRA, math and geosciences (CMG), energy and sustainability (SEES), data and visualization (FODAVA), and Cyberinfrastructure for 21st Century (CIF21), among many others, provide opportunities for our communities. In order to surf the data tsunami and work in multidisciplinary teams, we need to train our students in core, computational, and communication skills.

    Budget at DMS

    Typically, DMS invests 70% of its budget to support disciplinary research, predominantly through individual grants. Of this, about 10% is invested in multidisciplinary activities. About 15% is invested in work force–related activities, 10% in math sciences institutes, and 5% on other activities. We are looking forward to the outcomes of the solicitations on research networks and for institutes. In spite of receiving a large number of high-quality proposals, success rate for research funding is below 30%. Thus, we are unable to fund many excellent proposals. On the other hand, we can’t fund proposals that are never submitted! It is encouraging to see our communities’ hard work, in getting more of our students to apply to NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, is yielding positive results. We also encourage applications from a diverse group of students from every institution, not just from a select few, to apply for math sciences post-doctoral research fellowships.

    We are under continuing resolution for FY11 budget until March 4, 2011, and we remain optimistic about both FY11 and FY12 budgets. Investment in research is a key to innovation and for economic competitiveness. It has no political boundaries. Statistical, mathematical, and computational sciences have an impact on all other sciences, and other sciences in turn have an impact on our basic research.

    Thank you in advance for your support to achieve our common goals. As you advance the frontiers of our disciplines, please also take advantage of opportunities to solve our future societal challenges in health, climate, energy, sustainability and security, among many others. Keep up the great work!

    This article was originally written for Notices, the membership journal of the American Mathematical Society, and will appear there in the April 2011 issue.

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