Should the age of a very young PhD applicant be mentioned?

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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MathParent
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Joined: Wed Nov 06, 2019 8:32 pm

Should the age of a very young PhD applicant be mentioned?

Post by MathParent » Wed Nov 06, 2019 8:47 pm

I am advising my son who is writing his applications to PhD programs now, will apply before December (pure math). If everything goes well, he will graduate with BS at age 17 this coming summer, and he spent only two years at his university (major major big state school). This gave him only one Research summer break, and he managed to squeeze into this:
1 publication already on Arxiv (and will come out in a journal this year), three papers in the works, one abstract submitted to a big conference, and an oral presentation three years ago (age 14) at MAA.
Should he mention his young age - to cover a bit sparse list of publications? He simply didn’t live enough years yet...
What do you guys think?

Cyclicduck
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Joined: Sun Apr 14, 2019 9:55 pm

Re: Should the age of a very young PhD applicant be mentioned?

Post by Cyclicduck » Thu Nov 07, 2019 8:49 am

Undergrads generally aren't expected to have publications, so certainly he shouldn't mention his age as an excuse for not having enough publications. That might actually raise suspicion regarding his understanding of mathematical research.

On the other hand, he should be expected to say something about his path to mathematics in his personal statements, and I'd expect that a mention of his age would naturally appear there.

MathParent
Posts: 13
Joined: Wed Nov 06, 2019 8:32 pm

Re: Should the age of a very young PhD applicant be mentioned?

Post by MathParent » Thu Nov 07, 2019 10:32 am

Cyclicduck wrote:
Thu Nov 07, 2019 8:49 am
Undergrads generally aren't expected to have publications, so certainly he shouldn't mention his age as an excuse for not having enough publications. That might actually raise suspicion regarding his understanding of mathematical research.

On the other hand, he should be expected to say something about his path to mathematics in his personal statements, and I'd expect that a mention of his age would naturally appear there.
Thank you, @Cyclicduck!
He explains his path, but I am not sure whether the admission committee looks at young applicants like this one - favorably. He was in community college taking Multivar at age 11, graduated high school at 15, and is supposed to graduate a major State School after just two years, at 17, being admitted as freshman, not transfer. He did research starting from 14. Should he be de-emphasizing all of that (age related aspect), or bringing it forward? Will the age be good or bad?

Cyclicduck
Posts: 16
Joined: Sun Apr 14, 2019 9:55 pm

Re: Should the age of a very young PhD applicant be mentioned?

Post by Cyclicduck » Thu Nov 07, 2019 12:23 pm

I would guess that his age per se wouldn't be too important. The admission committee will recognize that it indicates precociousness but also a possible lack of mathematical maturity, and the only way for them to make a solid judgment will be through his rec letters, grades, and papers. So since grad applications require him to list his birthdate anyway, it would seem strange to try to cover it up in his personal statement. So I believe he should write about it, not necessarily emphasizing it, but just stating it as a matter of fact as how (presumably) his desire for math brought him down this accelerated path.

Probably the best thing he can do to make sure his age is not a problem is by checking if his recommenders truly believe he is ready for graduate school. I'd guess that the committee would weight this component the heaviest in judging his preparation. Also, I think it would be a good idea for him to contact the schools he is interested in applying and ask what their policies are.

temporaryacct
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Joined: Tue Mar 05, 2019 12:23 am

Re: Should the age of a very young PhD applicant be mentioned?

Post by temporaryacct » Thu Nov 07, 2019 5:32 pm

They sound very talented mathematically so their mathematical maturity probably won't be an issue. However, Phds are not easy emotionally or mentally and schools will want to know that applicants are self sufficient enough to do independent research at some point. If the school has teaching requirements as part of funding they may have to run a section of a class themselves. It may be hard for a 17 year old to be in charge of dozens of students who may be several years older. Do they have the interpersonal skills necessary to support/manage their students?

One thing I would warn against is being too involved in their application. I think support is definitely a good thing to offer (helping revise essays, etc.) but a PhD applicant should probably be in charge of their own application. I'm not saying you're too involved or anything, just something to look out for.

MathParent
Posts: 13
Joined: Wed Nov 06, 2019 8:32 pm

Re: Should the age of a very young PhD applicant be mentioned?

Post by MathParent » Thu Nov 07, 2019 8:56 pm

temporaryacct wrote:
Thu Nov 07, 2019 5:32 pm
They sound very talented mathematically so their mathematical maturity probably won't be an issue. However, Phds are not easy emotionally or mentally and schools will want to know that applicants are self sufficient enough to do independent research at some point. If the school has teaching requirements as part of funding they may have to run a section of a class themselves. It may be hard for a 17 year old to be in charge of dozens of students who may be several years older. Do they have the interpersonal skills necessary to support/manage their students?

One thing I would warn against is being too involved in their application. I think support is definitely a good thing to offer (helping revise essays, etc.) but a PhD applicant should probably be in charge of their own application. I'm not saying you're too involved or anything, just something to look out for.
Thank you! Thanks God, there are no essays, it is not like applying to the undegrad! He is plenty in charge: choosing his schools to apply to, choosing his recommenders, writing his Personal Statement, etc. As for being in control of his potential undegrad students as a TA/GSI... When he was 11, he was in a community college taking Multivar, on campus, together with the kids some of whom were actually literally twice older than him. The students in the class figured pretty fast that he is the one to ask the questions before the class starts, and they did exactly that. In a way, he was explaining stuff to much older kids all his life, but of course this is different than being a full blown TA...

Time will tell...

6ix9ine
Posts: 12
Joined: Sat Jan 26, 2019 12:14 pm

Re: Should the age of a very young PhD applicant be mentioned?

Post by 6ix9ine » Mon Nov 11, 2019 11:43 pm

MathParent wrote:
Thu Nov 07, 2019 8:56 pm
Thank you! Thanks God, there are no essays, it is not like applying to the undegrad! He is plenty in charge: choosing his schools to apply to, choosing his recommenders, writing his Personal Statement, etc. As for being in control of his potential undegrad students as a TA/GSI... When he was 11, he was in a community college taking Multivar, on campus, together with the kids some of whom were actually literally twice older than him. The students in the class figured pretty fast that he is the one to ask the questions before the class starts, and they did exactly that. In a way, he was explaining stuff to much older kids all his life, but of course this is different than being a full blown TA...

Time will tell...
The Personal Statement will very likely focus on your son's experiences with math as someone who was many years younger than the rest of his peers. Unfortunately the only people who can really vouch for your son's ability to get along with other students are the professors who have seen this first-hand. While I do imagine that your son can do well in a PhD program, I may be slightly worried about him being a TA. While teaching math to a group of 1st and 2nd year students is the biggest part of being a TA, there's also a lot more to it. I could most certainly write a lot more but I think it would be much better to discuss these things via private message.

MathParent
Posts: 13
Joined: Wed Nov 06, 2019 8:32 pm

Re: Should the age of a very young PhD applicant be mentioned?

Post by MathParent » Tue Nov 12, 2019 8:12 am

6ix9ine wrote:
Mon Nov 11, 2019 11:43 pm
The Personal Statement will very likely focus on your son's experiences with math as someone who was many years younger than the rest of his peers. Unfortunately the only people who can really vouch for your son's ability to get along with other students are the professors who have seen this first-hand. While I do imagine that your son can do well in a PhD program, I may be slightly worried about him being a TA. While teaching math to a group of 1st and 2nd year students is the biggest part of being a TA, there's also a lot more to it. I could most certainly write a lot more but I think it would be much better to discuss these things via private message.
Thank you, 6ix9ine. I was a TA and RA myself for 5 years, at one of a larger private Universities on the West Coast, so I sorta know what's involved. But I'll gladly listen to your experience, since it is fresher than mine by about 28 years... :-) In a private message or right here - it may be useful for others as well.

6ix9ine
Posts: 12
Joined: Sat Jan 26, 2019 12:14 pm

Re: Should the age of a very young PhD applicant be mentioned?

Post by 6ix9ine » Tue Nov 12, 2019 8:07 pm

One aspect of being a TA that is often overlooked is how much certain students look up to you. Almost all of my students are first year college students so many of them view me as both a teacher and student mentor. Once a week I'll have some student approach me after class and ask about my experiences with some school related situation that he or she is dealing with. More often than not, some of my friends from undergrad dealt with that exact same situation so I can say "Well I haven't personally had to deal with something like this but I remember some of my friends did... and things got better".

MathParent
Posts: 13
Joined: Wed Nov 06, 2019 8:32 pm

Re: Should the age of a very young PhD applicant be mentioned?

Post by MathParent » Tue Nov 12, 2019 8:54 pm

6ix9ine wrote:
Tue Nov 12, 2019 8:07 pm
One aspect of being a TA that is often overlooked is how much certain students look up to you. Almost all of my students are first year college students so many of them view me as both a teacher and student mentor. Once a week I'll have some student approach me after class and ask about my experiences with some school related situation that he or she is dealing with. More often than not, some of my friends from undergrad dealt with that exact same situation so I can say "Well I haven't personally had to deal with something like this but I remember some of my friends did... and things got better".
That's an interesting aspect, thank you. I actually remember that I had to take "under my wing" one undergrad student - almost completely, and help him with all his subjects (he was just such a nice guy, and was really trying, but still struggling). The others, however, usually kept their questions to the topics covered by the course I was teaching.



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