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Advice from the Graduate Chair

A collection of general advice, frequently asked questions, etc.

Gathered here is general advice on how to succeed in this programs and answers to frequently asked questions. These are not official policies, so you may get different advice from others or decide not to follow this advice for one reason or another. For further information, peruse our program descriptions and policies, or contact the graduate chair at


Your goal in seeking a graduate degree is to develop skills, obtain knowledge, and build experience that enable you to succeed in you chosen profession. Consequently, you should challenge yourself with advanced classes, research projects, etc., and not just try to fulfill the minimum requirements.

Our goal is for you to thrive in our program and go on to a successful career. If you have difficulties, please talk with your advisor or the graduate chair so that we can help you thrive.


Look at the information on admissions and financial support, as well as the specific requirements for each program and track.

  • There is no separate application for financial support. On the main application for admission, simply check the boxes indicating that you are seeking support. If you have teaching experience or other information that we should take into account, you can include them in your statement of purpose.

I am often asked how the admissions process works behind the scenes, so here is a sketch:

  • In January we learn what our budget will be for Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Graduate Recruitment Scholarships (GRSs) for the following academic year. Subtracting our current students who will return next year, we then know what we are able to offer students who are applying.
  • Starting February 1, we evaluate applicants and sort into:
    • Admit and definitely support
    • Admit and support if possible
    • Deny admission
  • We then offer out our available support to the first group, and perhaps the top applicants in the second group. Since some students will decline, we offer slightly more support than we have, but must be conservative. Other students in the second group are admitted, but without support.
  • Students have until April 15 to accept our initial offer of support. If more decline than we expected, then we will have additional support available, and we offer it to the next-best students in the second group. At this point additional information that arrived too late for our initial evaluation will be taken into account.
  • This process may continue into the summer. Some students offered GRS support will be invited to train as TAs in the fall in case a TA position opens up at the last minute or mid-year.

Incoming students

Here is some advice on what to take when you first get here, assuming that is the fall semester. You should talk with your adviser, too.

If you are a teaching assistant, then you should take three course in your first semester, plus MATH 5120 College Mathematics Teaching for New Teaching Assistants. If you are not, then you should take four courses.

If you have already taken an equivalent course at another university, you should skip that course here and start at a higher level.

Master of Science - Applied Track

This advice assumes you do not intend to continue to a Ph.D. in Mathematics. If you do intend to continue, see the Doctoral Preparation Track.

  • Take MATH 5600 Introduction to Numerical Analysis, which is required and is only offered in the fall.
  • Take MATH 5301 Advanced Calculus I, which is the prerequisite for many other courses, and also only offered in the fall.
  • If you are interested in statistics, take MATH 5500 Theory of Statistics, which is the prerequisite for all other statistics courses, and also only offered in the fall.
  • If you are interested in differential equations, also take MATH 5400 Advanced Differential Equations

Master of Science - Computational Track

This advice assumes you do not intend to continue to a Ph.D. in Mathematics.

Start with the suggestions for the applied track, since your initial math requirements are similar. If you still have room in your schedule, take one or more of

  • CS 5040 Design and Analysis of Algorithms
  • CS 5060 Computation Theory
  • CS 5420 Operating Systems and Computer Architecture I, which are also required classes.

Master of Science - Doctoral Preparation Track

This advice assumes you intend to continue to a Ph.D. in Mathematics. Your goal is to both fulfill the requirements for the M.S. and be prepared for comprehensive examinations in the doctoral program here or at other universities. There is a choice of topics here and a variety of systems at other universities. I recommend in their first year everyone take

  • MATH 5301, 5302 Advanced Calculus I, II since they are prerequisites for the 6000-level Analysis, Differential Equations, and Topology sequences.

You then have a choice among:

  • Algebra: MATH 5221 Modern Algebra I then 5222;
  • Differential Equations: MATH 5400 Advanced Differential Equations then 5410;
  • Statistics: MATH 5500 Theory of Statistics then 5510; or
  • Topology: MATH 5700 Introduction to Topology (offered in spring).

Master of Science - Post-Secondary Teaching Track

This advice assumes you do not intend to continue to a Ph.D. in Mathematics.

In the Fall take

  • MATH 5221 Modern Algebra I
  • MATH 5301 Advanced Calculus I

Doctoral Program

If you do not already have a master's degree, start by following the course suggestions for the M.S. Doctoral Preparation Track. If you already have a degree, then your goal is to pass the comprehensive examinations as soon as possible so that you can focus on research. In your first year, you should take whatever 6000-level classes you still need so that you can pass the exams after your first year.

Continuing Students

Challenge yourself and get the most out of your education!

M.S. Study Plans

As a master's student, you and your adviser need to create a study plan by the end of your first semester, and update it whenever something changes. On this form goes a set of courses that would fulfill the requirements of your track and earn you the M.S. degree in a timely manner. A main purpose of creating this plan is to make sure you understand the requirements and do not "forget" to satisfy something and therefore fail to graduate when you want. When making this plan, keep in mind:

  • It can and will be revised several times while you are here.
  • You only need to include a minimal set of courses to fulfill the requirements, not all the courses you plan to take.

Students in our master's program who wish to continue to our doctoral program:

During your second year, apply for admission to the doctoral program for the fall of your third year. The deadline is Feb. 1. If you took 6000-level courses in your first year, then you can ask for an early decision; otherwise, we will wait at least until the fall grades are available.

Doctoral Students

Students in our doctoral program who do not have a master?s degree:

You should get a master's degree along your way to the doctoral. Besides being a nice milestone, a master's degree is sometimes required for certain jobs even if you have a doctorate. To get the master's degree:

  1. Consult your adviser to determine when you will have fulfilled the requirements. Fill out a study plan.
  2. Inform the department one semester earlier so we can add the master's program to your record as a secondary program for that term.
  3. Apply for graduation to get the master's.

Students preparing for the comprehensive exams in the doctoral program:

Copies of old exams are available in the department office. I recommend that you get copies of the exams in your chosen subjects before you start the core courses in that subject. Each week look at the exams and see if you have covered the material to enable you to do any more questions, and then try to do those questions, getting help as needed. At the end of the course, you will have done most or all of the old exam questions and have a firm foundation for your study.

Students in the doctoral program looking for a dissertation adviser:

When you entered our program, you were assigned an academic adviser to help you decide on your coursework, exams, etc. We try to select a faculty member who works in the area in which you indicated interest, but this academic adviser may or may not be your dissertation adviser. I recommend that you talk to several potential advisers about their research and ask for a recent paper of theirs to read so you can see what their field is like. You can then talk to a few of them about potentially being their student. They may give you a small problem to work on to determine if you like the subject, if you like working with them, and if they like working with you. Although finding an adviser is an immensely important decision, it often is determined by you and the faculty member feeling that you are a good match.

Outgoing Students

Doctoral Students Seeking Jobs in Academia