Now that the big ScienceBlogs software upgrade is complete, I can tell you about the big conference in Washington D.C. Lucky you!

According to careercast.com, mathematicians have the most wonderful job there is. I am inclined to agree, of course. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t get a PhD in the subject and join the fun.

This is the annual Joint Mathematics Meetings, so called because it is organized jointly by the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America (no Monty Python jokes, please.) It is basically a big math party. Feeling glum about the latest bit of student inanity? Research not going well? Words like “burnout” occupying your thoughts? Just hang out at the JMM for a few days and you are instantly recharged! There’s something about being surrounded by so many excited mathematicians that’s contagious.

The JMM is really a conference of conferences. There are “Special Sessions” in a stunning array of mathematical topics. This year there were seesions in Recent Trends in Coding Theory; Representation Theory of LIe Algebras and Algebraic Groups; Nonlinear Partial Differential Equations and Applications; Stochastic, Large-Scale, and Hybrid Systems with Applications; Eperimental Mathematics; Heavy-Tailed Behavior: Theory and Applications; Von Neumann Algebras; Mathematics of Computation; Difference Equations; Automorphic Forms and Modular Forms in Number Theory; Topological Methods in Applied Mathematics; The Role of Generalized Maximal Monotonicity Frameworks in Optimization and Control Theory with Applications; Quantum Theory and Fluid Mechanics; The Mathematics of Information and Knowledge; Group Actions on Homogenous Spaces and Applications; Logic and Dynamical Systems; Convex and Discrete Geometry; Recent Advances in Mathematical Modeling in Medicine; Algebraic Structures in Kont Theory; Nonsmooth Analysis in Inverse and Variational Problems; Tracking Moving Interfaces in Complex Phenomena; and those were just the ones starting on the first day of the conference. Alas, none of those are actually among the sort of research that I do. (The one about Modular Forms comes closest, FYI).

These are Special Sessions because they are by invitation only. There are also regular sessions in a wide array of mathematical disciplines where essentially anyone can speak. Well, you have to submit an abstract months in advance. This isn’t Hyde Park you know. But no one who wants to speak gets turned away. Talks in these sessions are generally given either by people who are on the market, or by people who have to give a talk to get their home institution to reimburse them. They are generally attended by people checking out job candidates, or by friends of the person giving the talk.

The sessions listed above were research sessions, hosted by the AMS. The MAA tends to focus on educational issues, and they had their own sessions. They had sessions on Mathematics and the Arts; Building Diversity in Advanced Mathematics; Cryptology for Undergraduates; Environmental Mathematics; Operations Research in the Undergraduate Classroom; Performing Mathematics; Productive Roles for Math Faculty in the Professional Development of K-12 Teachers; and Mathematical Sociology, among others.

So many choices! What to do? I only attended a hanful of talks based on an actual interest in the subject matter. Instead I went to a bunch given by candidates we are considering hiring. They ran the usual gamut from “We have to get that person!” to “Why were we interested in that person, again?” I also hung out in the employment center a bit, to make myself useful with some of the interviewing.

Unsurprisingly, this is not a good year to be on the market. Many schools have had to cancel their searches, making the always fierce competition for academic jobs that much worse. A lot of those young, well-dressed people I saw in the employment center are likely to end up unemployed, or underemployed in worthless one-year positions. Heavy sigh.

I also had lunch with my editor from Oxford University Press. The big Monty Hall book continues to wind its way through production. I notice the catalog says the book will be out in July, but the production people have told me April. We’ll just have to wait and see. We discussed the twenty-five books I want to write. I have no idea how many of them will actually materialize, of course. It looks like I’m going to be writing a book about the mathematics of Sudoku puzzles with one of my JMU colleagues. I’m also going to try to put together my book based on my experiences at creationist conferences. That would not be handled by the math editor, of course, though she told me she would be happy to make sure the proposal gets in front of the right editor.

Alas, that brings up the other problem. Every book begins with a proposal, which (a) has to get written. Oy! and (b) then has to go through a lengthy review process. There’s a big difference between having an idea for a book, and actually managing to get it published. Stay tuned!

I also got caught up with a lot of old friends who are now scattered across the country . As far as I am concerned, that’s the main point of any math conference. All in all, a fun five days. Sadly, our term starts tomorrow. Looks like it’s back to the salt mines.