The view from CURM 2013.
I am very fortunate to be participating in the Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics program for the 2013-2014 academic year. This is run by Michael Dorff of Brigham Young University, and provides financial support and mentoring for faculty and students to run an undergraduate research group following the model Michael pioneered in his department.
Of course, I am also fortunate to have the support of my department and my college. First, both my Department Head and my Dean had to approve of a course release. Second, they agreed to support a fourth student in addition to the three that CURM will support.
I have tried lots of undergraduate research mentoring before, but it was always just me making things up as I go along. Sometimes it is a smashing success, and sometimes not. I really like the idea of building a long running research group, with students at different stages of growth working together. So the BYU model of academic year research groups appeals to me, and I was really anxious to get some mentoring about what can be done to make such an effort successful. I was not let down.
As I write this, I am on a plane leaving Salt Lake City, flying away from the opening faculty workshop. This was a two-day affair at a rented vacation home in the hills south of Salt Lake City. There were 18 participants, including the official mentors.
The organizers planned two solid days of discussion time about issues related to running undergraduate research, from discussions about how to pick problems to ways to manage group dynamics, and how to seek further funding. These will all prove valuable in time, I am sure.
But the best part of the meeting was the idle time. Being stuffed in a big house with 17 other people who are passionate about a their roles as mathematics faculty is really invigorating. I had several long conversations with new friends (and a few renewed acquaintances: Hi Casey! Hi Heidi!).
One nice feature of the program is the variety of people involved. The organizers clearly go out of their way to mix up who is involved by career stage, type of institution, and some other relevant characteristics. Everyone I met was wonderful, and I hope to remember all of their names properly when I see them again. (Sorry, Edwin. I don’t know what my mental block is.)
So, I am raring to go for next year. I still have a lot of planning and prep work to do, but now I have a bunch of concrete ideas about what I will try.
postscript: If you are interested in undergraduate research and have the flexibility to try running a project during the school year rather than during the summer, I encourage you to look into CURM. The application process is not difficult. The program is rather selective. Due to high demand, the acceptance rate is about 20%. I am participating this year on my second application.