Enrolling in a PhD program will place certain financial
constraints upon yourself. Consider:
- A typical graduate student in an US Math PhD will take 5-6 years to
complete the course work and thesis.
- Math graduate student
stipends range between, roughly, US$15K and US$35K a year depending on the
resources of the department and if the student is able to obtain a
fellowship. This range does not reflect local cost of living.
- A student may find himself unfunded, particularly if he takes more than 5 years to
complete the degree. When considering different programs, inquire
how many years of guaranteed funding the department can offer.
- Tuition is typically waived during the PhD program.
- There are no 401(k) or similar retirement savings program for
graduate students, and aside from health insurance, there are
usually no benefits.
- If a student elects to pursue an academic career, he is
likely to have 2-4 years of postdoctoral training after completing
his degree. While the
salary will be higher, postdoc positions also frequently omit any
retirement savings. A consequence of this is that even a successful
academic may only beginning to accrue retirement savings after age
Before applying to graduate school, it is important to ask
"Where do I want to be after I complete my degree?" Possibilities include:
- Research oriented insitutions, such as the large state
universities in the Big 10 and the Pac 12, and larger private
- Teaching oriented institutions, such as private liberal arts
colleges, community colleges, smaller private universities, and regional public universities.
- Government labs, such as Los Alamos
- Private industry, including financial services, IT, insurance,
Regardless of which is right for you, different PhD programs may be
better equipped to send its graduates in particular directions.
Ultimately, Personal connections between faculty and alumni play an
important role in job placement. Thus, in considering graduate programs, it is
important inquire about the outcomes of their recent graduates.
Assuming you have been admitted to a few programs, and
are comofrtable with the financial constraints, here are things to
consider when deciding where to go.
- There should be several (2-3) faculty in the department who do
the kind of research you like. The reason for this is that there
are a variety of reasons a professor may not take you as a
student. Reasons a professor may not take you as a student include:
- Training graduate students properly is time intensive and many
professors only supervise up to a fixed number at any given
- A professor may not have grant money in order to fund a
- There may be a mismatch of personalities; this can go both
They should be able to offer you at least five years of guaranteed funding.
The program should have a history of employment outcomes that are
consistent with your own goals. For those seeking an academic
career, particularly a research oriented academic career, investigate
the outcomes of the past students of individual faculty members that
you could be your advisors.
- Barring geographic restrictions, you should probably go to the
best ranked program you are accepted to.
When picking an advisor and a research area, there are a number
of factors to consider. These include:
There should be a good match between the personalities of the
advisor and the student. You will spend a lot of time talking to
your advisor. This time will be most effective if, at a basic
level, you like one another.