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I am a first-year math master's student looking to apply to math PhD programs next year.

Is it appropriate for me to cold-email a US math department to request information about the job placement of recent PhD graduates? For example, I may want to ask how many graduates with which advisers managed to get postdocs and eventually tenure-track positions at either research universities or liberal arts colleges. Another example is that I may ask how many graduates with which dissertation areas eventually obtained non-academic research jobs (e.g. Microsoft Research, NSA, US national laboratories).

Besides asking departments directly, I can only think of the Math Genealogy Project, which is not always complete, and the Annual Survey of the Mathematical Sciences, which has excellent data but only for broad groups of departments and broad classifications of research areas.

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    Some institutes publish this information online to promote themselves. Another way to get this information would be to google recent graduates and see where they are now. – Mark Sep 8 '17 at 18:53
  • This is something which in a perfect world all programs would be doing as a matter of course and putting on their websites. If more people actually make the effort to ask for it, more programs might start doing it. – Elizabeth Henning Sep 8 '17 at 19:02
  • IME math departments usually do know what happens to their grads even if they don't bother compiling it. – Elizabeth Henning Sep 8 '17 at 19:03
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    Providing any information specific to individual students is a no-no at many institutions and in any case it's hard to keep track of former students for a long period of time. I'd recommend using the Math Genealogy project to get a list of graduates from 5-10 years ago, and then Google them (Or use the combined membership directory or both) to see if you can find them. You'll be surprised how many graduates of even the most prestigious institutions will have left academia. For those who've gone to industry it can be very hard to find them. I'd suggest searching on linkedin. – Brian Borchers Sep 8 '17 at 21:06
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You could email either the departmental graduate advisor, chair, or POI but be prepared to be disappointed -- either because they don't respond or they don't have the data you want:

  • Until you've been offered a position, you are just one of a hundred plus applicants. Your likelihood of getting a response improves when they are courting you not when you're an unknown student emailing out of the blue

  • Running this type of stats takes time and energy as many departments don't have a mechanism for tracking former students. We often only do this on a departmental level during an external review (if even then) and so the data can be several years old and not very granular

  • individual labs or professors may track this but their n can be so small as to be meaningless (is a prof who places 2/5 really better than a prof who is placing 3/8).

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Echoing other comments and answers: first, there is a potentially significant issue (in the U.S., for example) about giving too much personal information about former students, whether successes or failures. Nevertheless, yes, of course, documenting "successes" is good PR for a grad program. At my R1 U.S. uni, we do list PhD alumni, and, to the degree that it seems unobjectionable, their current situations. But this is potentially tricky.

Many grad program exert less effort to track alumni, in part because of the privacy issues, and in part because often people don't want to be "tracked", at all.

And, in terms of the utility of such information to anyone: it turns out that grad students, especially the more able ones, are very much individuals, so to categorize people by their advisor or topic or... is potentially very misleading. E.g., in terms of probability or statistics, there are soooo many conditioning aspects that the bare answer to your question would be almost worthless for predicting your own subsequent success (based on successes of previous students of a given advisor, etc.)

  • There's no reason a department can't provide statistics (not personal information) about an entire class. Law and business schools do it. – Elizabeth Henning Sep 10 '17 at 1:29

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