Improving my PhD Application

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Jun 07, 2013 9:37 am

Improving my PhD Application

Post by seanlikesmath » Fri Jun 07, 2013 9:39 am

This past year I was accepted into two mid range phd programs in mathematics without funding. Here's what my profile looked like:

Domestic White Male
Unknown state school in the midwest
Majors: Mathematics and Philosophy
GPA: 3.93
Q: 168 (97)
V: 167 (97)
W: 5.0 (92)
M: not taken

Interests: Analysis, Medical Imaging/Modeling, Mathematical Physics

Major Coursework:
Complex Analysis, Discrete Structures, Applied Math (survey course mostly in Fourier methods and PDEs), Mathematical Statistics.

One from a top applied mathematician who was very late in sending them out, one from a professor from the previous year who is well regarded but has not had much contact with me and one from a young professor who was fresh out of post doc.

I'm 30 years old. Some former work experience as a co-op student in engineering at a national lab, dean's list, normal stuff like that. I had only completed two semesters at my current school, though. About 6 years ago I was an engineering student at a different institution with poor grades and I did not finish my degree. Also mid to high level (lots of national, some international competition) as an athletic coach working with kids, teens and adults. Some international experience as an athlete as well. I also speak basic German.

Here's how my profile has changed:

Current GPA: 3.94 (.01 difference! However, this does mean 6 more As and 1 more A- to counterbalance my poor record from the early-mid 2000s.)

GRE Subject Score: 660 (52)

Additional Coursework: Formal Logic, Real Analysis, Advanced Linear Algebra, Intro to Abstract Algebra. This summer I am doing a course in number theory and an independent study in Galois theory.

Recommendations: I am going to give the late professor a much longer lead time this time around. He has said that he wants to help me but is always extremely busy. I will also be asking (and almost certainly receiving) a rec from the professor I am doing my independent study with.

Interests in pure math have shifted away from analysis, more into algebra. In applied, medical applications (but not bioinformatics) have taken the lead over mathematical physics.

Other changes: Medalist in school's math competition, math tutor in our honors college and privately. Taking a Spanish immersion course so I can list basic spanish on there as well.

I'll be taking the GRE subject again in October and am using and MIT's opencourseware to review older subjects. I graduate in August and will be working for a year. I'm thinking about applying to teach at a high school or community college for that time. I also plan on taking one or two graduate courses per semester.

I plan on applying all over the place (>15 apps) compared to the 8 from last time. I would prefer to go to the west coast. Can anyone let me know if the mid level UCs (Irvine, Santa Barbara, Davis) are reasonable with what I've got now, especially since when I worked at that national lab I was technically a UC employee? Any other recommendations on schools or anything I can do over the next year to boost this?

EDIT: Oh, one other thing: I have no REUs, but is a good independent study with a strong recommendation from it a decent substitute?

Posts: 31
Joined: Fri Mar 08, 2013 10:59 pm

Re: Improving my PhD Application

Post by sabq » Thu Jun 20, 2013 11:16 am

First, best wishes on your future plans.

Last year I applied to only one masters applied math program and I was rejected from it. I already have a PhD in physics but I lack good computational skills. An MS in applied math (computational biology) will make me much more competitive in the field, more analytic skills, and enable me to pursue research in theoretical biophysics and computational biology. That is my intention in a nutshell. In order to make myself more competitive this year I am doing the following:

1. apply to at least 7 schools (instead of just 1!).
2. I am taking pure math courses in sites like
3. I am taking computational courses in places like (python programming and computational differential equations).
4. Getting a better personal statement and better letters of recommendation.

Many people ask me why I want another degree when I already have a PhD. My answer is in addition to reasons I outlined above, it is very common for PhD's to get a masters in another field to sharpen their skills. I was actually better in math than in physics as an undergrad but somehow I went for physics! (when I say 'better' I am using my performance in pure math courses like advanced linear algebra, abstract algebra, and real analysis).

My biggest problem I feel is my undergraduate GPA which was 3.x (x<5). My graduate GPA was over 3.9.

I appreciate any suggestions!

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