"Welcome to the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The departmental roots go back to the turn of the last century when it originally was the Department of Engineering Mathematics. The Department teaches thousands of students and has a major research presence in computational and physical/biological mathematics and the statistical sciences. It has 18 tenure, tenure track faculty, expanding to 20 in the next two years. In addition there are 6 full time instructors, more than 70 graduate students including approximately 40 teaching assistants, about 150 applied math majors, 100 minors and a thriving BS-MS program."
Q: Last June, you received the honor of presenting a series of ten lectures at Dartmouth College. Do you consider this to be a milestone in your career? Why or why not?
A: Like most researchers, there are few things I enjoy more than talking about my work, and it was fantastic to be given ten hours over the course of a week to really dig in to details and provide more context than I am usually able to.
On a deeper level, it was very gratifying to see that other people find the techniques we develop to be useful, and want to learn more. When you propose new ways of doing things, you often initially receive serious push-back, and it can take years before first some level of (grudging!) acceptance from your academic colleagues, and then broader adaptation among practitioners in different fields. I am deeply grateful to the organizers at Dartmouth College, the supporting agencies (NSF and the Conference Board on Mathematical Sciences), and the sixty participants who traveled from all over the world, for showing this level of support for our work.
Q: You hold the position of Chair of Graduate Studies. What does
this position entail?
A: One of the most important and rewarding responsibilities of this position is to serve as the academic adviser for our incoming graduate students. Until the time they choose their research adviser, I help the students develop their plans of study, navigate the various degree requirements, choose their dissertation adviser, and so on. I also coordinate the admissions process where we select a new class of graduate students each year. This is a great opportunity to meet with a broad range of very talented and interesting people interested in pursuing a graduate degree. Finally, I work with my colleagues on the department graduate committee to make sure that our curriculum and program structures serve our students well in their future careers. Applied mathematics and scientific computation evolve rapidly, and in order to ensure that our program remains one of the top in the nation, we continually revise our course offerings and degree requirements.
Q: What advice would you give to a student interested in scientific computing?
A: At the undergraduate level, I would strongly encourage this student to spend as much time as possible on the classical fields of study in math (calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, Fourier analysis, etc) and physics (mechanics, electro-magnetics, quantum physics, etc). These are mature fields that provide extraordinarily powerful and versatile tools that are useful in almost all fields of study in the sciences. In my personal experience, studying the classical material in these fields is also incredibly rewarding and inspiring from a purely intellectual point of view.
At the graduate level, there are lots of different ways to go, and I believe it is hard to give any generic advice. It really depends on what aspects of scientific computing you find the most compelling - is your interest driven by particular applications? Or are you primarily interested in high performance computing? Or in theoretical analysis of algorithms? Make sure to think these things through, attend seminars, and talk to faculty members and academic advisers to find a path that is compelling to you.