I am a junior graduating May 2021 with a double major in physics in math, and I will be applying to commutative algebra (math) graduate programs this upcoming fall. I was recently offered an unexpected but very promising commutative algebra research project, but because the research is time sensitive and needs to be completed by May, I would need to withdraw from my graduate complex analysis course to complete it. I am wondering if it would be worth taking the 'W' on my transcript in order to gain a (very likely) publication. I've been mulling the decision over for over a week now and am desperately seeking some advice. Here is some background:

  • I am enrolled in 5 graduate courses (4 math, 1 CS) and a thesis writing class.
  • I have participated in math research and presented it at conferences, but am not currently published.
  • I have completed 4 graduate math classes in the past.

I tried cutting other commitments to avoid withdrawing from a class, but discovered that I just don't have enough time for my classes and research. Basically, I'm trying to gauge whether one more graduate math class or one more research project (albeit with a 'W' on my transcript) will make me appear more competitive to graduate admissions boards. Complex analysis is currently my largest time commitment – I am not confident that I can withdraw from anything else and still make enough time for research.

  • There’s absolutely no question: a paper is far better than one more graduate course. Assuming you do manage to publish it, it’s a fine reason to get a ‘W’.
    – knzhou
    Feb 18, 2020 at 2:33
  • @knzhou Thanks a bunch, that's what I suspected, but needed reassurance. There is, of course, inherent risk involved with publishing, but that's a risk I'm willing to take. Thank you!
    – LéKitty
    Feb 18, 2020 at 2:36
  • What does your thesis advisor say? Their advice is likely to be better informed than ours. Feb 18, 2020 at 3:07
  • 3
    Be careful taking advice from non-mathematicians (like knzhou). Undergraduate research plays far less of a role in math PhD admissions than in the other sciences. This kind of question cannot be answered in the abstract, so you need to talk it over with a mentor who knows your situation in detail and also knows a lot about math grad school admissions. Feb 18, 2020 at 4:05
  • 1
    I'm very confused about where the May deadline comes from. Is this for a CS conference? Feb 18, 2020 at 6:12


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