The following advice is compiled from multiple sources, but mostly from the EDGE@ISU Mathematics and Statistics Opportunities for Undergraduates Symposium
held November 12, 2011 at ISU. Let me know if you have questions.
0Getting Ready for Graduate School
- Get good grades.
- Join student clubs and get involved.
- Interact with faculty and get to know them; they will write critical recommendation letters.
- Do research (REU, independent study).
- For graduate school in mathematics-related sciences, it is best to prepare by getting a breadth of experience in mathematics, but definitely abstract algebra, real analysis, measure theory, and a course where you really learn about writing proofs.
- Take some high level courses (400-level) and get good grades in them.
- Demonstrate an ability to write well. Your Statement of Purpose is an opportunity, but you could also take an upper-level undergraduate writing class.
- Get good GRE scores. For STEM fields Q must be high, and A is better if higher.
0Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs)
- Comprehensive list at NSF
- An REU gives you a chance to try on research. It is different from classwork, and you will want to know if you like it before you commit.
- Your potential to do research is evaluated by your letter writers and the admissions committee when you apply to grad school.
- Apply for an REU at the graduate school that interests you to "try on" the university.
- How do you find a research mentor?
- A mentor may ask you to join in research. Do well in classes they teach to get their attention!
- Look up faculty interests and find what matches you best. Don't be afraid to ask for an opportunity or to discuss research with faculty with matching interests.
- After an REU, you can come back and find local faculty who can help you continue with the research. Be careful to make sure you communicate your plans with your REU mentor.
0Applying for Graduate School
- Do not send subject area GRE score unless it is required or good; the math subject is very hard.
- If you know what you want to do, write about it in your statement of purpose or talk about it in interviews. If you don't know, don't worry.
- Look up faculty and their interests at your target school. Mention faculty in your statement of purpose if their research interests match with yours.
- Do not write to every faculty member in the department; they talk to each other!
- Many programs focus on admitting Ph.D. students. If you are targeting an M.S. degree, it can be harder to get in these programs. You should clearly state why you want just the M.S. and why it satisfies your career goals. Some schools consider you for M.S. if you fail to get a Ph.D. slot or fail an exam after you arrive.
- Professional Masters prepare you to work, not to do research.
- Application deadlines can be spread over a long period of time.
- Some applications are electronic, some not.
- You may have to chase down letter writers. Make sure they submit the letters. Find an effective way to communicate your list of deadlines to them.
- Identifying schools to target is hard. Start early. http://phds.org/ ranks schools according to your priorities.
- It is advantageous to apply early since many schools practice rolling admissions.
- Proofread applications carefully and make sure your submit everything.
- Do not just trust the spellchecker. Do not mix up schools, faculty names, etc.
- Clean up your personal websites. Google yourself.
- Make any research papers, presentations available via the web.
0Success in Graduate School
- Teaching Assistantships
- Being a teaching assistant (TA) can be intimidating, but don't worry, they will guide you into it.
- Students may want to challenge you when you start teaching your own class. Be prepared. The more prepared you are, the more comfortable you'll be.
- There is not much instruction on how to instruct, but there are extensive resources. See CELT at ISU, for example.
- Only take 2-3 graduate students in each semester. It is not like undergraduate classwork.
- You will get paid. Don't try to get an outside job. Your assistantship (teaching or research) is your job, and is supposed to take 20 hrs/week of your time.
- Learn to manage your time. Limit your assistantship to 20 hrs a week. If you cannot, talk to someone about it.
- You need a graduate mentor to go to if there are problems. More senior students can serve as mentors. Sometimes, programs may give you access to outside faculty to serve as mentors. Talk to them when you have problems.
- Qualifying exams are hard. Make time to study for them.
- Everybody is smart in graduate school. Get used to and comfortable with failure. Don't let it get you down. Everyone else is going through the same experience.
- Grades don't matter so much now. Learning is far more important than grades.
- Pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam will not work. It is better to study one hour per day over several days. Again, learn to manage your time.
- Don't forget to budget time for yourself. You need your own time to be able to concentrate better when you are at work (graduate school).