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Choices About Grad School in Math

  1. Jan 7, 2014 #1
    I couldn't find anything in the search to quite fit my situation and you guys seem to know your stuff. Take a crack at this one.

    I'm a senior in a big commuter state school with an extremely decent, PhD granting math department. Decent, not stellar; the thing is that most of our faculty is talented and has a high output of research, but there's only about 15 or so members, and half of those are in applied math. I have a pretty crappy math gpa, but it's top heavy and I still have more to go; I have a record of improvement that even makes me suspicious. Possibly more importantly I've charmed the senior faculty and they love writing me letters of rec whenever I need them as it is. What I'm trying to say is that it really looks like I can at least make it into graduate school, and from this info you guys can probably start guessing what kind because you have a better idea about those kinds of things. I'm not concerned with where right now, though, I'm concerned with how.

    From the beginning in college I was in the mentality to race to the finish line for various reasons, so I was a senior at the start of my junior year. My advisor brought something up about getting graduate credit my senior year. I worked it out and I can graduate a semester early, immediately start working on my master's, and have that in the bag a year in a half later. Here's where the dilemma starts:

    I know well enough that getting your grad degree at the same place as your under grad is a no-no if you want a good job, and especially if its a state school. I don't intend to stay for my PhD under any circumstances--it's PhD elsewhere or bust. I just have no idea what it looks like in a PhD application to get your master's at the same institution as your BS. If I do stay I think I can do a ton of research. Prospects are pretty good that I can get a TA my first semester, and that means much less work, because right now I'm working 30 hours weekly, half off-campus, and I know at least one full-time grad student that takes less math courses per semester than I do. Speaking of the TA thing, I would be teaching practically the first year out of my undergrad, and that would probably feel pretty cool.

    These are my capabilities and pros/cons about staying. So should I stay and take advantage of all this convenience? Or should I prolong my undergrad the extra semester and try to hop to a better school for my masters so I can jump to an even better school for my PhD? Anecdote and criticism is welcome among the advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 8, 2014 #2


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    The idea that one should not complete graduate studies at the same institution as they completed their undergrad is way overblown in my opinion. There are practical reasons for changing: exposure to new instructors, networking opportunities, different facilities, broadening your group of friends, etc. But these can easily be outweighed by pros on the other side of the fence. If you have the opportunity to work on a project you like, the price is right, it works out better for the two body problem, you know you'll like your supervisor, etc.

    In most cases graduate committees will give your PhD application the same weight whether you have an MSc for the same school as your undergrad or a different one - the possible exception being if one of the two schools is vastly different from the other in terms of program quality.
  4. Jan 8, 2014 #3
    Discussions with actual faculty members I've had in the past indicate that the quality of your research and/or graduate course grades vastly outweighs any other factor as far as hiring you is concerned, depending upon if you want to teach or do research; at least objectively, all else being equal academic hiring is often somewhat informal and dependent upon connections. Nobody gives a rats *** about something as trivial as where you did your PhD.

    Now, many top students go to top schools, and many of the most prolific advisors work at the top schools, so it stands to reason that many people are hired out of such institutions. But if you look at any ordinary math department, you'll find that there are often more than a few individuals who obtained phd's at either the same institution as their B.S. or at less prestigious institutions, especially the further down the rankings you go. Your odds of making it even if you go to Stanford in pure mathematics, from my understanding are extremely slim all the same, although the demand for teachers seems to make math departments quite large if you're content with heavy teaching load lecturing positions.

    I'm not really sure whether to recommend you stay or go since I don't know anything about your school. If you can find a good advisor in something you like locally stick with it and get that PhD done; if you're going into the academic long haul you're looking at 5+ years of PhD study and 5-7+ years of postdocs if math works like physics, and the longer you delay that the worse things get. NSF funding for math is pretty stringent from my understanding too so definitely try to think as soundly financially as you can.
  5. Jan 11, 2014 #4
    Thanks for the replies folks, I feel a lot more validated about leaning toward the staying-for-my-master's idea. Especially since I'm sure I can get a good master's supervisor.
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