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A Closer Look at SIAM Activity Groups

By James Crowley, Pam Cook

In many ways, SIAM activity groups are the heart of SIAM. That statement is not intended to diminish the significant role of SIAM journals, but rather to indicate the importance of activity groups for individual members; they offer members an opportunity to network and share information on topics of mutual interest.

SIAM activity groups (SIAGs) are comprised of smaller subsets of SIAM members. Each group is focused on a technical subarea such as life sciences, algebraic geometry, discrete mathematics, or geometric design. SIAGs may run periodic conferences or workshops, recognize their members’ achievements with prizes, and provide media to facilitate the exchange of information. Media preferences vary among activity groups; some host a website or web-based platform while others prefer a simple e-mail correspondence among members. Each method offers some benefits to the SIAG’s members, and the types of benefits and activities depend largely on the members themselves and the officers they elect to represent them.

How does an activity group form?

Groups of members may petition the SIAM Council and Board to form an activity group. A standard protocol for such requests, which requires signatures from interested members, is detailed on the SIAM website. The Council and Board review such petitions and decide whether to approve the requested activity group.

On what is the decision based?

The Council and Board look to see whether there appears to be sustained interest in the proposed activities, then determine if there are a sufficient number of SIAM members who might support these activities. They also consider whether the proposed activities fit within the mission of SIAM – to promote mathematics and its application and to support applied mathematics and computational science.

How does a SIAG operate?

After the Council and Board allow the creation of a new SIAG, the group must propose a preliminary set of officers and create its rules for operation. Often proposers submit these items with the initial petition. Once the Council and Board approve the rules—formally called Rules of Procedure—and officers, the officers run the SIAG with support from the SIAM office.

A packed lecture hall at the 2015 SIAM Conference on Applied Algebraic Geometry (AG15), sponsored by the SIAG on Algebraic Geometry and held last August in Daejeon, South Korea
SIAGs hold contested elections for new officers every few years, a process intended to provide opportunities to appoint new members with fresh ideas.

Most SIAGs run a periodic conference or workshop. Typically the officers appoint co-chairs (one of whom may be Program Director of the SIAG) who then form an organizing committee. The organizing committee picks the themes and invited speakers, with assistance from the SIAM conference staff and approval from the VP for Programs.

SIAGs may also propose prizes to the SIAM Major Awards Committee. If the committee approves a prize, the SIAG officers appoint a prize selection committee and supply money for the award. The SIAM office assists with the promotion and collection of nominations and the administration of the prize.

There are certain responsibilities that a SIAG must observe. For example, every SIAG is expected to participate in the SIAM Annual Meeting during off years (when the SIAG does not have a conference) by organizing minisymposia. SIAGs should also periodically (every six or seven years) have a track at the SIAM Annual Meeting, consisting of an invited speaker and a critical mass (at least four) of minisymposia.

Is there a size constraint for SIAGs?

SIAGs vary in size from about a hundred members to over a thousand members (e.g. the SIAG on Computational Science and Engineering). The Council and Board evaluate activity groups on their activities and whether they serve a need within the SIAM membership.

Do SIAGs live forever?

SIAGs are chartered for a fixed period of time, typically for one conference, which in most (but not all) cases is two years. The officers must petition the Council and Board for charter renewal if they wish to continue beyond the period for which they were approved. The charter renewal petition is a form with nine questions; officers provide the Council and Board with a sense of how active the field has been, how well the SIAG has performed its promised activities, and what plans the group has for the future. The form also provides an opportunity for the officers to say how they feel SIAM can support the SIAG in the future and what the SIAG can do to help SIAM.

SIAGs can discontinue or be terminated. A topic that was a hot area of research at one time may have fewer active researchers at a later date. The number of members may decline and those who remain may show less interest in group activities. An activity group’s direction can also drift away from SIAM’s mission. And so there may come a time when a SIAG must cease, perhaps with the hope that its remaining members will find homes in other groups.

A SIAG conference is also quite sensitive to size. When conference attendance falls below a critical mass (well below 200, for example), it becomes financially difficult for SIAM to run the conference in the standard style of a SIAM conference (a standalone conference in a hotel or similar venue with full support of the SIAM conference staff). When attendance decreases, SIAM must find other ways for the SIAG to hold meetings (such as meeting with the SIAM Annual Meeting or with another SIAG).

Ultimately, of utmost importance to the Council and Board is whether the SIAG is representing and serving both SIAM members and the SIAM mission.

Jim Crowley is executive director of SIAM. Pam Cook is SIAM's current president.