I'm currently a first year graduate student in mathematics in the United States. After having completed my requirements for a master's degree, I'm considering moving to a different program, based on reasons I outlined in a previous question.

My question should one necessarily work on a master's report/thesis to boost one's application to enter a different PhD program?

I can probably get a master's degree without having to write a report/thesis as I have already passed some of the qualifying exams at my school.

So, to what extent would having completed a master's thesis help me in switching programs? My interests are a bit broad, and interdisciplinary, so I'm, as of yet, broadly interested in a couple of areas, and not a single, specific area of research. So, I would like to apply to schools that have research groups in at least 1-2 fields of my interest.

Any suggestions on how graduate committees in math or STEM fields view the issue of masters thesis or reports.

  • 2
    Perhaps it does not directly address your question of how math admissions committees view master's theses, but I'd suggest that doing a master's thesis would let you judge how much you actually like doing research in at least one of the areas you're interested in pursuing as a graduate student.
    – aeismail
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 3:52
  • @virmaior I am sorry, but I didn't quite follow. What do you mean when you said broke it apart?
    – user82261
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 5:39
  • @virmaior Oh, right. Makes sense. I didn't see you had edited the question.
    – user82261
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 6:12
  • Since the drop-out rate in PhD programs is quite high, it's a good idea to secure the master's degree so that you'll certainly have something to show for your efforts. Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


Since the doctorate is about research, having some solid evidence of doing that successfully is a plus. You can change your main focus to another subfield after writing a master's thesis, so don't worry that it will limit you.

But my main question back to you is what you will be doing in the meanwhile if you don't do the thesis. Will it be at least as positive an influence on admissions committees and potential advisors? It seems doubtful, but possible, depending on your situation.

An MS isn't really required for admission to the PhD in the US, but a positive record that predicts success certainly is. Do whatever you can to build that record.

  • I was thinking of using the time to take more coursework, prepare for the subject test GRE in math and shore up on my math background in general. My interests are interdisciplinary (probability, PDE, and it’s application to machine learning and physics, mostly quantum mechanics) so I suppose my main goal of getting a master’s was to shore up on advanced mathematics background. Writing master’s thesis may bog me down in a specific topic area, and I suppose I should use this time to learn more geometry, topology etc. to build my math background and then branch out. So, I’m delibereatly thinking
    – user82261
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 16:51
  • Of doing a master’s degree with a coursework intensive focus. I try an self study books outside of class, and I could always ask faculty to advise me on my readings.
    – user82261
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 16:52
  1. Definitely get the "en passant" masters if possible (masters that you just submit a form for, based on your coursework). At least you have something. The same would apply if you are in same spot for a degree program. But it's even more important if you are shifting schools (hard to go back for the certificate if you moved on already).

  2. I think most places will look at you based on your old record. If it is competitive, the master's thesis is not so important. For example if you are moving towns because your spouse got a job, etc. If instead, you are trying to "move up", some record of work would be helpful. Ideally publications (even small LPUs, but peer reviewed somethings). But a thesis is next best.

  3. Obviously the amount of effort involved affects choice to write. If you have a topic and think you can jam out the document quickly, I would be more likely to spend the effort.

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