I feel a little bit trapped here. Sure, I can keep applying for graduate school each year, but eventually there is going to be a natural bias towards those with a more 'fresh' education, right? Like the longer I am unable to find a supervisor (or general professor to grant me research experience outside graduate school), the worse my graduate school application looks? What are your thoughts?

Further Information:

  • I am in Canada

  • This is my second year applying, and I have not gained any formal education since I graduated.

  • I am looking to go to graduate school for mathematics (Abrstract algebra or alternatively something else using subject matter from abstract algebra and logic)

  • My goal is to become a math professor. I am interesting in both the teaching and research aspect of said job.

Bonus Questions: (if these make you feel uncomfortable in anyway, please ignore them)

  • Would asking the same professors to make recommendation letters (possibly each year) be weaker given the length of time from when they taught me?

  • Typically, would they just submit the same letter as last time?

  • Is it taboo to ask professors who you want to seek out as a supervisor to write a letter of recommendation from?

  • 1
    Please limit the question to a single question, not multiple questions in one
    – Sursula
    Dec 10, 2021 at 8:46
  • A professor isn't going to write a reference letter for themselves to read (if I understood what your last bullet point is asking). If you're applying to work with one of your referees, you need to find someone else to write a reference for that particular application. Dec 10, 2021 at 17:30

1 Answer 1


There is no bias, but the outcomes in successive years are certainly correlated. I.e., if your application last year was weak and you weren’t admitted to a grad program as a result, then it will also be weak this year unless you have been doing something in the interim period to make yourself more attractive. What I have seen is that this correlation of outcomes sometimes leads to much frustration among applicants who get rejected over multiple years after adopting a naive strategy of “rolling the dice” again and again without really thinking about why they weren’t successful the last time around. And I have a feeling that this frustration might lead some of them to rationalize this lack of success as being due to “bias”.

With that being said, if you are doing some kind of professional work, being 2-3 years outside of an academic setting is not going to count against you in any way in a mathematics grad school application, and your current non-academic activities may even be an asset (or they may not be, it depends on what they are of course). Many students starting a math PhD have been out of academia for a while. For example, a friend of mine spent five years as a software engineer working on video game design before coming back to get his PhD, and is now an assistant professor. The bottom line is, graduate programs just want to recruit the best people, and don’t have any reason to assume that fresh college graduates are better than less recent ones.

Good luck!

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .