- For pseudonymous candidates, Are you a professional mathematician? In what capacity?
I use my real name here, but I am currently a voluntary college dropout studying math independently. This could potentially present an issue, since someone like me with no formal prestige to their name moderating this site could give an impression of reduced professionalism at MO to the mathematical community at large. MO seems to be taking a more center stage in mathematics at large (being mentioned in papers and at conferences etc.), and I wouldn't want to risk damaging that momentum in any way.
That being said, I have consistently participated here since I dropped out back in 2018; I left as an undergrad because I wanted to focus on research related to the surreal numbers, but my university wanted me to spend another 1.5 years and $50,000+ for the privilege of taking religious studies classes (it was an American Lasallian Christian university) and general ed credits to complete requirements for my degree. I had taken all available upper division math and physics classes and maintained a 4.0 by the the end of my first semester as a junior, and the prospect of slowing down for a year and a half to check off 'religion class' boxes rubbed me the wrong way.
I do intend to return to academia and complete a PhD, but I would first like to finish what I left college to finish and get a paper submitted for publication. Mathoverflow has been essential for me these past few years; I could not have come as far as I have without the help I've received from members of this site. Irrespective of how my academic career progresses, I intend to leave plenty of room for participation here at MO; my situation is such that I don't have to worry about income, so I won't be leaving academia any time soon.
- Should there be a term for which moderators are elected? If elected, how long do you envision serving as a moderator?
I think the newly available positions should rotate once every year/few years, so that parts of the moderation team can accurately reflect the feelings of the community as they evolve. It may be that someone who seems to reflect the communities values during the lead-up to an election phase turns out to be a flawed match as the landscape of the community changes, or that someone who was initially a poor choice matures and becomes a paragon of potential moderation.
This would also prevent, to some extent, the possibility of attitudes along along the lines of, "I'm a moderator so I don't have to listen to you, you have to listen to me". Although I haven't seen anything close to this on MO from the current moderators, we are all flawed humans; putting safeguards up against our baser natures is a good idea in my opinion, even if we couldn't imagine falling prey to them.
The current moderation team, however, should remain on permanently or until they choose to leave in my opinion. I think everyone currently moderating has given the community ample evidence that they are the kind of moderators we want on this site, and they could serve as an 'old guard' of sorts to help guide newer moderators in the subtle methods of their craft.
- There has been extensive discussion on MO Meta on how to make the MathOverflow community more welcoming and inclusive. How do you think the community should approach this issue, and what role (if any) do you think moderators should play in this regard?
This is something I'm particularly sensitive to due to the situation outlined in my answer to question 1; for the last 3+ years, MO has been my only formal connection to the academic mathematical world and has consequently weighed heavily on my self-image as a mathematician. If I had a PhD position, or a temporary/permanent job in academia, and I were to suddenly find MO too unwelcoming for me, I could simply turn to the other institutions around me and use them for support. With nowhere else to turn, the times when I felt unwelcome by the community here (which only happened rarely) were extremely disheartening, and could have been rectified pretty simply via the correct type of proactive moderation.
I think it is easiest to explain my position using the metaphor of "MO as a tea room for professional mathematicians to discuss research mathematics". Taking this view, all the regular participants here at MO are standing around a swanky lounge, sipping exotic teas and having scintillating conversation about arcane topics unheard of by the common man. An outsider walks in and is initially blown away by the scale of it all; who knew that things could even get this abstract and complicated! They initially float around a bit, listening in on conversations where perhaps every fifth word makes sense, until they finally reach a point of excitement and offer their first input into the conversation at hand. This is where things can go wrong in the current culture in a way that moderators could fix.
Let us assume that their input, whatever it was, was not sufficient to be of interest to anyone else involved in the conversation. The current cultural norm is the equivalent of everyone falling silent for a moment and giving the newcomer a dirty look, before continuing on with the conversation as if they hadn't blurted anything out in the first place. If the newcomer continues to try to offer input, the standard response is increasingly dirtier looks eventually followed by a comment, muttered into someones hand but spoken to the crowd at large, along the lines of 'you don't belong here and you should know that you don't belong here'.
Where a moderator can fix this situation, sticking with the above metaphor, is by playing the role of a good host. They could proactively identify newcomers like the one outlined above and glide around the room, close enough to hear them, waiting to see what their input level is. If it becomes apparent that they aren't quite ready to converse in this tea room the moderator could quietly pull them aside, introduce themselves and briefly explain the ethos of the room, then politely suggest other rooms that they might be more comfortable in until they mature to a point where they should return. Also, if something untoward is said before moderators can step in, they could make a point of telling the newcomer that these opinions are not universal -- from someone with a diamond next to their name, comforting words like this can have significant psychological impact. This added personal touch would alleviate much of the perceived unfriendliness in my opinion.
- What time zone are you in?
GMT-5, St. Louis currently, but I'm engaged to be married the 15th of may and we're looking at moving to Ireland so my time zone may change soon.
- Assuming a notion of "culture" as explained here, what would a newly elected moderator do to preserve it? Will there be more efforts to preserve the culture, or more to steer it toward things nearer to "what a Stack Exchange forum should be?"
The kind of 'culture' outlined by Gerhard above is something I think is incredibly valuable and rare here at mathoverflow, and something naturally engendered by the nature of high-level mathematical discussion.
I think moderators role in 'culture influence' should, to some extent, require a split personality on the part of the moderator. On the one hand moderators (like Todd for example) are themselves accomplished mathematicians and should be allowed to contribute freely and in an unrestricted capacity as a mathematician on the site, implicitly influencing the cultural norms in the same way we all do by communal participation in them combined with individual evaluations of their significance and importance. On the other hand, as a moderator they should not strive to directly influence cultural norms beyond their normal capacity as a participant of the site, and instead strive to allow the community to decide its own culture (with moderators viewed as community participants on equal footing with everyone else). Moderators aren't elected to be tastemakers for the site. This is a delicate line to walk, but I think finding it and balancing is one of the more difficult and important jobs for a prospective moderator.
- As MathOverflow is growing, the diversity of the moderator team might become an issue of interest. As I understand, the present moderators have much in common, and women are, to say it that way, underrepresented. In which way do you think would you contribute to the diversity of the moderator team?
I am a white man, so I am definitely not contributing to diversity via my race or sex. I have suffered from mental health issues in the past to the point of inpatient care however, and have a permanent diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, so I may be able to offer more diversity in understanding potential mental health issues from a moderating perspective.
- What do you see as the biggest challenge for MathOverflow as a site and as a community in the next few years?
I think things are looking up for MO on average as I mentioned in my response to question 1, but the potential problems I see on the horizon are primarily the ones I see outlined in other questions about welcoming newcomers and participation from women.
One potential problem not mentioned in other questions is how the increasing polarity of the outside world right now might gradually seep in and influence interactions here on MO. We live in a world that is increasingly full of disagreement and refusal to see eye-to-eye; we've already seen some of that enter MO in the form of the recent drama culminating in a suspension.
I think that it's incumbent upon moderators to acknowledge this increasing polarity, and proactively make an effort to identify and stamp out any extraneous politicking here to keep things as math-content oriented as possible. It is also important to not simply label any opposing opinions as politicking that must be squashed, but I think that by consulting other moderators and the community at large we should be able to discern a bright red line between friendly discussion and deliberate flaming.
- Do you think women are underrepresented in the MO community compared to the mathematical community as a whole? Is this a problem for MO? If so, what would you do about it as a moderator?
This question doesn't ask us if we think women are underrepresented in math, but wether MO is worse than the math community at large as far as female representation is concerned. I definitely think there are fewer women here than there are in the math community at large; two of my five total professors as an undergrad were women, whereas the proportion of women to men here seems to skew more than 90% in the male direction.
I think this is certainly a problem, for the same reason it would be a problem that approximately 50% of the math community was not participating in MO for some reason or another; we aren't hearing input from valuable voices on topics they might be leading experts on in the world.
Despite this being a problem for MO, I think it is rooted somewhat in the unfriendliness of online communities towards women in general. I am not aware of any online math/science forum where participation by women approaches 50%, and I would go farther and say that outside of forums specifically dedicated to predominately classically feminine topics males tend to dominate the conversation online.
I definitely feel that it is a moderators responsibility to try to alleviate this issue, but the obvious tools at hand seem insufficient to the challenge. I would say that encouraging our female colleagues in real life to participate and making sure to moderate carefully for any shenanigans is probably the most I can think of off the top of my head, but I do think this is a topic worth investing further collaborative thought in for whatever the moderation team is moving forwards.
- How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?
I would begin by alerting them to the situation and asking what their take on the conflict was. If where they're coming from is understandable but they have a brash tone that is creating friction, I might try to keep an eye out for conflicts with other users and step in to clarify positions and de-muddy waters when necessary.
On the other hand, if they're coming from somewhere that is ultimately deemed unreasonable or unworkable for the community by myself and other moderators consulted about the user (moderators would presumably be discussing the situation if it was a repeated issue with flags), I would inform them in a firm but friendly manner that the nature of their current interactions with the site are unacceptable and ask them to recalibrate or risk having punitive action taken against them. If they proceed to cause problems without showing improvement, I would implement short suspensions with explanations initially, and gradually increase the length of suspensions as necessary to get the point across. If nothing seems to work after a significant amount of time trying this process, I would ban the user.
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
I would ask that moderator in private about why they closed the question, and if I disagreed with the closure I would explain why and ask for their take on my opinion. Hopefully we could resolve it between the two of us, either me agreeing that it should have been closed or them agreeing that it can be reopened, but if we're really at a loggerheads I would try to consult other moderators and get a consensus opinion. I would respect whatever that consensus was, irrespective of my own personal opinions.