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Banff International Research Station (BIRS)

Malabika Pramanik
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1. What is the Mission of Your Institute? What Makes it Unique?

The Banff International Research Station (BIRS)⁠Footnote1 hosts programs that advance the frontiers of research in all aspects of the mathematical sciences. These programs encompass the most fundamental challenges and breakthroughs in pure and applied mathematics, theoretical and applied computer science, statistics and data science, mathematical physics, financial and industrial mathematics, as well as the mathematics of information technology, environmental and life sciences.


BIRS is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Alberta Jobs, Economy and Innovation.

BIRS’s signature is its mission of international scientific collaboration, as evidenced by its presence in five countries: Canada (Banff), Mexico (Oaxaca), China (Hangzhou), Spain (Granada) and India (Chennai). Each centre is located in a unique retreat-like atmosphere, providing a distraction-free and intellectually stimulating environment that facilitates complete immersion in scientific discourse. Each year, an international panel of distinguished scientific experts representing a wide range of subject areas select proposals to run in these centres, with a view to serving researchers of all career stages, and bringing regional expertise in contact with global ones. Accommodation, meals, and access to research and conference facilities are provided at no cost to event participants.

2. What Kinds of Programs are Run Each Year?

BIRS hosts many different types of programs, tailored to ensure maximum flexibility for audiences with diverse needs.

The principal BIRS activities consist of 5-day workshops, held year-round (48 weeks) at BIRS’s primary centre in Banff, Alberta. Other BIRS-affiliate centres host 10–20 workshops per year. These workshops showcase mathematical discovery and innovation at the highest level.

2-day weekend workshops are suitable for small regional conferences, academic or policy-making summits, or academia–industry collaborations.

Research in Teams (RIT) and Focused Research Groups (FRG) are popular BIRS programs, where small groups of participants live and conduct research together without a conference format for periods of 1–2 weeks.

Summer schools and graduate training camps are held at BIRS once or twice per year.

BIRS hosts K–12 math camps in collaboration with Alberta schools, teaching and pedagogy workshops for mathematics educators, and also hosts training sessions for Team Canada in International Mathematics Olympiads.

5-month-long hybrid thematic programs are part of BIRS’s post-pandemic offerings. The goal of a hybrid thematic program is to build global communities in exciting new fields in mathematical sciences, through a long-term immersive experience. It consists of a regular flow of purely virtual events, interspersed with up to two in-person events at Banff, five days each.

BIRS Now! events cover topics that are timely, urgent foci of unexpected developments and in need of rapid response from scientific research. Event formats are flexible to accommodate different needs. Possible topics include, but need not be limited to, clean energy and Net Zero Accelerator, infectious disease modelling, vaccine economics and biomanufacturing, responsible development of artificial intelligence (AI), assistive AI in mathematical reasoning, national quantum strategy, cybersecurity, blockchain, digital identity, and other strategic and emerging fields.

PIMS/BIRS Team Up! provides opportunities for in-person collaboration to teams of mathematical scientists with some representation from universities affiliated with the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS). This program targets researchers whose research programs have been disproportionately affected by various obstacles like family obligations, professional isolation, access to funding, and the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes, but need not be limited to, women, people of color, gender-expansive and other minoritized groups, Indigenous scholars, individuals with visible/invisible challenges, and early career researchers with limited resources.

See the general program descriptions webpage and links therein for a full list of BIRS programs, possible venues and eligibility criteria.

3. Within Those Programs, What Types of Positions Can Early Career Mathematicians Apply For?

All BIRS events are expected to include early career researchers (ECR-s). An ECR is defined as a graduate student (masters or PhD), or a researcher within ten years of their doctoral degree. Since 2022, at least 40% of all BIRS visitors have been ECR-s.

5-day workshops are required to have at least one ECR on its leadership team (i.e., the organizing committee). Training and mentoring of ECR-s are critical components of these workshops, as can be seen from the assessment rubrics available on the proposal guidelines webpage. A strong representation of ECR-s in the participant list and a program structure that incorporates professional support and guidance for ECR-s are two key metrics in the evaluation of BIRS proposals. Participation in 5-day BIRS workshops is by invitation only; ECR-s interested in participating should contact the workshop organizers directly to check availability of spots.

Summer schools and training camps are intended for graduate students and/or advanced undergraduates. Instructional assistance for these schools and camps is often provided by postdoctoral fellows and tenure-track faculty, who serve as role models to the students, and offer invaluable career advice and mentorship along with mathematical training. The summer schools are also beneficial to the professional development of the ECR instructors.

Postdoctoral fellows and tenure-track faculty can apply as organizers and/or participants for RIT, FRG, and TeamUp programs. Such applications have concrete outcomes that are achievable in the short term, and are therefore particularly helpful to ECR-s looking to finish a project or submit a time-sensitive grant proposal with multiple stakeholders.

4. What Type of Support is Available (Including Childcare Support)?

All BIRS centres offer support in the form of free accommodation, meals, and access to research and videoconferencing facilities for the duration of the program. BIRS cannot offer travel support, but organizers sometimes secure external travel funding for participants who do not hold research grants. Participants are also encouraged to apply for travel funding opportunities through partnership agreements if they are eligible. The travel support webpage contains more information on this.

Lectures and supplementary workshop material are recorded, live-streamed, and uploaded to a publicly accessible domain for all 5-day BIRS workshops.

BIRS provides technical support for a seamless hybrid experience for all workshops.

Some funding is available for workshop participants who are primary caregivers. Childcare support at BIRS in Banff needs preapproval and is subject to the availability of funds. Applications should be submitted at least six weeks before the event start date and are assessed on a case-by-case basis. BIRS day-care support covers the duration of the workshop. It extends to day-care facilities within the town of Banff, or to individuals hired by workshop participants to care for their children on BIRS premises. Such hires are made at the sole discretion of the participating caregiver.

5. Are There Any Particular Opportunities That You Want Early Career Readers to Know About?

ECR-s are key architects of scientific progress. Their fresh perspectives are essential for transformative breakthroughs. The success of any research area relies on effective training, mentoring, and support of its ECR-s. BIRS attracts, nurtures, and showcases young talent in a variety of ways.

ECR-s enrich the program structure of 5-day BIRS workshops through activities like poster presentations, lightning talks, video contests, hackathons, professional panels, and one-on-one or group mentoring sessions. If you are an ECR participating in an upcoming BIRS workshop, consider proposing an ECR-friendly activity to the organizers.

Annual BIRS summer schools are dedicated exclusively to the training of ECR-s. The summer schools are great opportunities for networking, peer-to-peer interaction and community-building. The most recent summer schools hosted by BIRS were on geometry, combinatorics, and optimization (2022) and number theory (2023) respectively.

BIRS often organizes industry-academia collaborations like “Career & Innovation Hub,” career fairs, recruitment booths, training sessions for improving effective communication skills to assist the future mathematical workforce in finding job opportunities that demand advanced quantitative and analytical skills.

New research collaborations involving a team of young researchers initiated at a BIRS 5-day workshop or at a BIRS summer school are eligible for subsequent group follow-ons hosted by BIRS, in the form of FRG, RIT, or TeamUp programs. These programs enable ECR-s to take on an organizational role in a small group setting, and gain experience in proposing small steps towards bigger goals. These collaborative follow-ons create a sustained support framework for ECR-s stemming from a previously held BIRS event, leading to longer-term professional interactions and greater impact.


Logo is courtesy of Banff International Research Station.