Welcome to First Year Students

Update as of July 1, 2020: The new Associate Chair is Professor Sergey Fomin. However, Karen would still like to welcome everyone with the words below!

Welcome! Our math department is a big, overwhelming place, brimming with excitement and opportunities. We have chosen you to join our department because we know you can thrive here, and we are excited to work with you. We hope it soon feels like home!

Your goals, strengths, weaknesses, interests, background, and experiences are different from every other student’s. You should seek lots of advice from as many faculty and students as possible. Listen well, but don’t believe all of it! Your job is to sort out the conflicting advice and decide what best applies to you, and then to be flexible and open-minded about adjusting your course along the way.

That being said, the buttons below contain some “generic” advice for you, a beginning graduate student in our department, as you begin your new adventure. Of course, as we get to know you, we will have more targeted advice to offer. 

Having watched students succeeding at U-M for close to thirty years, I know that you too, regardless of your starting point, can succeed here as well. Many students are overwhelmed by how competent and prepared their peers seem and worry that they themselves are already behind. Nothing can be further from the truth. Success here does not correlate well with how much mathematics students know upon arrival, what college they attended, or how sure they were of their area of specialization. Time and time again, I have seen that having a strong command of the basics is more important than “exposure” to a lot of high level mathematics. Likewise, humility in the face of mathematics, which is deeper and more difficult than any one of us can ever comprehend, is crucial. A willingness to be ignorant will take you much further than a need to show off. Curiosity, drive and discipline are more important than being “quick” at solving homework problems. Working with others makes you a stronger mathematician than going it alone. Do not compare yourself to others, but rather to where you were before.

You are about to spend five of your best years in Ann Arbor. Taking care of your body, social life, mental health, and spirit are essential for a happy life, as is taking pride in your work as an instructor. This balance will give you endurance to complete the PhD program in mathematics. Please enjoy teaching and learning math, and enjoy life!

Some program-specific advice for:

All my best,

Karen E. Smith

(former) Associate Chair for Graduate Studies

P.S. Here are some  help links put together by our amazing Graduate Coordinator, Teresa Stokes, which should be useful as you figure out how to get registered for classes.