APPENDIX B
ADVICE TO POTENTIAL GRADUATE STUDENTS IN THE MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES

Potential doctoral students are faced with around 300 programs in the mathematical sciences from which to choose. In which program should a student enroll? Students should choose a program based on its quality, its mission, its learning environment, and its ability to provide professional development. The quality of the faculty is often the only academic criterion used in the decision process. While the reputation of the faculty for producing quality research is important, it is not the only important factor. A quality faculty is necessary but not sufficient for a quality doctoral program. Doctoral programs at departments with faculty of comparable quality vary widely. In some programs most students complete doctorates and go on to rewarding careers in teaching and research. In others, few do.

It is essential for success in a graduate program that an entering student have a strong work ethic. Graduate schools expect from students a firm commitment that they will immerse themselves in mathematical sciences and that they are prepared to function at a high level. Undergraduates should take as many mathematical sciences courses as possible, choosing the more rigorous and demanding courses. Potential doctoral students should have a clear understanding of the basic ideas in mathematics, construction of proofs, problem solving, and scientific exposition.

Students should visit prospective programs to obtain more information. Often the program will arrange a visit and will contribute to travel expenses. Talking with students currently enrolled in the program is very useful. Students should investigate the library, the computing facilities, the office space, and the study space.

One of the main themes in this report is how important the learning environment is for student success. Students should seek programs with a positive learning environment, that is, programs that actively provide advice and support for course work, qualifying examinations, research, and the thesis. The learning environment can make the difference between failure and success in graduate school.

Most doctoral students in the mathematical sciences can obtain full financial support in the form of fellowships, teaching assistantships, or research assistantships. It is important that prospective students, before enrolling and accepting an offer, know about the work load for teaching and research assistants and the availability of other support. Generally, spending more than a total of 20 hours a week on work other than studying, such as teaching more than one course or meeting students for more than four class hours a week, impedes satisfactory progress toward a doctoral degree.



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OCR for page 62
Educating Mathematical Scientists: Doctoral Study and the Postdoctoral Experience in the United States APPENDIX B ADVICE TO POTENTIAL GRADUATE STUDENTS IN THE MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES Potential doctoral students are faced with around 300 programs in the mathematical sciences from which to choose. In which program should a student enroll? Students should choose a program based on its quality, its mission, its learning environment, and its ability to provide professional development. The quality of the faculty is often the only academic criterion used in the decision process. While the reputation of the faculty for producing quality research is important, it is not the only important factor. A quality faculty is necessary but not sufficient for a quality doctoral program. Doctoral programs at departments with faculty of comparable quality vary widely. In some programs most students complete doctorates and go on to rewarding careers in teaching and research. In others, few do. It is essential for success in a graduate program that an entering student have a strong work ethic. Graduate schools expect from students a firm commitment that they will immerse themselves in mathematical sciences and that they are prepared to function at a high level. Undergraduates should take as many mathematical sciences courses as possible, choosing the more rigorous and demanding courses. Potential doctoral students should have a clear understanding of the basic ideas in mathematics, construction of proofs, problem solving, and scientific exposition. Students should visit prospective programs to obtain more information. Often the program will arrange a visit and will contribute to travel expenses. Talking with students currently enrolled in the program is very useful. Students should investigate the library, the computing facilities, the office space, and the study space. One of the main themes in this report is how important the learning environment is for student success. Students should seek programs with a positive learning environment, that is, programs that actively provide advice and support for course work, qualifying examinations, research, and the thesis. The learning environment can make the difference between failure and success in graduate school. Most doctoral students in the mathematical sciences can obtain full financial support in the form of fellowships, teaching assistantships, or research assistantships. It is important that prospective students, before enrolling and accepting an offer, know about the work load for teaching and research assistants and the availability of other support. Generally, spending more than a total of 20 hours a week on work other than studying, such as teaching more than one course or meeting students for more than four class hours a week, impedes satisfactory progress toward a doctoral degree.

OCR for page 62
Educating Mathematical Scientists: Doctoral Study and the Postdoctoral Experience in the United States Prospective graduate students should know the answers to the following questions before deciding to enter a program. What is the mission of the program; that is, in what areas (subdisciplines, applied/interdisciplinary work, industrial problems, preparation for university teaching, and so on) does it specialize and what are its goals in those areas? Are the areas of specialization consistent with the areas in which you would like to specialize? At what level does the program begin? What is the completion rate? (Students should be wary of enrolling in a program with a low completion rate.) What is the average length of time to a doctorate? What is the placement record for new PhD graduates? Does the program have a positive (supportive) learning environment? Are advisors available? Will course work provide a sufficiently broad background in the mathematical sciences? Is support in studying for qualifying examinations available from the department or from groups of students? Is clear information on the qualifying examinations and on the research period available from the department? What type of financial support is available? What teaching work or other work is required to obtain that support? Will that work realistically take 20 hours per week or less? Care in the selection of a graduate school will lead to a more successful doctoral experience.