Advice for Students and Postdocs in Applied Mathematics

  • Q: When is the best time to get involved in undergraduate research?

    A: I recommend taking some of the core courses for Applied Mathematics Majors before getting involved in research. This way you are more likely to have the skills necessary to do an interesting project. Go and talk to professors about what courses might be required before working on a project with them. this may help you choose what is most appropriate.

  • Applied Mathematics Colloquium: This lecture is an excellent one for all PhD students to attend, even if the topic is not so relevant to your thesis problem. If you plan on a career in research, you will need to choose problems to work on when you graduate, thus you need to start becoming familiar with current research in applied mathematics in a broader sense than your own thesis problem area.
  • Q: I started going to the colloquia but I typically only understand a fraction of the talk. Is this a waste of my time?

    A: No. If you continue to attend colloquia, over time you will become more familiar with the ideas and terminology. After some time you will begin to understand more of the lectures.

  • Q: I just passed the quals. How do I find a thesis advisor?

    A: Go and talk to the professors you know about their research. Attend 290 seminars to better understand what the faculty member works on and what their students are working on. Talk to students of the advisor but do not use this as a substitute for talking to the advisor directly. The students typically know their own problem but not the full scope of research projects that the advisor might be interested to supervise.

  • Q: I am interested in working with Prof. X but I heard from friends that Prof. X is not taking students. What do I do?

    A: First of all, you should go and talk directly to Prof. X rather than relying on information from friends. It's possible that Prof. X might be taking students. If not Prof. X can explain why and give you some advice about other faculty who might be supervising students on related problems.

  • Q: I am a new postdoc at a major research university and I am confused about how to go about doing research on my own. What do I do?

    A: Starting your first research job after PhD can be a tough transition point for many people, especially if you do not have a preassigned problem to work on. First off, you are likely to have been assigned a mentor by your department. You should go and talk to them and ask them if they have a suggestion for a problem to work on. You should also talk to other faculty about what they are working on and try to regularly attend seminars. Many research projects often get started from informal conversations with people. Also make sure you are budgeting your time well so that you have enough time to do research. If you spend all your time on teaching, in what is expected to be a half-teaching, half-research position, then you need to adjust how you prepare for your classes. Set goals for yourself in terms of productivity, on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis and try to meet those goals.

  • Q: I have just spent several years as a postdoc at one of the top places in the country in my field. I am worried about my chances of getting a job. I have a number of publications in refereed journals but there are two other postdocs in my department also looking for jobs with similar levels of publications.

    A: One important thing to remember is that the job market is an international one, for the most part. So your competition is not the people down the hallway, necessarily, but it could be someone on the other side of the country. At the same time, the pool of possible positions is large, so if you apply very broadly you are likely to get something good, especially if you are doing good work and coming from a good place. Also many schools are looking to hire someone who fills a void in their current faculty research interests, and this will vary quite alot from one department to another.