Thread: How much actual math in PhD programs - (once you're there, not to get in)

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How much actual math in PhD programs - (once you're there, not to get in)

I understand Linear Algebra and Real Analysis are pre-req's for the good PhD programs- but how much do you actually need it once you get in? Is it just a filtering mechnaism that is helpful, but not essential because you are studying along anyway, or will you basically fail if you have to learn the math as you go along?

Thanks.

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It's somewhere between the two -- and depends on what school you attend.

Linear algebra is used a lot, particularly in statistics/econometrics. You need to be comfortable with matrix notation, functions on matrices, inversion, etc. If you have to think about the notation or matrix operations, it will be really hard to keep up with the actual content.

Real analysis is a part of much of the first year sequence, especially micro. You will prove that there exists a utility function that represents preferences. You will prove that function is continuous, LNS, etc. You will use direct proofs and proofs by contradiction. You will use concepts like "open balls," and constructs like, given delta, there exists and epsilon such that... There's a lot of notation (symbols for things like "for each" and "there exists" that isn't difficult, but will make it hard to follow the professor on the board if you don't know the symbols being used.)

Now, some of this material will be covered in "math camp" or a math class during your first year. But typically that class is just a quick overview or refresher -- if it was your first time seeing the material, you'd probably need to do quite a bit of work outside of class to actually learn it on your own. And that will be time you just don't have first year. Real analysis and linear algebra are both tools that are supposed to make the intuition clearer. If you don't understand the math, then instead of focusing on the economics, you'll be stuck paying too much attention to the math.

(Note: this all pertains to top 20 or top 30 schools. I don't know as much about the first year classes at other schools. Also, I'm not advocating taking tons of extra math above and beyond those classes, but I do think they are useful in the first year as well as important for admissions. And it's a great question, because the focus should be on how to do well, not just how to get in.)

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Originally Posted by asquare
Now, some of this material will be covered in "math camp" or a math class during your first year. But typically that class is just a quick overview or refresher -- if it was your first time seeing the material, you'd probably need to do quite a bit of work outside of class to actually learn it on your own. And that will be time you just don't have first year.

This statement cannot be over-emphasized, in my opinion. I'm taking the PhD "Math for Economists" course as a Master's student. I have not had Real Analysis (at the Roydin level, I'm currently taking a class using Rudin).

This "Math for Economists" course moves incredibly fast, so fast that I typically spend the class writing notes and then 3 hours that night trying to understand what was actually said in class. Real Analysis (probably even an introductory level) would have been infinitely useful.

On that note, if you can afford to take a general Topology class it will be very useful in the more advanced econometric courses.

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I didn't take real analysis as an undergrad, but i've heard how helpful it is for phd econ. I am currently attempting a self-study at rudin's book, and to my shock, i actually am understanding most of it. if not to please the adcoms, i think this will help me succeed once i get to grad school. however, it would be nice to signal to the adcoms somehow that I have this proof abililty. is this a good idea, and if so, in what medium should i attempt to convey this information. perhaps through LORs? mention in statement of purpose?

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Caprone, it's great that you are getting a handle on the material before starting a PhD! It really will be useful in your first year -- admissions is a huge hurdle, but that's only the beginning and it is really good to think a step further down the line.

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Thanks for all the input- I am taking Linear Algebra at a local college after work- it is pretty tough to keep up. I plan to take RA next semester. If I were to apply to programs and tell them somehow that I am enrolled- would that be good enough to get respect from the admissions committees, or do you actually need to show them you got an A? Anyone with concrete info on this would be appreciated.

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If you're applying this fall for 2007 admissions...

You can submit fall grades, and they'll affect admissions decisions.

However, you can tell them in your application that you plan to take RA, but they won't give it much credit until you have a grade (which won't happen if you're taking it in the spring). It likely won't make you more competitive with applicants who have a grade in RA; however, it may help somewhat against other applicants who have no intention of taking RA.

Really, you should take RA to make life easier in your first year anyway. Yeah, it sucks that it won't help you much for admissions purposes, but it's a useful course to take.

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How do you let adcoms know your fall grades. When you submit apps, usually grades for fall have not been posted. Since you send the transcript before the grades appear, how can they see these? Does one typically send an unnoficial transcript after the semester is over say after admissions deadline? Or do you just postpone sending your transcripts all together?

I would just like to know from someone who has done this before.

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Originally Posted by cooper
How do you let adcoms know your fall grades. When you submit apps, usually grades for fall have not been posted. Since you send the transcript before the grades appear, how can they see these? Does one typically send an unnoficial transcript after the semester is over say after admissions deadline? Or do you just postpone sending your transcripts all together?

I would just like to know from someone who has done this before.
I have basically the same question: Do adcoms look at a transcript sent after the deadline is passed?

Some departments have early deadlines on 12/01 or 12/15, so I'll have to send in my transcripts without the first term's grade. But the transcript with those grades will be available by late December (around 12/20), should I send them my newly updated transcripts as well?

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You send a transcript with your application. When you get your fall grades, you send an updated transcript.

I'm guessing applications haven't been opened up yet, but several schools will ask you on the application to submit fall grades when you get them.

Oh, and don't worry... nobody will be reading your application in January, so there's plenty of time to get the updated transcript to them.