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I'm an undergrad studying pure mathematics, and graduate school applications are around the corner. My ultimate aim is to do a PhD in pure mathematics. I understand that in several places (e.g., Canada, the UK, Germany, France, & Switzerland), it is the norm to require a Master's degree before one can pursue a PhD.

While it is clear that PhDs are funded, there doesn't seem to be a blanket rule for Master's degrees across universities, in terms of any financial support. I have visited several universities' web pages, and some do provide funding through TA/RA stipends, but this seems quite variable. I figured it would be helpful to ask a question here so that I can understand the situation beyond the fine print (i.e., if there is financial support, is it sufficient? What ways of securing funding exist?). I am certain this post and the answers to it shall be of massive help to everyone looking to do a Master's degree in pure math.

Question: Are there universities that have financial support (in terms of TA/RA stipends, fellowships/scholarships, etc.) for a Master's degree in pure math? In particular, I'm asking for universities in:

  • The US & Canada
  • The UK
  • Germany, France, Switzerland

Note that I shall be an international student in all of the above countries.

Also, if funding is available, is it guaranteed for the duration of one's Master's degree, or are there any strings attached (such as excellent academic performance and/or research)? If there are any country/region-specific scholarships/fellowships one should know about, feel free to let me know!

I believe graduate students and professors may be most equipped to answer this question, perhaps based on first or second-hand experiences, or even just common knowledge. Thanks a lot!

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    In Canada, most if not all provide funding for master's because you do not apply directly to the PhD program from undergrad (with exceptions, I imagine). What I suggest is that for schools in the US, apply to the PhD program. You will get your master's on the way. If you do not want to pursue the PhD after getting your master's, you can simply leave. The vast majority of PhDs in math are funded. A minority of terminal master's in math are funded. Typically, preference is given to PhD candidates when it comes to TA/RAships over terminal master's students in the US. Jun 2, 2022 at 22:13
  • @CameronWilliams Thanks a lot! For the US, I plan to apply only to PhD programs. About Canada: Could you possibly elaborate on the nature of funding for master's? Is it by means of TA/RA stipends, fellowships, or something else? Wouldn't the university prefer PhD students over master's students for TA/RAships, even in Canada? In that case, is the funding guaranteed, or is it a grey area (i.e., it depends on whether or not you get the job of a TA/RA)? Lastly, can one live off solely the funding obtained from the university during master's, considering that tuition needs to be paid as well? Jun 2, 2022 at 22:30
  • No. Direct application to PhD programs seems to be isolated to certain countries/cultures. From what I gather, a large portion of the world does formal bachelor's->master's->PhD tracks rather than bachelor's->PhD with an incidental master's partway through. Tuition is typically covered on top of TA/RAships, and you are not typically accepted to schools in Canada without them (you can't actually live in Canada if you are not from Canada without a paying job). As for whether the pay is enough.. I'm not sure in Canada. Their rent/housing market is absolutely insane. (The US is getting there.) Jun 2, 2022 at 22:53
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    Money was a little tight when I went to Waterloo for my master's. I got a second job as a tutor through the university which paid pretty well ($25/hour? with allowances for more IIRC). That with my TAship was fairly comfortable living at the time (10 years ago). Jun 2, 2022 at 22:57
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    Regarding Germany, check this page studentenwerk-muenchen.de/blog/artikel/2022/02/… the last two sections apply to you. Yes, the page is in German, use the online translator of your choice (an excellent alternative, much better than the famous Alpha product, is deepl.com )
    – EarlGrey
    Jun 3, 2022 at 6:44

2 Answers 2

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I can only answer for the US, though it might apply to Canada as well.

Since people get directly accepted into the Ph.D. program, there is no support for people who only want to get a M.S. degree (or, like you, who want to get the M.S. in order to apply for a Ph.D. elsewhere). Also, funding in pure Mathematics is tight. The reasons for someone to only want the M.S. are usually that they see it as a good investment or because they want to be student a little bit longer. The time is too short (two years or less) for a student to be likely to be productive in pure Mathematics, so faculty are not incentivized to spend time and resources on an MS student. They are more likely to spend time than money, because they do not have the money.

You might be able to find support as a TA, but if there is also a Ph.D. program, the TA positions are given to Ph.D. students. Thus, you should be looking at Mathematics departments that do not have a Ph.D. program, but since you are coming from abroad, it is unlikely that you will get hired into a TA position (just because of fear of lack of language skills or teaching skills).

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Unfortunately, the answer here is sometimes yes, sometimes no, and that you have to read the fine print at each individual place. Masters programs in particular are a grab-bag of different kinds of programs. This is very crude, but basically they tend to fall into programs that function like the first year or two of Ph.D. or like an extra year of undergrad.

At most universities in Canada, a masters is a required part of the progression to Ph.D., and in that situation, I think you can start with the expectation that master's programs will have funding packages similar to a Ph.D. program: they will include a stipend and cover your tuition, that this will be a part of your offer of admission, and that while "guaranteed" is probably too strong, since you can always get kicked out of the program, any withdrawal of it is quite rare.

On the other hand, there are other kinds of masters, the most notable one being as part III at Cambridge, which typically do expect students to pay tuition and to function basically as a bonus year of undergrad (these are also called "post-bacs" at some schools). Master's programs at US schools are often in this category (NYU's is one I've seen come up often).

So, you're just going to need to do your research on each individual program. You shouldn't be shy about emailing the relevant graduate administrator at each program, to ask them the questions above, since they know far better than we do. Even people on here with experience in particular systems can't really speak to what will be happening next year.

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