Nov 17, 2013

Math Alliance: A new model for inclusion and diversity

Professor Kathryn Chaloner is Head of the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Iowa, and leads the Alliance Statistics Initiative of the US National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences (“Math Alliance”). She writes:

The National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences ( is a new disciplinary model for increasing participation and inclusion of US students in doctoral study in the mathematical and statistical sciences. It is a partnership of faculty working together to mentor students in preparing for, entering, and graduating with a PhD. The partnership includes faculty at minority-serving schools, as well as faculty at majority institutions. Our goal is very simple: we want to be sure that every underrepresented or underserved American student with the talent and the ambition has the opportunity to earn a doctoral degree in a mathematical science. Our commitment is to build a national community of students, faculty, and staff who will work together to transform our departments, colleges, and universities into institutions where all students are welcome.

Data from the American Mathematical Society indicates that from 2005 to 2010 the number of PhDs awarded to underrepresented minorities (URMs$^1$) by mathematics programs in AMS Group II was 59, and that 24 of these were awarded by just two programs: North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the University of Iowa (UI). These two math programs have the following features in common:

• There is substantial buy-in on the part of senior faculty to minority doctoral education.

• Strong ties have been built with undergraduate institutions regionally as well as with minority-serving institutions nationally.

• A strong mentoring program has been instituted for all graduate students.

• There is a willingness to assess the culture and practices of the graduate program in the context of increasing numbers of US and, especially, underrepresented minority students$^2$.

Statistical sciences were included in the Math Alliance from its formation in 2001; our history is on our website.

What is the situation in the statistical sciences for URMs? According to the NSF public database, since 1995, 1288 PhDs in Statistics$^3$ were awarded to US citizens and permanent residents of the US (“US students”). Of these, 58 (4.5%) were awarded to URMs. Rice University awarded eight of these PhDs, Duke University six and Baylor University five; other programs awarded three or fewer. Rice, Duke and Baylor together graduated 33% of URMs receiving PhDs in Statistics.

In Biostatistics$^4$ 312 PhDs were awarded to US students and 32 of these (10%) were to URM. Among these, seven were awarded by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, five by the University of North Carolina and four by each of the University of Washington Seattle and Harvard University. These four programs with the largest numbers awarded 62% of URMS receiving PhDs in Biostatistics. In both Statistics and Biostatistics therefore, a similar pattern emerges of a few programs graduating a large fraction of PhDs awarded to URMs.

Two additional things I learned from the NSF database: Statistics has a lower percentage of US students among its PhD recipients than Mathematics (over 50% of PhDs in Statistics were awarded to international students). And the number of degrees earned by URMs, and the percentage of URMs among all PhD recipients, has been essentially the same since 1995.

I think it is fair to conclude that we could do better in including all Americans in our Statistics and Biostatistics PhD programs. I am working with the Alliance towards this end, along with Statistics co-chairs Leslie McClure (UAB), Javier Rojo (Rice) and Kim Weems (NCSU). Among other things, propagating best practices in recruiting and mentoring to doctoral programs in statistical sciences is a priority of the Statistics Initiative of the Math Alliance.

I encourage those of you who would like to see a more inclusive and diverse workforce in the statistical sciences to consider becoming part of the Math Alliance. You are welcome to come to our annual conference, The Field of Dreams. Working with the faculty and students in the Math Alliance has been a great opportunity for me to get to know some very special people and work with some wonderful students. Please consider this an invitation to get involved and to engage all mathematically talented undergraduates in the exciting opportunities available.

Please visit the Math Alliance website,, our YouTube channel and Flickr site! Questions can be directed to

We are grateful to the National Science Foundation for their support of the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences.


1 Underrepresented Minority Students include Black non-Hispanic; American Indian and Alaska native; Hispanic.
2 Buskes G. Mississippi Mathematics Renaissance. Notices of the AMS, 54, 1, 43–44, 2007
3 Classification 27.0501 Statistics, General
4 Classification 26.1102 Biostatistics


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