How to pick a graduate school (mathematics)

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supremum
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How to pick a graduate school (mathematics)

Postby supremum » Wed May 26, 2010 8:21 pm UTC

I've just completed my junior year as a mathematics student in the United States. However, at this point, I still don't have a clue what branch of mathematics I want to go into, or where I'm going to apply to graduate school. How do I go about choosing which graduate schools to apply to?

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Izawwlgood
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Re: How to pick a graduate school (mathematics)

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed May 26, 2010 8:26 pm UTC

Why do you want to goto graduate school without knowing what you want to study? As in, even a general subfield? Maybe you should narrow that down, and proceed from there to find the school that best fits your interests?
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supremum
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Re: How to pick a graduate school (mathematics)

Postby supremum » Wed May 26, 2010 9:14 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Why do you want to goto graduate school without knowing what you want to study? As in, even a general subfield? Maybe you should narrow that down, and proceed from there to find the school that best fits your interests?

I guess my main problem is I don't really have a good idea of what different areas of math are actually like. For example, last summer I did a project on analysis, and it was a lot different from anything I did in my undergraduate analysis course. I don't really have a good feel for what kind of research is going on in math right now, and that makes it hard for me to figure out what i want to do.

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Izawwlgood
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Re: How to pick a graduate school (mathematics)

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed May 26, 2010 9:21 pm UTC

I'm sure your school offers assistance in finding a fit. Do you have a thesis adviser, or just a prof who you get along with?

It seems imprudent to head off to school for the sake of heading off to school. Maybe work a few years to get a feel for something you want to do, and whether or not that corresponds with school.
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supremum
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Re: How to pick a graduate school (mathematics)

Postby supremum » Wed May 26, 2010 9:25 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I'm sure your school offers assistance in finding a fit. Do you have a thesis adviser, or just a prof who you get along with?

It seems imprudent to head off to school for the sake of heading off to school. Maybe work a few years to get a feel for something you want to do, and whether or not that corresponds with school.

I mean, I know I want to go into some sort of math research. I guess that I couldn't tell you how or why I know that, but...I like proving things I guess?
I don't have a thesis adviser because I'm an undergraduate...maybe I'll sit down and have a discussion with one of my professors or something.

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LaserGuy
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Re: How to pick a graduate school (mathematics)

Postby LaserGuy » Wed May 26, 2010 9:47 pm UTC

Here would be my suggestion:
-First, you need to figure out what fields are out there. Check math journals, or even Wikipedia, and try to identify the major research fields. Do a bit of research to try to figure out what each field is all about, and what sorts of problems people solve in them. You can stick to field broad topics for this.
-Of the fields you've researched, eliminate any that you aren't really interested in.
-Do some more research on the remaining fields, maybe check out some of the major sub-genres in each. Might be worth talking to a few profs in the local faculty too.
-Eliminate any that you aren't really interested in.
-Iterate a couple of times, and you should be able to narrow it down to fairly small subset of fields that you'd consider interesting. Figure out what schools are major players in those fields.
-Repeat the same process as above, this time focussing on what characteristics you like about the schools, the researchers available at each school, and their research programs, and you should end up with a shortlist of schools to start thinking about applying to.

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Omegaton
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Re: How to pick a graduate school (mathematics)

Postby Omegaton » Thu May 27, 2010 12:27 am UTC

LaserGuy wrote:-Iterate a couple of times, and you should be able to narrow it down to fairly small subset of fields that you'd consider interesting. Figure out what schools are major players in those fields.
-Repeat the same process as above, this time focussing on what characteristics you like about the schools, the researchers available at each school, and their research programs, and you should end up with a shortlist of schools to start thinking about applying to.

This is wise advice, but I differed in how I picked schools... I picked schools by looking first for major researchers in my field, then by finding out where they worked. To me, the school mattered less than the potential advisor I'd be working with for several years.

Also, your experience with research being vastly different from courses fits my experience as well. Taking courses and doing research are very different things. My first undergraduate research experience was an epiphany for how different research was from courses. My second research experience/senior thesis further cemented how research works. If you can, I think it'd be a great idea to try to do some more research or do a senior thesis, which not only would give you more research experience and thus boost your CV/resume, but it may also give you an inspiration for what field you would like to pursue.

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Re: How to pick a graduate school (mathematics)

Postby hnooch » Thu May 27, 2010 2:05 am UTC

To add a different view, I applied for graduate school in math without having any idea what I wanted to study. If you've had undergraduate research experience and can show interest in some of the classes you've taken, that's good; I don't think it's necessary to know what you want to study while you're applying (though maybe it'll help). You might want to apply to larger programs, if you don't know what you want to study, so that you'll have more options when you do eventually figure it out.

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Dason
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Re: How to pick a graduate school (mathematics)

Postby Dason » Thu May 27, 2010 5:19 am UTC

I double majored in math and stats in my undergrad and eventually decided to go the graduate route in stats. I have to agree with hnooch. I applied to a program that has a lot of options because I didn't know what exactly I wanted to get into (but had some sort of an idea of the theory/methods ratio I wanted). It's turned out quite well for me. It's nice having options because there was a field I thought I was interested in when I came here... turns out I'm not a big fan. But I've taken classes about things I didn't even knew existed that I've really enjoyed and can further research them if I want.
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