PhD in Math and other STEM. Sweat thread

Anyone here, applying to PhDs in Mathematics, Physics, Engineering? How are you guys doing? How many schools? What schools? How many letters of recommendations? Do you have publications? etc. Pile up…

DS is working on apps for PhD in math. Most are due from the 12-15th- He is very last minute so, we will see how that goes! He also keeps updating and changing his list- right now it is 7-8 schools. Good luck everyone in the same boat.

@bookmom7 My son is applying for PhD in Math! 22 schools!!! - His supervisor told him to expand his list of “safeties” by a lot). In fact, my son managed to get through all of those applications, except for one, which requires the residency proofs or whatnot by parents.

The useful tidbits for you: first off all, there are a great discussions in the forum , where previous applicants posted the list of schools they applied to, their GPAs and GRE scores, and whether or not they did research, and whether they had publications etc. And then, these people update their posts to reflect the schools that admitted them, with funding or not, etc. This is a great place to sorta “scale” yourself against other applicants, and use as a source to reflect on your choices of schools to apply to.
Also, my observations of my son’s progress told me that it makes sense to initiate all applications first, so that the requests for letters of recommendation can be initiated ASAP - because some schools require those letters to come before the deadline. When applying at the due date, if the rec letters were not sent earlier (before the application was submitted) - it is then impossible to “make” the deadline… (Just from one mom to another…)

@ElenaParent - Thanks for the info.
I have been reading the GRE site. I also check on Reddit & The GradCafe.

22 apps- wow- my DS would never finish- I think he is only 1/2 way through 7!!

It will be an interesting 4-5 months.

I did my applications last year for Physics/Astronomy (theory).

4 applications, Oxbridge and 2 in Australia. Most programs only needed 3 LORs, but Rhodes required 6 (3 non-academic) and Gates-Cambridge 4 (1 non-academic). I started out with 8 planned apps, but it was too much effort and not really worth it, so I cut back to 4.

I had one first-author pub in the field and the University Medal (plus everything associated with that). I think if my apps had been less secure I would have done more, can’t imagine doing 22 though. 8-10 would have been my absolute limit! After all, you can only accept one offer.

So, where did you end up, @astrotemp , if you don’t mind me asking?
Interesting, I didn’t know that some grad programs require non-academic LORs. I though that by the level of grad school, we are done with being evaluated on all the stuff, other than ability to do research, publish papers, and teach students.
As for 22 applications… Yes, you can only accept one offer, but you should have choices before choosing one. Probability of acceptance these days is a very unknown quantity.

I’m at Cambridge now with the Gates scholarship. It’s only big scholarships like Rhodes and Gates that require non-academic letters, it’s not the graduate programs themselves. The programs care about research experience, especially publications, but the scholarships care about non-academic work.

It matters a lot for faculty positions too, since everyone is expected to do service work, outreach, etc. It’s not enough to just do research and teaching if you want a good shot - you need to offer something more.

As for the number of apps, it depends how competitive you are as an applicant. Even 4 was a bit of overkill because I got into all of them when I was really only choosing between 2 in the end, but I guess I didn’t know where I stood before I applied.

@astrotemp . Hmmm. Astronomy at Cambridge. Theory. Have you heard of Igor Novikov? NO he is not at Cambridge now, but had collaborations.
Separately, my step son and his 22 applications: he had a shorter list, but his mentor told him to expand it towards “safeties”. And it is very hard to figure what his chances are at any of the schools - he is only 16 years old…

I’ve never heard of Novikov before, but he probably doesn’t work in my area so I doubt I’d read his work!

Being 16 is probably the biggest hurdle for him… there are a lot of rules and laws around working with minors, and his presence on any university campus (esp. as a graduate student) creates a lot of work for other people. In many cases we are employees - paid by the university either for our PhD or for side work like marking and supervising (tutoring). That’s going to be more complicated for a minor. I’m in theory so I work with computers and blackboards, but I still had to do health and safety stuff and I imagine that’ll also cause more hurdles for a minor.

And, of course, a 16yo is simply a massive risk for any supervisor to take on. They’re far less experienced just by definition, have likely never lived away from home before, have never managed an adult life on their own before, and they’re still in the throngs of puberty hormones. A PhD requires you to be incredibly independent and unlike a child - I frequently have to sign off on things that your son would be legally unable to sign off on. It is completely different to undergrad and even most people 20+ will struggle, and it has very little to do with academic preparation. Could be very dangerous to begin at such a young age because it’s not designed for children/adolescents and academics will not be kind to your son. The rates of severe mental illness are high, ~70% qualifying for clinical depression or anxiety. People actually die. I wouldn’t blame a supervisor or program for rejecting a 16yo simply because they don’t want to subject him to that. When they damage many young adults, no one really cares, but it would be different for a kid.

The more “trouble” a student is going to be to accept and/or train (e.g. they’re a minor, they have a GPA below the cutoff, they don’t have the right background), the more amazing they have to be to be accepted. That is likely why your son’s supervisor told him to add more safeties - his age is a definite red flag and a disadvantage in applications.

“They’re far less experienced just by definition, have likely never lived away from home before,” - he lived on his own, in a campus dorm, for two years, while doing his undergraduate degree. His family is on one coast, he is 5 hours flight away, on another coast.
“In many cases we are employees” - he did held a paid summer internship (very well paid, in fact), which resulted in publications/presentations, a genuine discovery, and his supervisor calling him “a force multiplier”… As for more safeties - the supervisor knows that, until professors actually talk to him about math, they may think he is too young, so precaution has to be exercised. The effect (of thinking he is too young) disappears when the talk about mathematics starts.
Well, we will see how it all pans out. Good luck to you in your studies!

I’m looking to apply to applied math Ph.D. programs. Since my GPA is low my professor said I should consider taking the GRE math subject exam. My math GPA is 2.99 but overall is 2.58. Although, I’m not sure what’s my overall GPA with CC and four years combined. Should I take it to that count?

If your positing history is true, you are taking Probability and Vector Analysis only now. It seems, you have a long way to go till you get to the courses that are considered respectable (sorry) for a Math PhD applicant (sorry). Are you going to apply next year? My advice would be to lighten up on History courses, and get really involved in Math, if you want PhD in Math.
Yes, sure, go for the Math Subject GRE, and try to get into the 80% - this will beat your sub 3.0 GPA. TRy it several times. You can have three attempts before the next years’ application season. And aim for the schools below first 100 or 150. If possible at all - get into some projects to show you can do research. Is it possible for you to do some grading or TA-ing? Graduate Math programs need “warm bodies” to be teaching assistants and graders, so they do need to admit people.
Thus, I’d work on improving the resume, towards showing research potential, teaching potential, and Math GRE. And make sure you have 170 on the math portion of the general GRE.

Unfortunately, their reservations about admitting him will have nothing to do with his academic aptitude. Everyone who gets into a math PhD can do the math, so it’s not in question and becomes a pretty irrelevant point when comparing applicants at the same level. The most important metrics that any applicant is assessed by are things like emotional maturity, resilience, independence - that’s why they’re usually explicitly asked to rate these qualities in their letters. Having an aptitude for math and research isn’t going to matter if you’ll burn out and drop out, and burning out is all too common for younger people.

There are many applicants far better than your son (this applies to most candidates) who are also older - that puts him at a disadvantage. Talking to him about math doesn’t magically make him older nor does it fix any of the red flags associated with his age. Him living on campus and having done an internship doesn’t assuage them either. PhD programs definitely prefer older candidates because they historically have a lower risk of dropping out. There is a strong preference away from candidates under the age of 20.

They may think he’s the smartest kid they’ve ever seen and still decide to reject him so that he can reapply when he’s older.

@ElenaParent What math courses should I take? I have taken real analysis, complex variables and hopefully, in the upcoming semester, I will be taking grad complex analysis. If they offer functional analysis which is a 600 level course I will take that as well.

Our math department has an open curriculum which makes it very nice because you can choose which courses to take. Our major requires 2 out of 5 area and complete 4 courses (2 classes per each set) which equal to four.

Set One: Algebra
Set Two: (A) Analysis

Alternative Set Two: (B) Analysis (completed already)
Set Three: Geometry/Topology
Set Four: (A) Probability/Statistics (Will finish in Fall 2020)
Alternative Set Four: (B) Probability/Statistics

Set five doesn’t have a name.

Given his age and the likely event that he does not get into a tippy top program, I’d recommend that he look at some MA/MS programs at top math Unis. A few more classes, some great recs and research, and, more importantly, a lot more maturity might make him more attractive to the biggies. That might be a better bet than ‘settling’ for a low-ranked safety.

I’ve just asked somebody who is a math department graduate chair at a state university and he said age likely wouldn’t matter at all for them.

@bluebayou, @astrotemp
Thanks for the advice, guys.

The ball is already rolling, all applications are in. I checked on the MathematicsGRE website - it seems that most of the posters there don’t have publications, while my son does. His rec letters - coming from three different Universities and one from industry, from his co-authors and his teaching professor. His co-authors I am sure addressed his maturity, which, as you can imagine, is not necessarily a linear function of age. His lowest ranked “safety school” is ranked #44, the rest are above 40. His research boss (who did write recommendation letter) doesn’t have any doubt he will get into several of his targets. His professor at the home BA-degree university thinks he will get into more than half. They all know his age, and the difference between his recommenders and you guys is that they actually have met him and worked with him or taught him. Whose opinion do you think is closer to the truth, I am wondering. :slight_smile:
Let’s see how it all pans out.
As for the age preference or absence thereof… I had several conversation on the subject with a friend of mine, who used to be in the graduate school admissions committee in a school ranked in top 35. (He is not participating any more). He told me that when they worked on assessment of applications, they cared about ability to do research, and to teach. Age was not the thing they ever hanged their decisions on.

Sorry, your post on another thread sounded much less math related. So, wait a minute, does your school require just 4 (upper division?) math courses? Also, what did you take for Real Analysis? Was it Baby Rudin book?
Anyway, I wish you luck. Do you have an area (of math) that you like more than others? If you are in applied math, do you have a related science (physics? biology? chemistry? computer science?) where you’d like to apply your math knowledge to? I mean, I am searching for a way you are going to form your “Statement of Purpose”. You will have to make claims there, state your interests, and they should be confirmed with facts (classes you took and research you did).
In any event, I wish you luck of course. And surely do take GRE general, and GRE math subject. Many schools require of recommend math subject test. If the result is not great on the April test, you will be able to take it again in September and October. And in any event, if the subject test is not required, you will not have to send the results in, if you do not like the result. But if you get a good score, it indeed may help you.
Check out web site - many PhD math candidates discuss stuff there. The knowledge of this collective is considerable!
And at the end let me put e quote here, from Ohio State graduate math program.
<<we typically="" receive="" between="" 300="" and="" 350="" applications="" for="" the="" phd="" program="" each="" year,="" our="" recruitment="" target="" an="" incoming="" class="" is="" usually="" around="" 15-25="" new="" phds.="" process="" starts="" with="" a="" pre-screening="" of="" files="" by="" chair="" committee="" based="" on="" basic="" data="" such="" as="" performance="" in="" critical="" courses,="" general="" background,="" test="" scores,="" brief="" inspections="" letters.="" graduate="" then="" reviews="" about="" 100-120="" greater="" depth,="" split="" over="" two="" rounds,="" one="" early="" january="" another="" late="" february.="" this="" review="" leads="" to="" admission="" 70-80="" students="" program,="" well="" ordered="" wait="" list="" issued="" sometime="" march.="">>

Thank you, @yucca10 !!

Here is one more resource for you: the grad cafe. You can check the self reported stats of the people who got admitted and rejected from every grad program. Here are the search results for Rutgers, for example:
Many people do not report the stats, but some do, and for those who do - you will see a dot at the right bottom corner of the red-ish or greene-ish result rectangle. Hover your mouse of it and you will see their stats.
There, btw, you can see how many people take subject GRE (and report it).