Currently I am preparing for postgraduate application. My research interest is fluid mechanics. There are several professors whose research interests are similar to mine and all of them are included in both applied math department and some non-math departments, such as geophysics department. Most of their papers are published in Journal of Fluid Mechanics, which is one of the leading journals in that field. However, it seems that those papers do not involve advanced math knowledge, such as abstract algebra or analysis. Even epsilon-delta terminology seldom appears in those papers.

This slightly contradicts to my previous understanding. In the math department where I finished my undergraduate study, real analysis is a basic requirement for every postgraduate student. Does this mean the field of applied fluid mechanism does not require students with solid math background? What does it imply if a professor is included in applied math department? Does this indicate he/she will supervise a student with only math background? Or does this mean he/she has an intention to publish papers in math journals?

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    It means their peers consider them to be applied mathematicians. Not all math requires algebra or analysis.
    – JeffE
    Jul 12, 2014 at 14:32
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    And not all applications of analysis require epsilons and deltas. Jul 12, 2014 at 15:29
  • Im my experience, affiliate faculty are unusually common in applied math departments. In fact, in many applied math departments (such as Cornell: cam.cornell.edu/cam/people/faculty.cfm or Yale: applied.math.yale.edu/people/faculty), just about every faculty member is from another department.
    – user10761
    Jul 12, 2014 at 15:29
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    @RaisinBread: I don't know about Yale, but at Cornell, there is no applied math department. The web page you linked to is for a "center" which brings together various faculty with an interest in applied math, all of whom have appointments in ordinary departments. Jul 12, 2014 at 15:36
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    It seems a little strange to infer that someone lacks knowledge of X because they wrote papers not referencing X. Do you mean that when you look at the papers, you see specific mathematical content/formalism missing, to its detriment? If so, that sounds like a good reason not to want to work with that faculty member. I would say: find people whose work you are overall very interested in, and then write to them asking about what level of mathematical background they use in their work and require of the students. Try to phrase the question as a question and not a judgment. Jul 12, 2014 at 18:10

1 Answer 1


Affiliate faculty are common in many university departments. This indicates faculty who have a departmental home (faculty line, voting rights, tenure and promotion line, office space) but for a variety of reasons are given courtesy appointments (sometimes called in the USA as 0 FTE appointments) in another department. This may be because they teach a crosslisted course or occasionally sit on doctoral committees of the other department, or occasionally just for the academic lulz (ie, they requested an affiliation and there was no reason to deny it).

Affiliate faculty rarely occasionally (depending on discipline and university) serve as chairs of doctoral committees and similarly are rarely/occasionally (depending on discipline) given students in that department to supervise. Their ability though to sit as members on committees is useful if you were to want to do a project in geophysics (in this case) but otherwise you can ignore them.

Note that this is different from faculty with dual appointments where their faculty line is split (0.5 FTE in one department, 0.5 in another). They have voting and advisory rights in both departments.

FTE = Full-Time Equivalent, the essential counting unit of faculty lines. 
A department with two full-time faculty and two joint-appointments would 
have 2*1 FTE + 2 * 0.5 FTE = 3 FTE

TL;DR: Don't worry about affiliate faculty. Focus on the core faculty and their strengths when making decisions.

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    Affiliate faculty rarely serve as chairs of doctoral committees and are rarely given students in that department to supervise : I would beg to differ. I can point out numerous counter examples including my own. :)
    – Shion
    Jul 12, 2014 at 14:10
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    I would beg to differ with the use of the word "rare" Perhaps this is influenced by discipline and field (and my own limited experience) but in the broader fields of computer science, mathematics, statistics, electrical engineering that I find myself in, this is quite common especially in my past two universities.
    – Shion
    Jul 12, 2014 at 14:16
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    At least at my university, the question would be why a student would apply (and graduate from) an EE department if their committee chair was not a mainline EE faculty member. It would indicate a weakening of the standards of the EE department in that they would be seen as not capable of chairing their own students and have to rely on an outsider for this. At my school, PhD committee chairs must be fully appointed in the department. Secondary members (readers) may be from across the university and the world.
    – RoboKaren
    Jul 12, 2014 at 14:20
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    I would estimate that about 5% of the PhD students in my department (at a large R1) have a primary advisor outside my department. This is normal and accepted practice. University rules require a majority of the thesis committee to be from the student's home department, and every student is evaluated annually by department faculty in their research area, so there's little danger of weakened standards. And it's not because we're incapable of advising those students, but because the students found a better intellectual match elsewhere. After all, it's their degree.
    – JeffE
    Jul 12, 2014 at 14:35
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    @RoboKaren Computer science. The number is actually closer to 25% in some subfields that overlap with computer engineering. (CS faculty also advise CE students in those fields.) No, the university doesn't raise questions; if anything they encourage cross-fertilization between departments.
    – JeffE
    Jul 12, 2014 at 23:44

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