Saturday, April 24, 2010


Sorry to break the Graduate School Series, but I just had to share this quote from one of my processors.

"Money can either buy you freedom or chains."

Basically it was his way of saying, live within your means, to all of us graduating seniors.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Graduate School Series: Part 2

This is the second part in a series about applying to (mathematics) graduate school. You can follow this link to part 1 if you would like to start reading from the beginning.

The Application
You can be certain that every school you apply to will ask for a transcript and at least the General GRE. Some schools however, will require you to take the subject test, which is no joke. How many of you remember everything from your multivariable class? Or all the little tricks to go along with it. Then for the more advanced topics covered on the test you might not have taken a class. However, these are few such questions and they are usually pretty simple (take that with a very very large grain of salt).
My advice would be to not overlook the standardized test, since they are part of your application and do matter to some extent.
One last thing, don't forget that most schools will have some sort of application fee, so you should set aside some money to cover this.

Personal Statement:
Remember when you were applying to your undergraduate program how they made you write those essays on the most annoying topics? Well I have some good and bad news for you. The bad news is that you still have to write an essay. However, the good news is that the topic is actually relevant.
Since the word essay is such an undergraduate term, it is now called the personal statement. When you think about it, this is in fact a much better term to describe what you are being asked to write. In your personal statement you are asked to discuss why you wish to pursue a graduate degree in mathematics. So this generally involves talking about why you got interested in math, what you did as an undergrad. and then what you wish to accomplish after grad. school. Also if at all possible you would mention why you wish to attend the school to which this personal statement will be sent.
It should go without saying that you will want to write many versions of you personal statement. There should be no spelling or grammar errors, you have at least 2 months to work on it, so any errors reflect poorly upon you (especially if you misspell a faculty member's name). You should also try to have as many people read your statement as possible, and provide you with actual criticism. The worst that can happen is that they find a mistake or suggest a way to improve your statement.
By this point you should understand that the personal statement is quite important. And you most likely don't have any experience writing one. I mean sure you have written papers for classes before, but how many of those would you be willing to rest you hopes of admission upon? Well here is a site that can help point you in the right direction.

Recommendation Letters:
I doubt that there is a single accredited program that won't ask for recommendation letters. And if you manage to find one...then I suggest you take a much much closer look.
Well this is your last year as an undergraduate, and you have hopefully talked to a faculty member or two (understatement) in you time. Well this is where it finally pays off (just kidding, having a relationship with past professors is always a good thing).
Don't underestimate the importance of a strong recommendation. Some admissions personnel say that this is the most important part of the application. The opinion of one's peers can go a long way. Suppose there are two students both who are almost identical in all other areas. However, in one student's recommendation letters their profess says

"This student is as talented as Gauss was at their age."

While the other student was only described as
"A wonderful student with great potential."
Who do you think will be more likely to get acceptance letter?
That being said, it is obvious that you should ask professors with whom you feel will be able to provide strong recommendation letters. If you've made it to you last year and you can't think of any professor that meets this requirement, then you should really consider why you are even applying to graduate school.

Additional Funding
Wouldn't it be nice to have a little money for living expenses? This is where fellowships come into play. The simplest (though incorrect) way to describe fellowships is that they are basically scholarships for graduate and post-graduate students.
The process for applying for fellowships is more or less the same as that for applying to schools, well most of the time. Therefore, I won't say anything about applying for them. But you will find this site provided by NYU useful in your fellowship search. One thing that should be mentioned, in most cases fellowships are more competitive than schools, no disrespect to any school out there.

Well that's it for part 2, stay tuned for part 3.

The Graduate School Series: Part 1

A few post back I said that I would document my experience with the whole graduate school application process. Well now that I have a little free time (only have 1 final to study for this semester) now is as good a time as any to write it.

Before starting I guess I should mention where I did and did not get into. Then I'll talk about the whole process, and a short part on what are some things to consider when you finally make your choice on which school to attend.

Carnegie Mellon University
Columbia University

Cornell University
Duke University
New York University (*)
University of Florida
University of Wisconsin-Madison
* accepted but without financial support

The first thing you have to do is select which schools you would like to attend. Talking to professor at your current (or most recent) institution is always helpful. So talk to them about what schools are strong in your area of interest, and which they think you have an reasonable chance of getting into. One way to group your schools is: dream schools, reasonable chance of getting in, and "safety". Now keep in mind these terms are pretty vague, since all programs are competitive when it comes to offering admission to applicants.
Now I am going to assume that you know what area(s) of mathematics you are most interested in, or even which area(s) you don't like. I can't really comment on the process for selecting schools when you are unsure since I did not fall into that category. Anyway, I suggest that you begin your research on potential schools during the spring semester of your junior year. A great place to start is looking at the U.S. News rankings, also here is another useful site, but keep in mind these should not be the end all say all. Also talk to professors and see which schools have papers published in journals you enjoy. Plus, you will be surprised at how many internet forums there are out there that discuss what schools are good in what areas.
At this point you should try to get a list as big as possible, put a school on the list if there is the slightest bit of interest in their program. For instance I had Washington University at St.Louis, and University of Michigan on my original list, even though in the end I didn't apply to either school. Another thing to keep in mind is that while you are in graduate school your interest might change, so you should also take into consideration the schools activity in other areas. More on this in the portion about making a final selection.

Then when you have some more "free time" in the summer you take more in depth looks at each of the schools on this large list. You can even send out emails to faulty and current graduate students expressing your interest in their program and if they could provide you with any information that isn't available on the website. That being said, you should throughly look through each website before asking questions about the program. Otherwise you might ask a question who's answer is easy to find if you had put in any effort, and thus come off as appearing to be lazy, and who wants that for a first impression?
Now either in the summer or the beginning of senior year you will shorten this list to contain only those schools to which you plan to apply. The size of this new list will vary from person to person so not much can really be said. Though I would suggest it contain more than one school.

With your list in hand you are now ready to move onto part 2.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Flash Mobs

Hey here is a great idea for a flash mod that would actually help this country.
On election day everyone go to their local polling site and actually vote (if you legally able to).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Decision Time

This should answer all questions.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Violin Tattoo

Now this could just be my inner violin player talking but this is the most beautiful tattoo I have ever seen.

If I ever found a girl with this I would have to marry her right there and then. Well maybe not, but it would definitely make me want to get to know her.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Duke is Beauty

Went on another campus visit last weekend. It was Duke University's turn this time around. Unlike Cornell they had a weekend where they brought in all of the prospective graduate students. I thought this was nice since you got a chance to mingle with your potential classmates as well as talk to the professors.

I got into Durham around 2pm on Friday and was picked up at the airport by one of the graduate students. I found it funny that she also said that you could easily find the math department on any campus by looking for the ugliest building. I suppose this is just a well known fact. However, the math building wasn't that "ugly", but that's probably because it is shared with the physics department as well. Unlike the visit to Cornell, this time we were put in an hotel that was relatively close to campus (and the university hospital). After we dropped our stuff off in our rooms there was time for us to sit in on one of the classes. It was a modeling class and they were talking about certain kinds of optimization problems. I was able to follow much of what was being said, though I wish I remembered more multivariable calculus.

After the class it was tea time. Apparently the graduate students and faculty have "tea" (really snacks) at 4pm each day. This was nice since I got to meet some of the other graduate students as well a professor. When tea time was over there was still a little time until dinner so we were taken back to the hotel to relax a little. It was at this time that I discovered that I can't send text messages while I'm in North Carolina (and South Carolina as well) for no apparent reason. I'm able to receive text messages and phone calls which is just weired. So if I do end up choosing to attend Duke I will have to find a new cell provider. Not sure if it's T-mobile or just my phone, everyone else had a different provider so not much help there.

The most exciting part of the visit was meeting my "twin". She was a University of Florida graduate and is currently doing research in probability. Wait, things get even better. So you remember the Denny's commercial about the "nannerpuss". The banana octopus that attacks pancakes, well apparently I was the only person (other than her friends she had told) that had ever seen this ad. It also doesn't hurt that we are almost the same height and both drive Hondas.

There was no shortage of food for the weekend. It almost got to the point that just hearing the phrase "there is food in the [location] for you" made me vomit. On Friday, the graduate students took us to a restaurant called Tyler's. Originally we had planned to eat at the Mellow Mushroom but things didn't quite work out that way. The food was alright, nothing special. However, the atmosphere made the dinner unforgettable. At this dinner I learned that 2 of the other students had received the same offer from NYU as me, admission without financial support. Seeing as how none of us are super wealthy there is no way we can afford to pay for at least a year of a PhD program AND to live in NYC.
After dinner we spent about 10min. outside in the cold deciding what to do next. Some of us ended up going to a local bar to watch the Duke basketball game, while others called it a night and went back to the hotel.

On Saturday some of the professors and graduate students gave talk about their research. The overall set up was pure mathematics talks before lunch and applied after. Naturally, I was more interested in the applied talk, especially the ones concerning probability. However, I found some of the pure talks nice. I even learned a little topology by the end of it all. There were a couple presentations on Mathematical Biology, and I must say that they made me wish that I had given that particular area a little more consideration earlier on in my undergraduate years.

At this point you should be able to conclude that I enjoyed the visit. This isn't going to make my decision any easier. Well I will keep you 'posted' (what a nice pun, even if I do say so myself).