Ph.D. Program in Mathematics


Degree Requirements

A candidate for the Ph.D. degree in mathematics must fulfill a number of different departmental requirements.

Coursework

Sample course schedules (Years 1 and 2) for students with a primary interest in:

Geometry

Applied Math (Math Biology, Scientific Computing, Physical Applied Math, etc.)

Probability

PDE/Analysis

The Written Comprehensive Examination

The examination tests the basic knowledge required for any serious mathematical study. It consists of the three following sections: Advanced Calculus, Complex Variables, and Linear Algebra. The examination is given on two consecutive days, twice a year, in early September and early January. Each section is allotted three hours and is written at the level of a good undergraduate course. Samples of previous examinations are available in the departmental office. Cooperative preparation is encouraged, as it is for all examinations. In the fall term, the Department offers a workshop, taught by an advanced Teaching Assistant, to help students prepare for the written examinations.

Entering students with a solid preparation are encouraged to consider taking the examination in their first year of full-time study. All students must take the examinations in order to be allowed to register for coursework beyond 36 points of credit; it is recommended that students attempt to take the examinations well before this deadline. Graduate Assistants are required to take the examinations during their first year of study.

For further details, consult the page on the written comprehensive exams.

The Oral Preliminary Examination

This examination is usually (but not invariably) taken after two years of full-time study. The purpose of the examination is to determine if the candidate has acquired sufficient mathematical knowledge and maturity to commence a dissertation. The phrase "mathematical knowledge" is intended to convey rather broad acquaintance with the basic facts of mathematical life, with emphasis on a good understanding of the simplest interesting examples. In particular, highly technical or abstract material is inappropriate, as is the rote reproduction of information. What the examiners look for is something a little different and less easy to quantify. It is conveyed in part by the word "maturity." This means some idea of how mathematics hangs together; the ability to think a little on one's feet; some appreciation of what is natural and important, and what is artificial. The point is that the ability to do successful research depends on more than formal learning, and it is part of the examiners' task to assess these less tangible aspects of the candidate's preparation.

The orals are comprised of a general section and a special section, each lasting one hour, and are conducted by two different panels of three faculty members. The examination takes place three times a year: fall, mid-winter and late spring. Cooperative preparation of often helpful and is encouraged. The general section consists of five topics, one of which may be chosen freely. The other four topics are determined by field of interest, but often turn out to be standard: complex variables, real variables, ordinary differential equations, and partial differential equations. Here, the level of knowledge that is expected is equivalent to that of a one or two term course of the kind Courant normally presents. A brochure containing the most common questions on the general oral examination, edited by Courant students, is available at the Department Office.

The special section is usually devoted to a single topic at a more advanced level and extent of knowledge. The precise content is negotiated with he candidate's faculty advisor. Normally, the chosen topic will have a direct bearing on the candidate's Ph.D. dissertation.

All students must take the oral examinations in order to be allowed to register for coursework beyond 60 points of credit. It is recommended that students attempt the examinations well before this deadline.

The Dissertation Defense

The oral defense is the final examination on the student's dissertation. The defense is conducted by a panel of five faculty members (including the student's advisor) and generally lasts one to two hours. The candidate presents his/her work to a mixed audience, some expert in the student's topic, some not. Often, this presentation is followed by a question-and-answer period and mutual discussion of related material and directions for future work.

Summer Internships and Employment

The Department encourages Ph.D. students at any stage of their studies, including the very early stage, to seek summer employment opportunities at various government and industry facilities. In the past few years, Courant students have taken summer internships at the National Institute of Health, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and NASA, as well as Wall Street firms. Such opportunities can greatly expand students' understanding of the mathematical sciences, offer them possible areas of interest for thesis research, and enhance their career options. The Director of Graduate Studies and members of the faculty (and in particular the students' academic advisors) can assist students in finding appropriate summer employment.

Visiting Doctoral Students

Information about spending a term at the Courant Institute's Department of Mathematics as a visiting doctoral student is available on the Visitor Programs page.