Ask Dr. Math: The Math Doctors' Newsletter

by Ian Underwood

July, 2000

Date: Mon, 7 Aug 2000 12:09:31 -0400
To: All Dr. Math Doctors
From: Ian Underwood 
Subject: Dr. Math in July

Hi Math Doctors,

It's been several months since the last newsletter went out, and a lot
has changed since then.  For one thing, you have a new administrator!

My name is Ian Underwood, and I've been answering questions as 'Dr. Ian' for a 
little more than a year now.  I have a background in celestial geometry 
(I used to navigate interplanetary spacecraft at NASA), artificial intelligence 
and software engineering... and when the position opened up, I already lived
within spitting distance of the Math Forum.

Anyway, to paraphrase what Jefferson said of Franklin:  No one can replace Dr. Stacey.  
I am merely her successor.

But the truth is, the person who 'runs' the Ask Dr. Math service isn't nearly 
as important as the doctors who do all the actual work! (To say nothing of the 
Math Forum staff members who keep things rolling smoothly along --
Dr. Sarah (Sarah Seastone), Dr. Melissa (Melissa Running), and Dr. TWE (Tom Epp).)

As I see it, _my_ job is to make it as easy as possible for you to do _your_ jobs.

To that end, I'd like to take this opportunity to ask you for...


I know that in the past many of you have made suggestions for improving the service, 
whether in response to surveys or simply in private messages to previous administrators.

I am in the process of digging those up, but it would be wonderful if you would 
share your thoughts regarding anything we can do to streamline the process of 
answering questions -- making it easier for you to find interesting questions, 
to write or find answers, and so on.  Or just to make the experience of being a 
math doctor more personally rewarding for you.

I've started a thread ("Improving the 'math doctor experience'") in the Dr. Math 
discussion area, in which I've listed a few of the changes that I'd like to see; 
and I invite you to extend the discussion by making your own suggestions, or by 
commenting on anything you see there.

For those of you who have never visited this area, you can find it by following 
the link below the search box the next time you're in triage.


Here are the statistics for the months since the last newsletter:

  Month   Asked    Answered    Percent
  -----   -----    --------    -------
  March    7025        1997      28.4%
  April    4887        1846      37.8%
  May      4617        1981      42.9%
  June     2410        1758      72.9%
  July     1468        1119      76.2%

Although the number of questions being answered has remained fairly stable 
(although it took a big dip in July), the number of questions being asked 
has been dropping.  This normally happens when summer rolls around; the tide 
reverses when school starts again in the fall.

However, there may be another factor at work.  If you've gone through the process 
of submitting a question lately, you've seen that it was redesigned a few months 
ago to encourage students to look for answers in the archives before submitting 
questions.  It's possible that students are finding the answers to their questions 
by looking in the archives.  At least, we hope that's the case.  We need to do some 
further analysis in order to check that hypothesis.

In any case, we're expecting the number of submissions to climb again in September, 
and this year we'd like to see what we can do to achieve a corresponding increase in 
the number of questions answered.

It seems that new 'ask an expert' services are cropping up even
more quickly than McDonald's franchises, but there is nothing out 
there that that can touch Ask Dr. Math in terms of quality -- and that is a 
direct reflection of the talent, enthusiasm, and dedication of the doctors who 
are the heart and soul of the service.

To those doctors who have been active (and you know who you are): Thank You!

To those doctors who have been inactive... tell us what we can do to convince you 
to be active again!  How can we improve the service so that you can get more 
satisfaction with less effort?

Dr. Ian
Attending Physician, Ask Dr. Math
The Math Forum