I am a first-year undergraduate student majoring in mathematics and plan to pursue a master's degree in pure mathematics, with aspirations toward a career in academia. However, I am curious about the relative importance of internships or low-level research experience compared to academic achievements (good grades) when it comes to graduate applications. Are such experiences considered more significant than a strong transcript and recommendation letters? Additionally, I would appreciate any advice on undergraduate research opportunities. For instance, is it advisable to approach professors in the Mathematics department to offer assistance with their projects, especially during the summer? Also, would involvement in a project outside of mathematics be considered relevant?

Edit: I should mention that I am attending a university in Europe


1 Answer 1


Few undergraduates in mathematics have the opportunity or the time to do serious research. This is especially true in the US. Any contact with it is valuable both personally and in application. The two difficult issues for undergraduates are the nature of the program itself (in the US) which seldom reaches the research frontier in any field as well as the time constraint of the typical program.

And many students in the US go on to doctoral programs from small liberal arts colleges where there are few opportunities for research in any case as the faculty is more focused on teaching. So, beginning graduate, even doctoral, study with no research experience is common, perhaps the standard.

But any contact with mathematical research will be considered a plus though it would be in addition to the rest, such as decent grades in important courses and good letters of recommendation.

I suggest that if you have the opportunity, then take it, but don't sacrifice other important things to do so. Yes, summers are good. But "assisting a professor in their research" would be IMO a very rare sort of thing in pure math. The courses you take are (rare exceptions) not at a level that would enable it.

But even something small and simple might give insights into the mathematical way of thinking that will pay you back later.

The situation isn't quite the same in applied math. And the answer is quite US focused. It might be different in, say, Germany where an undergraduate program is more focused.

  • Thank you. (I forgot to mention that I study in Europe). I personally like to use holidays to read up and prepare course material that I will take in the following semester. However, if I get an opportunity to do some research, I shall use it. Nov 10, 2023 at 12:35

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