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Question about grad school; advisor; letter

  1. Jun 10, 2013 #1

    I am applying to graduate school and there is a professor I want to work with. According to the university, he is an active faculty. I checked his profile and all I could find was his name, the university's address and his research which tersely states: "geometry".

    So I looked him up on Arxiv and I didn't find a single publication. Then I went on and looked him up on the math genealogy project and found that he has no graduate students. This could of course be that none of his students added themselves. The university doesn't have a list of grad students therefore I cannot look up whether there are students working under him.

    So my question is, should I email him to ask if he is even supervising anyone? Or would that give him the impression that my google skills are not good enough?

    GRE Location

    Out of curiosity, who had to go to another town to write the GRE Exam? I just found out the "closest" test center is at a town 5 hours away (one hour if I take the plane).

    Letter Rec

    Does it come off rude if I send my letter writers some questions? Because I do not want to make it look like I am questioning their writing abilities. I've heard that you should even ask what they will write, but isn't that very rude?

    Purpose of Statement and background

    When I send my transcripts, should I assume the math committee does not know what the course number represents? For instance, if my transcript says "Math 200", is there a legend that says "Math 200 is Linear Algebra" or something like that?

    If so, is it unnecessary to write down your background in your personal statement? I've noticed some schools asked me to state this somewhere else. In addition, should I even talk about the courses I will be taking? For instance I am taking a graduate course (the only grad course even offered actually) this fall and my transcript will only relay what I have done my junior years.

    Thank you
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 10, 2013 #2


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    I guess my first question would be why do you want to work under the mentorship this fellow you know so little about? It's not rude at all to email and inquire. How else are you supposed to find out what this person is like? You can even try to set up an appointment to meet in person, or perhaps set up a Skype session. These kinds of things will help you to make a decision on whether this is a good potential mentor for you or not. It will also give you a good idea about potential graduate projects. Websites tend to contain a lot of "what this person has done" and be a little thin on "what this person is doing."

    Generally no, but it depends on the person and the question. It's perfectly acceptable (and a good idea) to ask if someone would feel comfortable writing a positive letter of reference for you. This gives them an opportunity to back out if they may not have the most positive things to say. Asking things like "could you please mention that I'm a diligent student, with tremendous potential for research despite my borderline average and lack of tangible research experience" is probably going overboard.

    All transcripts that I've ever seen include a course title. And if there is any question about a particular course, it's pretty easy to look up a least a short description. Further, transcripts will include courses you are currently enrolled in. In your personal statement what you can mention are senior courses that you've taken (or are taking) that you've particularly enjoyed or topics that may not be considered part of a standard curriculum. I physics, generally speaking, you shouldn't need to spend too much time or space explaining what is commonly understood to be part of an undergraduate physics degree. I would imagine the same is true in math.
  4. Jun 13, 2013 #3
    The thing is that my math department is very small, so even if I don't want to take senior classes, I have to. On the other hand, even if I want to take more rigorous courses like topology, algebra, etc, I cannot because of either conflicts or they just aren't offered. Should I mention this? Or would it damage my application.

    On another matter, do you think they care about why I got interested in Area "X" in the first place?
  5. Jun 14, 2013 #4
    Even if a professor has long list of publications, you should *still* email to find out if he/she is planning to take on a student, since it is possible that he/she already have more than enough students to handle. It is even possible that the professor is planning to move to another institute. There are tonnes of possibilities, and you should really find out if they are in the capability to take student.
  6. Jun 14, 2013 #5


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    I would think that if you're interested in going to graduate school you would want to take senior level classes, as soon as you're ready for them.

    You should take the courses that you want to take if you can, but usually people on graduate admissions committees aren't too interested in a laundry list of "I couldn't take this course because of X..."

    Something else to keep in mind is that sometimes departments can be flexible with schedules - particularly when there are small numbers of people involved. If you can't take a course because of a conflict, first make sure your department knows about it. Also when a course isn't offered, talk to the professor that would normally teach it. Sometimes you can take a "reading" course where you are the only student enrolled. This may not always be an option, but if it helps you to take a course you're really interested in, it's worth a shot.

    To a limited extent. When I review student applications I want to know what the students know about the field I'm in. I don't *really* care that one day they were reading a book about X and were captivated ever since. I care anecdotally in some cases - I like to know something about the students that are applying to our program. But insofar as evaluating them for admission, it helps a lot more to know what they've done to explore the field. What projects have they taken on? Who have they talked to? How deeply have they investigated our program, etc.
  7. Jun 16, 2013 #6
    I am using my "directed study" courses for research. I cannot use it for reading courses. We are limited to a certain number of directed studies.

    On an other matter, would it be rude to list out the professors you want to work with? Or should I just boil it down to one?
  8. Jun 17, 2013 #7
    I wouldn't worry too much if he doesn't have papers on Arxiv; not everyone posts articles there. Check peer reviewed journals. If he doesn't have any in there, be worried.

    I also would not have just one potential advisor in mind. If you hate him, it will ruin graduate school for you. You should most definitely contact him. If that school operates on the principle of 'getting admitted into a research group', your admittance might depend on someone having enough funding for you and saying so while they are going over applications.

    I do have to ask, why do you want to work with this guy if you know so little about him?
  9. Jun 21, 2013 #8
    Feels like I have been dodging this question for a long time. I want to do research under him because he is one of the few profs who is in geometry in where I live.

    Also I got an email saying he does still do research. However he also sent me some papers he wrote (and coauthoered) 6 years ago. Should I ask for something more recent?

    On another matter, my university have decided to remove a bunch of higher level courses this year because there is more first years coming in this year. So I am again in a pinch.

    Thank you all
  10. Jun 21, 2013 #9
    Not trying to brag, but I had 10+ papers written or coauthored in the last 6 years and I'm not even in academia anymore, nor was I ever a professor. Maybe he's just sending you something that he thinks is appropriate or topical for you and not his most recent work. On the other hand, maybe he doesn't have that much recent work. Search for him on Google Scholar to see if he has more recent things out.

    If he doesn't, I don't think I'd want to work under him.
  11. Jun 22, 2013 #10
    It's different for math? Imagine that.
  12. Jun 22, 2013 #11
    I'm not surprised it's different for math. On the other hand, 7 years is a long time to go without a paper in any field. How do you get tenure if you don't publish once during the 6 years before hand?

    I just think it'd be wise for the original poster if he investigated a little more carefully before he committed to a program and/or advisor who is not going to help him at all.
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