In summary, the person is a college junior majoring in mathematics and interested in theoretical computing and cryptography. They seek advice on the impact of undergraduate research on mathematics graduate programs. While they are excited to start researching, some graduate students have advised them to focus on preparing for Putnam and spending more time on math courses, as research may not be highly valued in the admission process. The person is seeking thoughts and experiences on this, and questioning whether they should focus on one research topic instead of two. They also mention that they thought research experience was important in the biology program, but are now discouraged.
  • #1
Dear Physics Forum advisers,

I am a rising college junior (five-years tract) with a major in mathematics and an aspiring mathematician in the fields of theoretical computing and cryptography. I apologize for this sudden interruption but I wrote this email to seek your advice on the impact of undergraduate research on the mathematics graduate programs. Starting of August, I will be conducting the separate undergraduate research on the theoretical computing (abstract, math-heavy) and computer security (programming-focused but utilizing algebra and number theory). I am very excited to start investigating those topics as they are super interesting to me and steered me to love the mathematics. However, I just received the advice from some of graduate students, and they said that the undergraduate research does not matter much in the admission process since many mathematics graduate programs (both MS and Ph.D) view undergraduate-level research as not matured enough to reflect the mathematical abilities of applicants than Putnam, MGRE, and GPA. They told me to focus on preparing for Putnam and spending all time on the math courses. I am quite surprised as I thought (at least in the biology program; I was a former microbiology major) that the research experience is strongly expected from the applicants. I would really like to focus on my research as I like my research topics and I learn the math best when I have specific problems (such as research topics) to focus on, but the advice I got is really discouraging...Could you share your thoughts and experience? If I should stick with my undergraduate research, should I focus only one of two (theoretical computing or computer security) rather than conducting two separate research? I initially decided to conduct two research as I thought having as many research experience of my interest is very important.


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  • #2
The importance of undergraduate research depends on where you are and what grad programs you anticipate applying to.

When I was on the math faculty of the Air Force Academy, the math faculty regarded research experiences as very important for their math majors.

Your school's faculty are probably better sources of advice than the local graduate students, especially once they know what your aspirations are.

The research experiences you have in mind will also serve you well in many job markets.

1. What are the benefits of participating in undergraduate research in mathematics?

Participating in undergraduate research in mathematics allows students to gain hands-on experience in the field, develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and strengthen their understanding of mathematical concepts. It also provides opportunities for networking, mentorship, and the chance to contribute to cutting-edge research.

2. How can I get involved in undergraduate research in mathematics?

There are several ways to get involved in undergraduate research in mathematics. You can reach out to professors or graduate students in your department and express your interest in research. You can also apply for research programs or internships specifically focused on mathematics. Additionally, attending conferences and networking events can help you make connections and find research opportunities.

3. What are the requirements for admission to a mathematics graduate program?

The specific requirements for admission to a mathematics graduate program can vary, but they typically include a bachelor's degree in mathematics or a related field, strong letters of recommendation, a competitive GPA, and a strong performance on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). Some programs may also require a statement of purpose and/or a writing sample.

4. What can I expect from a mathematics graduate program?

A mathematics graduate program typically involves advanced coursework in various areas of mathematics, as well as opportunities for research and teaching experience. Students may also have the opportunity to attend seminars and conferences, collaborate with faculty and other students, and publish their research findings. The program may culminate in a thesis or comprehensive exam.

5. What career options are available for graduates of mathematics graduate programs?

Graduates of mathematics graduate programs have a wide range of career options, including academia, industry, and government. Many go on to become researchers, professors, data analysts, statisticians, or actuaries. The problem-solving skills and analytical thinking developed in a mathematics graduate program can also be applied to various fields, such as finance, engineering, and computer science.

Suggested for: Undergraduate Research and Mathematics Graduate Programs