PHD grads, Area of Study. When did you know?

In summary, the conversation revolved around the decision-making process of choosing a specific area of mathematics for research. Some participants had a clear idea before entering graduate school, while others took time to explore and decide during their studies. The importance of choosing the right advisor and the influence of location on the availability of certain subjects were also discussed.

When did you decide what Maths your Concentration/Thesis/Dissertation would be in?

  • Pre-Undergrad: I knew in High School!

    Votes: 2 11.1%
  • Undergrad: First Year

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Undergrad: Second Year

    Votes: 2 11.1%
  • Undergrad: Third Year

    Votes: 1 5.6%
  • Undergrad: Forth Year

    Votes: 2 11.1%
  • Graduate: First Year

    Votes: 5 27.8%
  • Graduate: Second Year

    Votes: 2 11.1%
  • Graduate: Third Year

    Votes: 2 11.1%
  • Graduate: Forth Year

    Votes: 2 11.1%
  • Graduate: Beyond Forth Year

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    18
  • #1
441
0
I want to know if you are a PHD Graduate when you decided what specific area of mathematics you wanted your research to be in.

I am currently going to go for my first year of grad school in the fall, and have a general idea of the maths that I like, but want to know if I should have a clearer picture.
 
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  • #2
I knew what specific area of astrophysics I wanted to research before I entered grad school (same area I studied as an intern the summer before senior year), but I think my case is unusual. I wouldn't stress out about it.
 
  • #3
I knew I wanted to do do a PhD in Astronomy at the end of my second year so that's what I've picked here. As to what I wanted to do my thesis in... well I worked that out during PhD applications during my masters.
 
  • #4
Good stuff,

I know I like Algebra, Galois theory interests me some.

In addition I love number theory! Although proving something like the twin prime conjecture might hold little application, I still find it fascinating.

My first two courses are Algebra, and Analysis. I took a group undergrad Algebra and Analysis course, and these will be much more rigorous I presume. I plan on spending lots of time with professors to figure out which direction my studies should take.
 
  • #5
the idea of beginning grad school is to take several courses in a variety of areas and choose a topic.

i myself chose algebraic geometry in my second year, after seeing one course in it.
 
  • #6
mathwonk said:
the idea of beginning grad school is to take several courses in a variety of areas and choose a topic.

Seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, my grad school is (I think) requiring me to pick two interest areas to start! I'm entering as an MS (Ph.D after I pass quals they say) in EE and I've already had second thoughts on one of my two areas that I put on my application, so that's been driving me nuts.
 
  • #7
I went thru two advisors before I decided on a final disseration topic ultimately finishing in theoretical condensed matter, before that I worked in fiber optics and multi-quantum well spectroscopy, neither or which advisor was really good in the lab to get me started.
 
  • #8
The people who "figure out" what they want to research before they get to grad school are either superbly prepared, or they get lucky in that they end up liking what they guessed they would like. But I don't see how anyone would know they would do research in quantum field theory, K theory, operator algebras, algebraic geometry, etc. You need at least a year of graduate classes before you've even seen some of this stuff.
 
  • #9
Well you should keep in mind that the choice of adviser is as important as choice of field. You will be working with that person for years. Once you start considering that your options should start narrowing down.
 
  • #10
Can the other people whose vote was for somewhere during their undergrad years tell us a bit about how their decision came about?

I voted for second year of undergrad.

My story is that during my first year I spent a lot of time looking into what classes I would take my second year (I would be starting my upper division classes). I looked through many books and overall read a lot about a lot of subjects.

The subject that stood out the most complex analysis. I started my second year taking complex analysis and I also took real analysis. My professor for real analysis happened to study Several Complex Variables and Differential Geometry. After taking Differential geometry and studying manifold theory, riemmanian geometry, complex geometry (my analysis professor game me some of his notes on these subjects), some several complex variables and a lot more complex analysis, I decided that my concentration would be Several Complex Variables and Complex Geometry. To this effect I took graduate classes relating to this area during my third year. During my fourth year, I have been a participant in a complex geometry seminar in which we are presenting the proof of the Calabi conjecture.

I am currently looking at something related which might lead to my dissertation.
I can't say that I have found what my dissertation would be in exactly during my fourth year, because I don't know if what I am doing right now will work out, but I definitely decided on my area of concentration during my second year. I wasn't because I got lucky and liked what I guessed I would like. I put a lot of work into figuring out what I liked and what did not seem so attractive. Also I figured out what I liked before I became superbly prepared. I wanted to be superbly prepared before going to grad school but I wanted all that preparation to go into the area in which I would be working on and to related areas.
 
  • #11
The answer depends hugely on which continent you are on.
 
  • #12
Then I guess we should all write where we are from.

I'm studying in the U.S.

Just out of curiosity though, would you (Cristo in particular, but others can answer too) consider that undergrad students in Europe come out with a better idea of what they will study than student's in the U.S.

I know that in the U.S. it is very rare for undergrads to study several complex variables and when I first started studying it during my second year I had a hard time finding a book that was suitable for undergrads. Thankfully I found a book, Several Complex Variables and Complex Manifolds, by a guy in London that was geared towards undergrads.
 
  • #13
I voted, even though my field is Physics. I decided in my first year of grad school.

PS: Continent I am on - North America(US).
 
  • #14
SCV said:
Just out of curiosity though, would you (Cristo in particular, but others can answer too) consider that undergrad students in Europe come out with a better idea of what they will study than student's in the U.S.
I'm from the UK and at least here I think yes, you do have a good idea after undergrad, mainly because you have to, unless you take a master's degree between undergrad and research. The main reason for this being that when one enters their phd studies here in the UK they are assigned an advisor from day one; that is, there is no year (or several) of courses followed by qualifier exams that there are in the US. I attended a couple of courses, and read a fair bit of background material, but was working on research within a couple of months of starting.

Edit: I'm puzzled by some of the voting: how can one only decide in their third year of graduate studies which area they wish to specialise in? I presume that such a person is going to take about 7 years to complete their PhD?!
 
Last edited:
  • #15
cristo said:
I'm from the UK and at least here I think yes, you do have a good idea after undergrad, mainly because you have to, unless you take a master's degree between undergrad and research. The main reason for this being that when one enters their phd studies here in the UK they are assigned an advisor from day one; that is, there is no year (or several) of courses followed by qualifier exams that there are in the US. I attended a couple of courses, and read a fair bit of background material, but was working on research within a couple of months of starting.

Edit: I'm puzzled by some of the voting: how can one only decide in their third year of graduate studies which area they wish to specialise in? I presume that such a person is going to take about 7 years to complete their PhD?!
The average time for finishing a Ph.D. seems to be steadily rising, at least in my department. In the seminar which I was in this year, four of the participants share in their sixth year and only two are finishing this year.

One of those two said he is envious of me because I have focus. He said he was attending number theory seminars early on and he is probably going to be working on something in Complex Geometry.
 
  • #16
I am in the US, my plan is to get a Masters (2 years) and then go on for a PhD which I assume is 2 years (but could be up to 4 or 5).
 
  • #17
I thought master's degrees in the US were 'consolation' prizes: that is, handed out only when a student does not successfully obtain a phd?
 
  • #18
Nope, more like a stepping stone. Typically one will go Bachelor's Degree, Master's Degree, PhD.
 
  • #19
It kind of depends. For engineering, business, and a lot of 'soft' sciences, a Master's is a good stand-alone degree. In physics though (I can't speak for other hard sciences), they largely expect students to come into their Ph.D. programs from a bachelor's program, and hand out a M.S. if they can't cut it.
 
  • #20
Diffy said:
Nope, more like a stepping stone. Typically one will go Bachelor's Degree, Master's Degree, PhD.
Not in the sciences (in the US), where a Master's is much more often a termination scheme than a stepping stone.
 
  • #21
Diffy said:
Nope, more like a stepping stone. Typically one will go Bachelor's Degree, Master's Degree, PhD.
If you do this, and then switch schools, you'll either have to re-take the master's level classes or pass quals, but either way, it will be extremely hard to find an advisor and finish a thesis in two years.
 
  • #22
Gokul43201 said:
Not in the sciences (in the US), where a Master's is much more often a termination scheme than a stepping stone.

Many PhD programs award students with Masters degree half way through though (usually after passing comps). I don't know what portion of schools do that, but it's common enough that I have to disagree with your phrase "much more often".
 
  • #23
I have to disagree with your phrase "much more often".

I concur, sometimes the people that post on this board say the most oddest things.
 
  • #24
I don't know if it's "much more often," but as a recent grad school applicant, having researched several dozen programs, the masters degree really does tend to be the "consolation prize," as cristo put it.
 
  • #25
My university (in the U.S.) is one such that offers master's degrees along the way to a Ph.D. (I just got mine May 11). It often is a terminal degree for some students, but it's also a requirement for doctoral students in my program. In my case, it won't lengthen the amount of time it takes to get a Ph.D.; actually, I plan to receive a doctorate quicker than average.

I'm puzzled by those who voted that they knew what specific thesis topic in high school. Unless they started research in high school and stuck with that same topic for many years, I think they're misreading the question. Unless someone can explain to me how that can be.
 
  • #26
Most of the schools that I'm familiar with (Wisconsin, Minnesota, UCSD, Berkeley, Harvard, UMd, Ohio State) don't have a Master's requirement for the PhD program. The only school that know that has one is Purdue. In the other schools, the MS is an option along the way, but isn't mandatory. In my department, you can get an MS certificate if you have passed the candidacy exam, but you don't need to. Most folks here get an MS after enrolling in the PhD program only if they wish to terminate.
 
  • #27
Wow, I can't believe how long things take in the states. First Bachelor's degrees are 4 years, then masters degrees are 2, then PhDs seem to be 5 years minimum. Unreal.

Although I said it before, I'll add now that I'm from the UK. I knew that I wanted to do a PhD in Astronomy at the end of my second year of my BSc (out of three years). I worked out what exact area I wanted to research about halfways through my MSc year.
 
  • #28
Spanky Deluxe said:
Wow, I can't believe how long things take in the states. First Bachelor's degrees are 4 years, then masters degrees are 2, then PhDs seem to be 5 years minimum. Unreal.

MS and PhD are shared time if you go to the same university though. Take 2 years off :P
 

1. What is a PHD and why is it important?

A PHD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is the highest level of academic degree that can be earned in a particular field of study. It is important because it demonstrates a high level of expertise and mastery in a specific area of study, as well as the ability to conduct original research and contribute new knowledge to the academic community.

2. How long does it take to complete a PHD program?

The length of a PHD program can vary, but on average it takes 4-6 years to complete. This time frame may be longer for certain fields of study or for students who are pursuing a part-time program.

3. What are the most common areas of study for PHD graduates?

The most common areas of study for PHD graduates include STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math), social sciences, humanities, and business. However, PHD programs can be found in a wide range of fields, from fine arts to education.

4. How do you choose your area of study for a PHD program?

Choosing an area of study for a PHD program is a personal decision that should be based on your interests, passions, and career goals. It is important to research different programs and talk to faculty members and current students to gain a better understanding of the program and its requirements.

5. When did you know that you wanted to pursue a PHD?

There is no set answer to this question as everyone's journey towards a PHD is different. Some individuals may have known from a young age that they wanted to pursue a PHD, while others may have discovered their passion through their undergraduate or graduate studies. Some may even decide to pursue a PHD later in life. Ultimately, the decision to pursue a PHD should be based on your own interests and goals.

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