First prin­ci­ples

THE (Times Higher Education) - - LETTERS -

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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