What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
HermannWayl
Posts: 1
Joined: Fri Mar 23, 2018 1:01 pm

What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby HermannWayl » Fri Mar 23, 2018 8:41 pm

Sophmore now and wondering if there is anything besides the obvious I should keep in mind heading into the next year?

(Obvious being REUs, strong letters of rec, high GPA, lots of grad classes)

Thanks :D

Rise
Posts: 73
Joined: Mon Aug 15, 2016 6:48 pm

Re: What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby Rise » Fri Mar 23, 2018 9:51 pm

1) Research interests matter a lot for small private schools. Dont overspecify research interests on applications to those schools, because even if they match up with a professor’s, she or he might not be taking students.

2) Wait until the deadlines to give myself more time to edit out mistakes. I submitted all of mine almost a month before deadline. Once you submit the apps, the die is cast. It feels amazing to be done with it, but that joy turns to ashes in your mouth when you see a typo in your resume. (Luckily for me, it was extremely negligible)

3) Grad School Prayer Circles with your classmates are fun, not so much helpful. It’s Spring Break now but I’m planning a Michigan Prayer Circle after for my waitlisted friend.

djysyed
Posts: 264
Joined: Sat Oct 28, 2017 9:59 pm

Re: What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby djysyed » Fri Mar 23, 2018 10:21 pm

What graduate schools want to see is potential. Show them that you have what it takes to be a future fields medalist!

nothing
Posts: 57
Joined: Sun Mar 26, 2017 1:58 am

Re: What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby nothing » Fri Mar 23, 2018 10:22 pm

Publications don't matter at top 20. The committee will never believe that it's your original work unless you have a very famous recommender and he states it in the letter.

grothendieck
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Jul 09, 2015 10:22 am

Re: What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby grothendieck » Thu Apr 19, 2018 8:50 pm

[quote="Rise"]1) Research interests matter a lot for small private schools. Dont overspecify research interests on applications to those schools, because even if they match up with a professor’s, she or he might not be taking students. [\quote]

I would recommend to ask the corresponding faculty member. This is how I got in to my grad school. However, most of them would warn you that the system in USA is different than that in most of Europe.

petrokov
Posts: 21
Joined: Wed Dec 20, 2017 11:32 pm

Re: What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby petrokov » Fri Apr 20, 2018 1:39 am

This is kind of something I've found about school in general. You shouldn't trust that if you do what you're supposed to do and get A's in all your classes and get good test scores then everything will be okay. I feel like things like GPA and GRE scores can't help your application; they can only hurt you. Just because no one around you is applying for REUs or trying publish things doesn't mean that you can also not do these things and be okay.

This might seem obvious to some people, but for others whose undergraduate is not stellar, this is something that needs to be mentioned. Speaking personally from my undergraduate experience, it can be hard to feel pressure to push harder to do extra when everyone around you is struggling just to pass linear algebra. I didn't even know what an REU was until I came to this forum because no one in the math department ever mentioned one. I never had an advisor in my math department. I think my undergraduate math department is not used to having students who set high standards for themselves, so they don't really put any effort into preparing students for grad school. I'm not saying the professors were bad; many of them produced quality research, and their classes were rich and engaging, but they never conveyed any ideas about our futures as mathematicians. I understand this struggle; I teach Cambridge A-Level Math in a high school, and it's hard to push the good students to A* level when half of the class can't even learn the chain rule. But it's still frustrating when I apply to grad school and then I find out that there were so many things that I missed just because I trusted the people around me that everything would be okay if I did what I was told to do.

I think I got lucky, because I'm fairly satisfied with the program I got into. I'm trying to avoid the same mistake twice now. I've already been assigned an advisor, so I've decided that before I go to school in the fall, I'm going to read and understand as much of his research as I possibly can so that if he gives me research related to his work, then I'll be closer to being on the same page as him. Even if my research in the program is completely unrelated to what my advisor is doing, at least I'll learn about his research topics to a considerable depth, which will give me a better foundation later on. I'm also trying to find results related to my own research ideas. Even though I'm just thinking about a few toy problems and not making much progress, I think getting used to thinking about new ideas and trying different approaches and not getting frustrated will help me build research skills for when I have better tools to attack problems. Basically I'm trying to dedicate every day toward having more opportunities after I finish my PhD in 4-5 years. I think if I do well, then I can get a decent postdoc and eventually become a professor somewhere with a good discrete math department.

FreddieBiddleBooty
Posts: 120
Joined: Sat Oct 28, 2017 5:38 pm

Re: What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby FreddieBiddleBooty » Fri Apr 20, 2018 2:13 am

petrokov wrote:This is kind of something I've found about school in general. You shouldn't trust that if you do what you're supposed to do and get A's in all your classes and get good test scores then everything will be okay. I feel like things like GPA and GRE scores can't help your application; they can only hurt you. Just because no one around you is applying for REUs or trying publish things doesn't mean that you can also not do these things and be okay.

This might seem obvious to some people, but for others whose undergraduate is not stellar, this is something that needs to be mentioned. Speaking personally from my undergraduate experience, it can be hard to feel pressure to push harder to do extra when everyone around you is struggling just to pass linear algebra. I didn't even know what an REU was until I came to this forum because no one in the math department ever mentioned one. I never had an advisor in my math department. I think my undergraduate math department is not used to having students who set high standards for themselves, so they don't really put any effort into preparing students for grad school. I'm not saying the professors were bad; many of them produced quality research, and their classes were rich and engaging, but they never conveyed any ideas about our futures as mathematicians. I understand this struggle; I teach Cambridge A-Level Math in a high school, and it's hard to push the good students to A* level when half of the class can't even learn the chain rule. But it's still frustrating when I apply to grad school and then I find out that there were so many things that I missed just because I trusted the people around me that everything would be okay if I did what I was told to do.

I think I got lucky, because I'm fairly satisfied with the program I got into. I'm trying to avoid the same mistake twice now. I've already been assigned an advisor, so I've decided that before I go to school in the fall, I'm going to read and understand as much of his research as I possibly can so that if he gives me research related to his work, then I'll be closer to being on the same page as him. Even if my research in the program is completely unrelated to what my advisor is doing, at least I'll learn about his research topics to a considerable depth, which will give me a better foundation later on. I'm also trying to find results related to my own research ideas. Even though I'm just thinking about a few toy problems and not making much progress, I think getting used to thinking about new ideas and trying different approaches and not getting frustrated will help me build research skills for when I have better tools to attack problems. Basically I'm trying to dedicate every day toward having more opportunities after I finish my PhD in 4-5 years. I think if I do well, then I can get a decent postdoc and eventually become a professor somewhere with a good discrete math department.


Great advice.

petrokov
Posts: 21
Joined: Wed Dec 20, 2017 11:32 pm

Re: What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby petrokov » Fri Apr 20, 2018 3:17 am

FreddieBiddleBooty wrote:Great advice.


I'm glad you think so; I was afraid I came off as too negative.

I forgot to add the thing that I wanted to conclude with, though. What I've learned is that it's good to make friends with people who are better than you at what you want to do. It's a lot easier to stay motivated to do better when all your friends are making what you want to do look easy. I think this can apply to learning any skill or following any career path.

yon3da
Posts: 16
Joined: Tue Jan 09, 2018 12:21 pm

Re: What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby yon3da » Fri Apr 20, 2018 10:17 am

A strategy I wish someone had outlined for me is the following:
1. Find the youngest faculty member in your respective field and ask them where you should apply
2. Figure out your rec letter writers ahead of time. Make sure they're going to write you awesome letters
3. (MOST IMPORTANTLY) figure out where your rec letter writers have tenured connections. These are the schools where you have the best shot of getting in
4. Apply to all the schools in the intersection of step 1 and step 3.

Grad school is such a toss up and there is so much randomness involved. Sadly, one of your biggest assets is who you know & who your rec letter writers know.

Rise
Posts: 73
Joined: Mon Aug 15, 2016 6:48 pm

Re: What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby Rise » Fri Apr 20, 2018 5:47 pm

grothendieck wrote:
Rise wrote:1) Research interests matter a lot for small private schools. Dont overspecify research interests on applications to those schools, because even if they match up with a professor’s, she or he might not be taking students. [\quote]

I would recommend to ask the corresponding faculty member. This is how I got in to my grad school. However, most of them would warn you that the system in USA is different than that in most of Europe.


Yes, I should have done that (and students from the future reading this should too!) :D I ended up choosing a large department which gives some more breathing room, but still really only one person in the math department matches up with me. Before I accepted UCSD, I asked Daniel Kane and strongly hinted that I want to be his student. My research interests are basically 99% the same thing as his. If he leaves or doesn't accept me as a student, I'm totally screwed and my move into the industry may be accelerated a few years.

okmokm
Posts: 8
Joined: Fri Nov 24, 2017 10:49 pm

Re: What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby okmokm » Thu Apr 26, 2018 11:12 am

I wish I knew: filling out applications can take a while. If you're applying to several schools, and each has a full online form to fill out, with personal information, academic information, and cv, transcript, personal statement uploading - that's gonna take a lot of hours to get done - make sure you allot time for that.

JL_MATH
Posts: 14
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2018 12:24 am

Re: What were some things you wish you knew before applying to grad school?

Postby JL_MATH » Thu Apr 26, 2018 11:26 am

okmokm wrote:I wish I knew: filling out applications can take a while. If you're applying to several schools, and each has a full online form to fill out, with personal information, academic information, and cv, transcript, personal statement uploading - that's gonna take a lot of hours to get done - make sure you allot time for that.


This. Also remember to turn on the spell check tool. I misspelled many words in ps/cv, including the first introduction sentence of my cv (Though it turns out not a big deal but I panicked for quite a while.)




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