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I expect to be graduating with a maths BSc (with an honours year, in Australia) in the not-too-distant future. I’d like to pursue a PhD in pure maths, with the view of becoming a research mathematician. I’ve found it quite difficult to find information on what exactly the application process entails, and when I need to start worrying about it. I have some specific questions, but what I’m really interested in is if there’s a compiled source of advice and information for math PhD applicants internationally.

  1. It seems that many universities have a specific (December in the USA) deadline, does this mean PhDs have to start at a particular time of year?
  2. I see that occasionally people advertise a particular PhD position they’d like to fill, on some particular research topic. Is this kind of PhD different from the “generic” kind and have a different application process?
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    Have you asked your local faculty? In particular, have you asked the faculty that you intend to ask for strong recommendation letters describing your potential for mathematical research? – JeffE Mar 8 '13 at 15:31
  • Many excellent universities in Europe announce their PhD programs as job openings and the salary they offer is comparable with a post-doc salary (in Europe). I recommend you search these positions as well. Sometimes you may find what you are looking for in a nice European universities and with a better salary. – user4511 Mar 8 '13 at 16:18
  • Jeff, I have not. I don't think my university has a postgraduate advisor, save for our own PhD program. I was hoping to get a more international perspective by asking here. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to ask some staff I know quite well, for general advice. – Matt Mar 9 '13 at 2:22
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There are two main models of organizing doctoral programs:

  • The American system: graduate students proceed through a combined master's and doctoral program, usually starting with coursework, then taking some sort of "qualifying exam" to become doctoral candidates within the department. Admissions are handled at the department level.

  • The "German" system: doctoral candidates are employees rather than students. Candidates for a position must apply directly to the group of the professor who is sponsoring the project. There is no coursework phase, as applicants are expected to have already completed their master's degree. (However, they can "audit" courses if needed.)

I would suspect that these represent the "poles" of the spectrum; most other systems I'm aware of fall somewhere in between. [Note that even the German system is adopting some features of the American system, and is thus starting to become a hybrid.]

  • Thanks aeismail, that's helpful knowledge. I expect an Australian honours year is roughly equivalent to a one-year master's degree, so I expect both types of system would be appropriate for me. – Matt Mar 9 '13 at 2:23
  • To @Matt and aeismal: US vs Europe? academia.stackexchange.com/questions/43313 – Jack Bauer Dec 14 '16 at 0:29
  • @JackBauer: No, since some European programs are starting to follow the US model. – aeismail Dec 15 '16 at 20:25
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  1. It seems that many universities have a specific (December in the USA) deadline, does this mean PhDs have to start at a particular time of year?

Usually, students apply on December for the Fall entry (August/September of the upcoming year).

2.I see that occasionally people advertise a particular PhD position they’d like to fill, on some particular research topic. Is this kind of PhD different from the “generic” kind and have a different application process?

Really can't ansnwer and it is case specific but usually such advertisements contain information about how to apply, expected time to start, minimum requirements and expected stipend (if there is any).

  • Thanks. Does that "usually" mean students usually have to start in the Fall, or they usually choose to? That timing is pretty incompatible with the Australian university year that typically ends in November. – Matt Mar 9 '13 at 2:24
  • Yes students have to start in the Fall. You can ask for starting earlier or defer your starting date after being accepted. – seteropere Mar 9 '13 at 9:16
  • Much of the coursework, planning, and funding is organized on the same cycle, as well, in the U.S.: academic years are Sept-May, applications must be made in Dec-Jan of the preceding year, grad program offers(admission+TA functin)are made in early spring, students' decisions are made by April 15 (there is a nation-wide policy on this), a few offers occur after that date. An orientation program for new grad students (especially from abroad) will run in August, and school starts in September. Most courses are two-semester, and the spring semester has fall semester as prerequisite. – paul garrett Mar 10 '13 at 17:54
  • In my experience students at Australian universities who are moving to the US for graduate programs (which do indeed all start in September) often do a short master's program [not sure what the official title is] in the intervening time between graduation and beginning graduate school. – Tom Church Mar 10 '13 at 20:15

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