I am about to graduate with a B.S. in mathematics and will (hopefully) be attending a PhD program somewhere starting in the fall.

What is one supposed to do the summer between? I don't have any money, so I can't "travel." I would love to do another REU, but I don't think they generally admit graduates.

  • possible duplicate of Master student pursuing PHD: how to spend summer break?
    – gerrit
    Jan 28, 2013 at 10:40
  • @gerrit while it is related, I don't think it is a duplicate. I think their might be differences in the advice for someone who has started an academic career (i.e., has a masters) and someone who has not.
    – StrongBad
    Jan 28, 2013 at 10:52
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    I guess it would be very irresponsible to recommend that you spend the summer having as much intense fun in the company of other people as is humanly possible (without permanently harming anyone's health). But anyway: do that.
    – 410 gone
    Jan 28, 2013 at 12:08
  • 1
    A couple of my undergraduate professors gave me math books as a 'present' when I graduated: Bressoud's Lebesgue integration and Stewart's Galois theory. I spent the summer going through the latter in a leisurely manner. Some others in my incoming class were contacted by faculty from the graduate program and told that their background in so-and-so might need some brushing up, and they spent some of their summer learning, say, point-set topology. But, take it from a fellow math PhD student, you're not going to get a break again till after the PhD, so make the most of it!
    – Aru Ray
    Jan 28, 2013 at 16:14
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    have fun and enjoy 4 months of being normal human being
    – seteropere
    Jan 29, 2013 at 0:50

5 Answers 5


As someone who jumped keenly straight from my undergraduate into graduate school (we could start at any time), my advice is to rest. Even if you cannot travel, spent time with your parents or grand parents or anyone who will give you a room to sleep in. Maybe help out at a local charity. Clear your mind. Read some novels. Go hiking.

This could be the last extended break of your life (before retirement). Enjoy it.

  • 5
    Seconded. Take a break - you'll be grateful for it.
    – Suresh
    Jan 28, 2013 at 8:02
  • Third'd, focus on resting and leisure, so when you go back to the PHD, you do it with 100% batteries and dont "drift" away becase "you let your summer go by". Good luck on your new proyect! Jan 28, 2013 at 17:43
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    Gosh. The last break ever- what an intimidating statement. It's a lot of pressure to try to recharge all my batteries after how my undergrad went. I am so exhausted. I feel like I don't even remember how to 'just have fun.' Jan 28, 2013 at 17:51
  • @SamuelHandwich - It is a little exaggerated, but the main idea is that you must take advantage of these "free days" and just relax, take time to yourself, brush up on basic knowledge for your courses, and just have an altogether "fun time". Just so you don't end up missing that time later. Jan 28, 2013 at 18:40

Your mention of REU makes me think you are in the US and you say you don't have any money. My suggestion would be to get a job. You will come out anywhere between 5-10k ahead. US stipends tend to be low. Not having credit card debit at the outside of grad school is really nice. A small amount of savings will provide a large percentage increase in your monthly budget. Dipping into your savings for 1k extra per year will give you something like a 10 percent increase in your monthly budget. Having savings/reduced debt might be the difference between having to or not having to take a non-academic job. It might also allow you to afford a laptop or self fund a conference trip or buy some much needed reference books.


I agree completely with Dave on his answer. There is one instance that I think is worthwhile to do some preparation and that is if you are doing a particular grad program and in one of the fundamental areas relating to it you don't have a good foundation. Lets say you are going to do a Master's in Applied Mathematics and you are not good at dealing with differential equations. If that's the case then put in some time now and sort it out rather than later when you will be drowning in coursework, exams, projects and all the rest.


You might want to consider being a counselor at a math camp for high school (or even middle school) students. This is a good job, albeit a fairly relaxed one, as these programs often aspire to achieve the dynamic of a big, happy family that really loves math. You’ll get good practice teaching without facing the administrative issues that one might encounter as a TA. There is something wonderful about seeing students at this age understand a concept for the first time; everything is new to them, and the excitement is infectious. Finally, on pain of sounding overly focused on professional development, experience like this looks great on a CV. Some programs you could consider include MathPath (program for middle school students, rotating location), PROMYS (program at Boston University, focused on number theory), SIMUW (program at the University of Washington), and the Ross Program at OSU.


I totally agree: Take a break and enjoy it!

I changed from my masters to doing my PhD on a weekend. The last exam was on Thursday, the first day on monday.

I regret it. I also moved to a new country during that weekend, so this was a very stressful time, with finishing the thesis, a breakup and all. So, compared to that, the first couple of days in my new job where relaxing, even if this was and still is a really hard time. But, with slightly less adrenaline powering me, I immediately became ill. Not a good first impression.

The beginning of a PhD is not a walk in the park, especially if you change topics like me. You want to be fit for this time.

In retrospect I should have taken a little holiday, even if it meant taking up a small loan. Doing my PhD I earn enough to be able to pay something back. A simple relaxing holiday does not require a lot of money. You need a place to sleep, some food and maybe a couple of beers. Try to empty your ToDo-list as much as possible, or it will haunt you in the years to come.

Using this time for preparation is probably a bad idea. You will have time to get to know your topic. If you start relaxed and undistracted (ToDo-list), then you will have a great start.

Good luck!

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