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Programs Undergrad courses for Math PhD

  1. Jul 20, 2010 #1
    Hey, I'm an undergrad math major about to start my second year. Just a background, for undergrad, i got into some top 20 schools, but decided to go to a top 100 liberal arts college in state because of the generous scholarship. The school doesn't have a standout math program; no graduate courses and most of the time they only offer one higher level math (like higher than DiffEq, Linear algebra, and intro to higher math) a semester, and on top of that the general education requirements are ridiculous, way more than other school's i've seen. So I won't be able to take the 3 or 4 math classes per semester i've seen other ppl on here talk about taking. However I will be able to take one math class per semester at a university nearby. So if i take two maths per semester from here on out, i'll finish with 9 upper level math classes.
    My goal is to get a phd in pure math at the best place I can get in. I'm just worried that with my background I won't be able to make into decent programs. Grade-wise i'm confident i'll finish with at least a 3.7, most likely at least a 3.8, and i'll do the best i can to get in with professors. There isn't any opportunity at my college to do research, but i'll apply to REU's both the summer after my second and third years. I plan on doing everything i can, but will the limit to advanced classes limit my opportunities? Is it even worth it for me to pursue a Phd in math, or should i set my focus on something else involving math, but not to the same degree? Any opinions are welcome, thanks.
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  3. Jul 21, 2010 #2
    I'm an undergraduate myself, about to enter into my second year.

    I think you'll probably have a bit of trouble getting into the more competitive programs.

    I get the impression, however, that a lot of less competitive programs are decent in their own right. That is, most programs are more than adequate to prepare you as a mathematician. The catch is that you won't get a decent job in academia without a prestigious PhD.
  4. Jul 21, 2010 #3
    This is not entirely true. What is true is that you probably won't be able to take a professorship at a top 10 university without a Ph.D from a top 10 university... But lets not forget that there are plenty of other research universities in America where you have a shot at getting a post (there are MANY other obstacles, though).. If you get decent grades and end up preparing a good thesis under a fairly respected Professor, you will have a decent shot at a post somewhere. You won't be teaching at CalTech or Harvard but you'll have a shot at making a living for yourself somewhere.
  5. Jul 21, 2010 #4
    I hear this quite a lot, and wonder what reason for it is? Surely they must realise that people with PhDs from other universities can be just as knowledgeable as those who obtained their PhDs from the 'Ivy League' institutions. Or do the 'Top 10' revere themselves so much that they can't bring themselves to employ an 'outsider'? :smile:

    As someone from the UK, this doesn't affect me, but it is an interesting situation! Can anyone supply any data to prove the fact, or is it just a myth?
  6. Jul 21, 2010 #5
    I'm sure there's some sort of chart somewhere but go to the math department pages of Harvard, MIT, Caltech, etc. and look at the alma matter of their faculty (and even grad students).
  7. Jul 21, 2010 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    I'm sorry, but that's just nonsense. Look at University of Chicago (chosen because they make it easy to find where their faculty is from). They have people from Princeton and Berkeley, but also from South Carolina, Minnesota and UC San Diego.
  8. Jul 21, 2010 #7
    But would it be easier to look for a position with a degree from a top university?
  9. Jul 21, 2010 #8
    I think there's also a difference between causality and correlation. If all the "brightest minds" flock to top universities and only some to other ones, then I don't see how it would not be more likely for them to get into academia. But then again, that does in no way suggest that it was the top university tag that helped them, rather it was their skills.
  10. Jul 21, 2010 #9
    Well I think Vanadium 50 is pointing out that you don't necessarily need a Ph.D from a top university. What you do matters more than where you're from. George Glauberman is a well published group theorist at UChicago, but he received his Ph.D from Wisconsin.

    Compatibility is also another issue. Ngô Bảo Châu proved the fundamental lemma in the Langlands program, and UChicago obviously cares more about what he's done than where he's from (he attended a well reputed school in Paris apparently). But just as important, it was a suitable match because Drinfeld and Beilinson, both at UChicago, have made important contributions to the Langlands program.
  11. Jul 21, 2010 #10
    Thanks for all the advice guys. So you think i'll be fine to apply after my undergrad? Do you think doing a master's at the best place i can get in will help my phd application? Sorry if that's a dumb question. thanks in advance
  12. Jul 22, 2010 #11
    I understand where you're coming from and that's why I said "...probably won't..." because in my mind, you can get a position at a top tier university with a Ph.D from any school, but it's more likely that you'll get the position if you have a degree from a top tier school.

    Also, I think it depends a lot on your graduate research; things like topic and who your advisor is definitely mean a lot. Probably more than the actual university..
  13. Jul 22, 2010 #12
    I think there's also a difference between causality and correlation. If all the "brightest minds" flock to top universities and only some to other ones, then I don't see how it would not be more likely for them to get into academia. But then again, that does in no way suggest that it was the top university tag that helped them, rather it was their skills.

    I think it's kind of clear that the top university tags do help to an extent, to be honest, but I wouldn't restrict it to top 10. A bright student with a really famous faculty recommending him for jobs is probably in a much better position than a bright student without one. The point about correlation is probably true, because the top 10 schools do tend to attract incredibly strong students.
  14. Jul 22, 2010 #13
    Yeah, I guess I agree that all other things being equal, the candidate with the stronger prestige attached to his alma mater will have an advantage over the other ones.
  15. Jul 23, 2010 #14


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    Unfortunately, I have some bad news. Yes, I believe the limited number of advanced math classes available to you will have a very big impact on your grad school applications. By which I mean, getting admitted to a prestigious program will probably be impossible. And YES, this will in turn have a dramatic impact on your career prospects.

    If getting a math PhD was just something you were idly thinking about, then don't worry about it and move on to something else.

    On the other hand, if you are really determined to do it, you should probably take action now. Look into transferring to another school that is better able to help you reach your goals. Talk to your professors/advisor about all this, although keep in mind they may not be completely unbiased here ("Absolutely, our school isn't good enough to get you in good grad schools, and we're thrilled at the prospect of a smart, ambitious student transferring away to a different school.")
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