First principles

October 12, 2017

I was interested to observe how little Pragya Agarwal’s “Careers intelligence” article “How to write the perfect PhD proposal” (News, 5 October) corresponded to the way in which PhD candidates are assessed and selected in mathematics.

In the selection process, the potential supervisor(s) would consider how well the candidate had done in their relevant undergraduate modules, and how much capacity for research they had exhibited in their undergraduate projects. In interviews, we would look for indications of enthusiasm for research in mathematics, and possibly test them with some technical questions to see how they approached problems.

The last thing we would expect would be for them to write a research proposal as part of their application and, if for some bureaucratic reason they needed to write one at that stage, we would help them to do it. The details of their actual research project would typically emerge and be formulated during the first few months or possibly even the first year of their PhD studies.

Derek Holt
Professor of mathematics
University of Warwick

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