The Graduate Program

Grad Student Survival Guide in Math Sciences

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Course Requirements
3. Doctoral Exam Requirements
4. Appeal of Requirements: (Exams and Courses)
5. Things to Discuss with your Academic Advisor
6. Getting a Thesis Advisor
7. Things to Discuss with your Thesis Advisor
8. Preparing for a Job in Industry
9. Looking for a Job in Industry
10. Preparing for a Job in Academia
11. Looking for a Job in Academia
12. Good Scholarly Habits - Graduate and Undergraduate Differences
13. Colloquia
14. Things to do over the Summer
15. Writing your Thesis and LATEX help
16. Money Saving Hints
17. The Paper Trail
18. Facilities
19. Important People and Numbers
20. TA Topics
21. International Student Issues
22. Assorted Topics
23. Appendix

1. Introduction

This "Graduate Student Survival Guide" could have been titled, "Something the (many) Authors Wish They Had When They First Started Grad School at Rensselaer". Though descriptive, that title was just too long. Nonetheless, in an uncommon act of benevolence, a group of interested graduate students formed the idea, mustered the energy, and found the time to bring together in writing sound advice based on many years' experience.

Alluded to in the descriptive title is the purpose of this Guide. Succinctly put, it is to pass along advice to incoming graduate students so that they might optimize their time in pursuit of a graduate degree from the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Rensselaer. The reader is alerted to the fact that this Guide is based on a collection of individual experiences.

Therefore, it is left to the reader to decide whether or not the advice is worth implementing. (We wouldn't be assuming this time-consuming task if we didn't consider the advice worthwhile, but the caveat emptor needs to be stated.)

So, let us begin by extending our congratulations to you for being accepted into the graduate program. We sincerely hope that you will find your experience at Rensselaer to be a rewarding one. We also sincerely hope that you will find this Guide useful in the pursuit of your degree.

2. Course Requirements

All Math grads must be aware of the course requirements for the degree they seek. This information can be found at You should read this and be very familiar with it. It is your responsibility to make sure you meet these requirements. Failure to do so will delay your graduation! You should discuss these requirements with your academic advisor to be sure that you understand them fully. Here are some additional notes for you on a few of the requirements:

2.1 Doctoral Students

2.2 Masters Students

3. Doctoral Exam Requirements

All graduate students in the Ph.D. program have a set of exams they are required to pass. Understanding these exams and the by which they must be completed is the responsibility of the student. Masters' students who switch into the Ph.D. program will also have to complete these exams, but the timing is a bit different. The full explanation of both cases can be found at

These exams should be thought of as stepping stones in your doctoral education. Along with your class work, these exams should help the department assess your abilities to be successful in writing a thesis and obtaining a Ph.D. But most importantly, they give the student a way to check his/her progress. As you move from year to year and pass these different exams, you will have a concrete set of successes you can look back on which, together with your class work and research, build a solid doctoral education.

3.1 Preparation for the Exams

Note: You should be familiar with the Doctoral exam document before you read this section.

3.1.1 Preliminary Exam

The purpose of the examination is to assess the qualifications of students in critical areas of undergraduate mathematics. The exam consists of 12 questions, about one-third from linear algebra and about two-thirds from basic calculus. Students will have to choose 10 questions to be graded. The duration of the test will be four hours. The level of difficulty of questions is very close to the level of the standard GRE mathematics test. The linear algebra and calculus questions from GRE preparation books can serve as good practice questions for the test. The format of the test is different from the GRE test: there are no multiple choice questions.