Careers in Mathematics: Graduate School Advising Guide

Which Graduate School?

Along with the question of whether to continue your studies in graduate school, there is the question of which grad school? There are many answers, but first, you must ask yourself what are your goals? Is the primary goal to stay in Chicago area? Then your choices are mainly limited to UIC, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. Slightly further away is UIUC, Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin.

The next consideration is which degree you are seeking, and in what subject. As a general rule, when pursuing a doctorate, you should hope to be admitted at one of the Group I Research Departments. The reasoning for recommending these schools, is that doing research in Mathematics is greatly facilitated if your thesis supervisor is a faculty member with a record of significant research. Such faculty are more prevalent at the Group I institutions. Also, Group I schools tend to have more active graduate programs, and offer better funding for their graduate students. Part of the graduate experience is provided by your fellow students, who are with you in your times of trial and triumph.

You can download a list of all the mathematics graduate programs in the US, which includes for each school what is required to apply for admission, and also lists useful information such as how many applicants they normally admit to their programs each year, how many Teaching Assistantships are available, and whether they offer Fellowship support for your studies. Plus, many universities take out advertisements in this pamphlet, to highlight the advantages of their graduate programs. The pamphlet is 28 MB in size, and is available from the AMS website here: www.ams.org/employment/asst.pdf

Given the large number of possible programs you might apply to, how do you choose? Not all Group I schools are the same. For example, University of Chicago, Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, and UC Berkeley are considered the top five research Math programs. There is a hierarchy of all the 48 Group I schools, and this ranking suggests which are the "hottest" places to do math research. However, there are three major caveats:

  • Will you get admitted? Will they offer you financial support?
  • Do they offer an active research program in your field of interest? (e.g., number theory or fluid dynamics)
  • What is it like to actually be a student in that city, or that department?

The best approach to getting information needed to answer these questions, is to check out the web sites for the departments you are seriously considering. Also, look at programs you are not considering, as this may raise questions or highlight concerns you had not thought of asking. In all cases, it is a personal decision, as you are going to live, study and work in this new city and environment for the next two to eight years.

The Web is one of the greatest boons towards choosing graduate programs in the last, well, forever. Here are three links to check out.

What To Do First?

This is easy. Read on to learn more...

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