Funding your PhD in Michigan Math

The math department at the University of Michigan generally guarantees funding for PhD students for the first five academic years (assuming, of course, that the student is making satisfactory progress towards their degree and doing satisfactory work in their assigned jobs). Your letter of admission contains the details of your specific funding promises in writing. Unless they have their own funding (e.g. an NSF or Rackham fellowship), most students are funded by a mathematics department Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) position, which usually involves either teaching a course in the introductory calculus sequence (Math 105, 115, 116) or serving as a teaching assistant for Math 215 or Math 216. However, several mathematics PhD students teach interesting courses outside the math department, or apply for and win fellowships. You are strongly encouraged to do so too! 

After attaining candidacy, math PhD students often get  several semesters of paid research funding. Typically, such funding takes the form of an advisor-funded Graduate Student Research Assistant (GSRA) position, though there are also several Rackham and department fellowships each year as well.  However, funding from your advisor is not guaranteed and most students will spend the majority of their semesters in a teaching role. 

Academic year funding

Even though the department provides financial support to fund your studies, you should consider applying for fellowships as well! Winning a fellowship or grant can not only lighten your teaching load, it can provide more money and more prestige than the standard department support package. Perhaps most importantly, applying for fellowships gives you a chance to practice writing grant applications and research proposals, and to discuss your proposals with your advisor and other experienced mathematicians. Many prestigious fellowships require a nomination from the department: just ask us!

You need to apply early for most fellowships, generally in the summer or fall a full year before you would like to be on the fellowship. e.g. for funding during the 2020-2021 academic year, you should be looking for fellowships during the summer of 2019. 

Specific Funding and Fellowship Opportunities


Summer funding

Most graduate students in the math department, like the faculty, are supported by teaching during the fall and winter semesters. You should pay attention to your budget and take action to ensure that your finances will stay healthy in the summers. 

The math department at the University of Michigan puts aside money for graduate student summer support, with the intention of offering a modest stipend to students who intend to be working seriously towards their degree for most of the summer; the exact amount, however, can vary from year to year.  We also encourage students to seek out other summer opportunities like internships, summer camp positions, and GSI positions in math or around campus. [Your offer letter may promise some modest summer support for up to three years without having to apply; please read carefully.]

Students  apply for departmental summer research grant in the form of a simple research proposal each spring. The process of writing this proposal offers an opportunity to focus your goals, consult with faculty members (or your dissertation advisor) about your mathematical plans, and get feedback on some mathematics you have written.  You are not required to apply for a departmental research grant for the summer.

The exact amount of the summer research grants will vary each year, depending on the number of students who apply and other difficult to predict factors. However, our goal is to tell you a minimum amount in March to assist your financial planning. The precise amount will be decided in April after financial needs are better understood (such as the number of incoming students, post-docs, and faculty, as well as the number of students applying for summer research grants). However, students should keep in mind that it is a modest amount. In recent summers, this amount has been $5000.

Some students are also recognized each year with departmental Fellowships and other awards, which may increase the amount of summer research support for certain highly qualified students who contribute greatly to the life of our department. 

Other students win Rackham or other university fellowship. For example, International students can ask to be nominated for the Rackham International Student Fellowship.  This does not provide enough money for the academic semester, but it can be used as a generous summer stipend (more than twice the typical math department summer grant). If you studied previously in Taiwan, you can also apply for the Chia-Lun Lo Fellowship.

In addition to the summer research grants, students can apply for positions teaching in math Stats, CS, or any other department, as well as in Ross Business school. Opportunities to work with high school students, summer bridge students, or do academic advising can be found as well. The department encourages you apply for internships or other positions outside the University. Ask around! Read your email!

Please pay attention to emails you will receive from the office about how to apply for summer funding and take prompt action so that you will be able to take advantage of these opportunities. 

It is a good idea to discuss your summer funding with your advisor in the Fall, and ask explicitly whether they might be able to offer you a research assistantship in the summer.  Your advisor may be able to fund your summer with their own grants or help you with applying for funding from Rackham. Many of the Rackham summer fellowships have applications due in January and require a nomination from the department. 

Other Summer Funding Opportunities


Funding beyond the Fifth Year

Beyond the fifth year, students are not guaranteed funding. But you should not stress excessively—there are many opportunities you will be well aware of by then, and the department is committed to helping students complete their degree with funding. Rather students should actively pursue alternate forms of support by talking to their advisors, and applying widely across campus if the anticipate needing a sixth year.  Due to the shortage of competent instructors in statistics and computer science nationwide, there are often opportunities for math PhD students to teach in Stats, Computer Science, Math Ed, or even Psychology–but also typically right here in math as well. You can check out the University Listing for GSI positions. Also check out announcements about new funding options.


Travel funding

There is usually a lot of funding for students to travel to conferences in their areas of specialty, typically from the conference itself.   See our advice  on conferences for more information. Some bigger meetings, such as the annual meetings of the American Mathematics Society or the Mathematical Association of America may not have funds, however.

Rackham has two main ways to give graduate students travel funding. These funds are available on a rolling basis to students in good standing who demonstrate that they fit the eligibility requirements: you do not have to compete for them. 

These include the  Rackham Travel Grant  for travel to conferences  or seminars at which you will be presenting (speaking or poster).  See our detailed advice on conferences for more information. 

There is also the Rackham Research Grant for travel to workshops and/or to follow your advisor on sabbatical, etc. Please ask for advice (e.g. from Karen Smith) on writing the proposal for this one, as math has some special needs that make the proposal writing a bit delicate


General advice on applying for funding
  1. Start planning early. As a general rule of thumb, you should apply to everything you are eligible to apply to. It is never too early or too late to think about applying for fellowships and grants. Even if you are a first year student or even an incoming student, plan to apply for fellowships. For candidates, it is important to regularly discuss your academic progress with your advisor. Make sure to ask explicitly if you will possibly need a sixth year and discuss funding for future semesters. For example, can your advisor fund a semester? If you know that you will need a sixth year (most people know by the end of their fourth year), plan to apply for fellowships and grants that will help you fund your sixth year.As mentioned above, for funding during X – (X+1) academic year, you should start looking for fellowships and grants during the summer of (X-1), e.g. for funding during the 2020-2021 academic year, you should be looking for fellowships during the summer of 2019.For funding during the summer of X, you should start looking for fellowships and grants during the summer of (X-1), e.g. for funding during the summer of 2020, you should be looking for fellowships during the summer of 2019.
  2. Look for fellowships/grants and make a list. Read your emails for fellowship/grant opportunities. Our Associate Chair for Graduate Studies regularly sends emails about fellowship/grant/internship opportunities. Look at the list provided below (which is in no way comprehensive), look at the Rackham fellowships/funding page, look at other institutions’ pages on external graduate student funding, etc. and compile a list of fellowships you are interested in applying to. Make sure you check and include the following information on your list:- Eligibility
    – Deadlines
    – Nomination Requirements (i.e. do you need to be nominated? If so, who needs to nominate you?)
    – Required Documents, e.g. personal statements, transcripts, number of recommendations, types of recommendations (teaching, research, service, etc.)
  3. If needed, ask for a nomination. Some fellowships may require a nomination from your advisor or from the math department. Ask your advisor or the associate chair for graduate studies if it is possible for you to be nominated.
  4. Research the fellowship mission and evaluation criteria. For each item on your list, make sure you do your research! A good start may be to answer the following questions:
      • What are the stated goals of the fellowship? For example, does the fellowship seek to promote ethnic and racial diversity (e.g. Ford Fellowship)? 
      • What are the evaluation criteria for the fellowship? Purely academic merit? A record of service? Commitment to diversity? Commitment to the values expressed in the U.S. Constitution/Bill of Rights (e.g. Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans)?
      • Who will be reviewing your application? Mathematicians who are potentially in your field (NSF GRFP)? Scientists who may not be mathematicians (Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship, Ford Fellowship)? People who may not be scientists (Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship)? 
      • What are the distinctions between the various required statements? How can you utilize each writing statement to reflect your accomplishments and if relevant, the mission of the fellowship? For example, some external fellowships ask for a personal statement and a research statement. What are the aspects you want to address in the personal statement vs. research statement? 
  5. Write the required statements early. Polished drafts of all required writing statements should be completed at least a month before the deadline so that you can provide the statements to your recommenders (See 5). Some helpful tips: 
      • It can be hard to find samples statements of successful applications. It may be a good idea to directly reach out to students who have been successful for their samples. The math department compiles a list of fellowship recipients at the end of each academic year. This is a good place to look for successful applicants. 
      • Make sure your statements follow any explicitly stated requirements such as formatting requirements (e.g. margin size, font size, page limits, headers, footers etc.) or content requirements (e.g. avoiding technical jargon as much as possible).
      • Ask multiple people to read, comment and edit your statements. Ask your advisor, your peers and other willing faculty (including postdocs). Be sure to provide your readers with the fellowship guidelines for the statements. For example, it would be helpful to know who will be reading your statements and if you should avoid using a lot of technical jargon. 

    Another good resource is the Graduate Writing Clinic. You can sign up for a session once per week for up to six sessions per semester. 


  6. Ask for recommendations early and provide as much information as possible. The latest you should ask for recommendations is a month before the application deadline, but it is preferable to ask at least two months in advance. Once someone agrees to write you a letter of recommendation, provide your recommender with the following information: 
    • Curriculum Vitae (C.V.) 
    • Fellowship Recommendation Guidelines (if available) 
    • Mission/Goal of the Fellowship (if relevant) 
    • Any (relevant) Statements/Documents you are submitting with your application. 

    For fellowships that emphasize certain goals/criteria for evaluation (such as a commitment to diversity), it may be helpful to ask your recommender(s) to highlight certain activities that promote the fellowship’s mission. That being said, for most of these fellowships/grants, academic merit is a large part of the evaluation criteria. Generally, your advisor and any recommender of your research/academic merit should emphasize  the merit of your research/academic work first and foremost over any other activity. 

  7. Send a reminder to your recommenders a month before the application deadline.
  8. Submit your application a few days before the deadline at the latest. Do not wait until the last minute to submit your application – especially if the application needs to be submitted online. Many applicants will be trying to submit at the last minute which can make the submission process painfully slow. If your online application is received even a few seconds after the deadline, your application may be rejected. This is particularly true of prestigious national fellowships such as the NSF, the Ford and the Hertz.
  9. Thank your recommenders and update them about the fellowship. Make sure to thank your recommenders after they submit their letters. If explicitly asked for updates about your application, make sure you let your recommenders know what happened regardless of the result. If you are not explicitly asked for updates and your application is successful, you should definitely update your recommenders about your success!  If you are not explicitly asked for updates and your application is unsuccessful, then it is up to you to decide if you want to send updates to your recommenders. However, keep in mind that your recommenders are rooting for your success and will most likely be curious about your application. 
  10. Talk to the Graduate Office if you receive an external fellowship and you plan to use it to fund a semester. Once you receive an external fellowship, carefully go over the amount of money awarded and how the fellowship intends for you to use that money. For example, some fellowships may only cover half the required tuition for a semester and will give additional money that can be used for the recipients stipend only. While some external fellowships such as the NSF have arrangements with the university for covering tuition and other benefits such as health insurance, there are external fellowships that do NOT have these arrangements. Communicate with the graduate office about how to move forward with your fellowship.

Partial List of Some Fellowships to consider applying for