Atlantic Area Industrial Problem Solving Workshop
Report on Proposal

Last year, I submitted a proposal to the CMS Endowment Fund Committee to start an industrial problem solving workshop under the auspices of AARMS. The project was approved, and the sum of $5,000 for the first year and $2,500 for the second year was approved. I regret to announce that this venture was not a success, due to lack of interest among potential industrial partners.

With matching funds from the Nova Scotian government, a coop student was hired. It proved impossible to hire a student with a strong mathematical background; two such candidates were interviewed formally and a third informally, but all took other jobs. (It is my opinion that this has more to do with the high quality of the other coop openings available than any particular shortcoming of our position. However, the late date at which the CMS EGC decisions are made may have been a factor; many coop placements are made earlier. I would encourage anybody attempting a similar project involving coop students to try to obtain bridging funding sufficient to enable the strongest possible candidate to be hired before the EGC decisions.) It was necessary to decide whether to postpone the project for a year or to hire a coop student with a different background; after discussion, I decided to proceed.

The student we did hire had a strong background in commerce, but not in the mathematical sciences. During January 2002, he visited several mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists at Saint Mary's and Dalhousie to find out about their research areas, while also beginning to assemble a list of companies in the region. While it seems that he developed a reasonable familiarity with these topics, I do not think that he was as effective as a student with a strong background n the mathematical sciences might have been.

The rest of his work term was spent researching possible ways in which these companies might make use of outside expertise in the mathematical sciences (including telephone calls to contacts in the companies), sending letters (over my signature) to those which seemed to be possibilities, and making follow-up calls. During that same period I spent some time exploring alternative ways of locating industrial partners, via existing academic-industrial cooperative efforts that might benefit from an interdisciplinary assault on some aspect of a problem.

Ultimately, none of our efforts were successful, although it felt as though we were close to finding a partner on two occasions. For a time I considered the idea of attempting the process again this year. However, while on the positive side we had learned a certain amount about local businesses during this exercise, the fact remains that we have gone through a large number of the most promising candidates without any luck; it is not clear that, after eliminating those companies that had definitely not been interested this year we would be able to assemble as strong a list again. For this reason, it seems prudent not to repeat the attempt..

While AARMS and Saint Mary's University had both agreed to pay costs associated with the event itself, no other funds were raised at this stage except for those earmarked for hiring the coop student, which were spent to that end. All remaining assets in the account, then, will be returned to the CMS Endowment Fund. The second year's portion of the grant will, of course, not be required.

CMS Endowment Fund$5000.00Coop Student Wages
(Jan.10 - May 9, $10/hr)
NS Coop Employment$2695.00Coop Student Benefits$ 439.01
  Balance owing to CMS$ 880.99
 $7695.00 $7695.00

In closing, I apologise for the disappointing outcome of this attempt. It is possible that the proposed charge for industrial partners of $1000 was too high, although this seems well within the range of advertised fees for business seminars, etc. It may be that more aggressive recruiting, by a more senior person with a stronger background in mathematics, would have yielded some industrial partners. But it may simply be that businesses able to benefit from such a project are few enough that, in a region with a business base as small as Atlantic Canada's, there is not the critical mass to support such a project.

-Robert Dawson
Nov. 4th , 2002