Graduate program update

Posed photo of the graduate students in the mathematics department with Melanie Erickson, records analyst in mathematics.

In the past year, the Department of Mathematics’ graduate program has undergone changes in staff, its core area and its Ph.D.- qualifying examination system.

Sung-Yell Song, associate professor, took over as the new departmental graduate coordinator on July 1, 2016. His role is to organize recruitment, oversee the admissions process and advise students. Song said mentoring students to help them achieve their goals is his favorite part of the job.

“Providing individual advice to help students progress is most important for me,” Song said. “I have been here for more than 25 years and always feel blessed because I’ve been able to work with hardworking students.”

The graduate coordinator designates a temporary advisor for all new graduate students, and the temporary advisor guides each student in their selection of a field of study, working with each graduate student until their major professor and a program of study committee are selected.

A new core area has been added to the department — Discrete Mathematics — which covers broad topics, usually combinatorics and graph theory. Discrete Mathematics’ three core courses are graph theory, enumerative combinatorics and discrete optimization, which gives students one more core area (and a Ph.D.-qualifying examination option) to choose from. The existing core areas include two in pure mathematics (algebra and analysis) and two in applied mathematics (applied mathematics and numerical analysis).

Each core area consists of a sequence of three core courses. All students in the M.S. program take four core courses; Ph.D. students are required to take at least six core courses out of 15 courses offered. Depending on the focus of the student’s research, Discrete Mathematics can be used for either pure or applied mathematics requirements.

Finally, the Ph.D.-qualifying exam system has been adjusted in an effort to give students a better opportunity for initial success. To qualify for the Ph.D. program, students must pass four exams (out of 10 offered) that are suitable for their area of research. They must pass these exams within the first two calendar years of starting their program. Exams are taken at the end of each semester with their corresponding course. Exams are offered twice a year now, in January and in August.

“We allow them to take as many exams as often as possible with no limits to attempts, but we want them to pass as early as possible so they may devote more time to research,” Song said.

Previously, each exam had content from two core courses, meaning students waited until they completed two out of three associated courses in a specific core area before taking the exam. Now, exams are split by course, enabling students to take their exam immediately after completing the class.