PROPOSALS AND APPLICATIONS

November 22, 2014

GENERAL SCIENTIFIC ACTIVITIES:
A COMMUNITY RESOURCE

The GSA program at Fields supports activities not related to our thematic programs, both onsite (at Fields) and distributed (among PSU's, across the province, across the country and occasionally internationally). While some events are initiated and managed by the Fields directorate, the majority are community-initiated activities. Our proposal mechanism was devised to invite these activities. The directorate, consulting with referees and members of the SAP, makes decisions about support. The selection is fairly rigorous. While we reject few submissions, we discourage applications for events that seem of only marginal mathematical interest, that seem overpriced or impractical, or that do not strive for high quality. (A few years ago, we had to reject some excellent proposals because of budget constraints; however, following recent increases in our funding, we are now inviting applications.) Fields adds value both by encouraging people to propose activities that create, teach and communicate new mathematics, and by suggesting changes that improve the chance of success. We provide resources not only to fund travel and accommodation for attendees but to handle all the logistics of organization, from setting up credit-card registrations to catering. Fields frees the organizers and participants to do what they are good at and what they want to do: bring together members of the mathematics community, and bring mathematicians together with other scientists and educators to talk about their research and to start new collaborations. Besides the benefits of having us do the organization, organizers can take advantage of our advertising and our reputation.

GSA is the principal method by which Fields solicits a wide range of community input into its scientific programs. For the next three years, we plan to spend $450,000 annually on activities in this category. Most of the support is given out in small amounts.

Fields makes the case, by its very existence, for the importance of communication and collaboration in mathematics research. In addition, many of the events we sponsor contribute substantially to graduate and postdoctoral training. We support at least one summer school each year, and all workshops make provision for students to attend. Discussions with our stakeholders indicate that this increased activity benefits the research level in their departments. While thematic programs remain our signature events, they affect only a small fraction of the mathematical research community in Ontario in a given year, while GSA reaches many more people.

There are other important reasons for GSA. It allows us representation in areas of mathematics in which we have not, and may not be likely to, run a thematic program. GSA brings the institute into contact with topics and individuals who might be recruited to organize future thematic programs. GSA is also an important way that Fields stays connected to PSUs and Affiliates.

Fields supports GSA events in a number of categories: small and medium-sized workshops, birthday conferences, student-oriented events, seed funding for international conferences, summer schools, exploratory workshops and ongoing seminar series at Fields.

Operation of GSA Program: Any event with a contribution of $20,000 or more from Fields must be approved by the SAP, which meets twice a year (November and May). We support events irrespective of the affiliation of the proposers, based only on the quality of the event and on its relevance to the Fields community. However, we expect our Affiliate Universities, and especially our PSUs, to be the major sources of proposals for GSA events. Each PSU has a "SUAC", or "Sponsoring Universities Activities Committee", which solicits activity from all the mathematical sciences departments at that university, and screens proposals before they are sent to us. We send every proposal to a referee (an objective expert from the community), and often ask the proposers to make changes - in the composition or number of speakers, or in some organizational aspect of the event. Once an event is approved, a formal funding letter is written, and the event is passed along to the program team.

Our reputation as an efficient conference facility has results in frequent appeals to contribute logistical support for meetings (particularly on-line registration and reimbursement of attendee expenses), even if direct funding is not needed. But every event that uses any of our resources - money, staff or facilities - is a "Fields event". And we cannot lend our name to activities that have not undergone our approval process, including vetting by a SUAC if applicable, no matter how small the contribution from Fields appears to be.

We welcome ideas and initiatives that come from the community. In fact, the community is us. The people who request support for their events become part of Fields, and take responsibility for partial management of these events, including communicating with us about proposals, event logistics and reports in a timely way.

The Fields Vision for GSA: To keep the program viable and to manage its projected growth, it must be
" regulated so that all events are of high scientific quality and are well-run
" seen to be open to the entire mathematical sciences community
" efficiently managed without overextending the institute's human resources
" connected to our mandate, with reporting lines that respect our accountability.

This ideal is made possible by a number of things.

  1. Active and consistent SUAC involvement. Each PSU should have an active, rotating set of representatives that include, over time, all departments that might propose events. All proposals from a PSU should be recommended by its committee. Its members need to be willing to assess and to actively solicit a good stream of proposals, and to pass them along to Fields promptly. Affiliates are welcome to form SUACs as well. In particular, any affiliate with more than one mathematical sciences department participating in Fields activities should ensure that all departments are aware of how to take advantage of the opportunity to propose GSA.

  2. Observance of deadlines for proposal submission and funding announcements. We are turning to a more flexible, but also more enforceable, schedule of three deadlines per year. Furthermore, since what the proposers need to know is when they can expect an answer, we will try to maintain reporting deadlines.

    Proposals should be submitted by October 15, February 15 or June 15 of each year. Decisions are announced shortly afterwards, except in the case of proposals requesting support over $20,000. The latter are considered by the Scientific Advisory Panel and decisions are announced by early December or June for proposals submitted by the preceeding June or February deadlines (respectively).

  3. Consistency in making resources of Fields available. Every event that uses Fields resources to any degree - space in our building, time of our staff, or funding from our grants - is an activity of Fields, and becomes an entry in our list of activities. Approval of the event is marked by issuing a "funding letter" (or "no-funding letter" if no direct funding is awarded). And the event is not completed until a report has been written for the Annual Report. (This is the document of record for our activities.) The web page for GSA proposals contains enough detail to guide proposal-writing, though conversations with the director or deputy director are encouraged. In particular, any request for support, after a preliminary conversation to determine that this is something we could support, will be answered with a request that the proposer send us a proposal. The proposal must be electronic and must be complete, as indicated on our "proposals" page.

  4. Simplification of event management and reporting. Here we plan to:
    -Communicate with first-time organizers about running GSA events
    -Make clear to organizers what can be paid from Fields funds
    -Be clear about deadlines: for announcements, registration pages, workshop schedules
    -Obtain prompt reports on activities. Particularly interesting reports will be rewarded by presentation in Fields Notes. All reports will be part of the Annual Report.

    Back to Proposals Page