MS 497 - Preparation for Senior Research

Organizer: Erich Friedman (

What is this course?

This is a course designed to prepare you for MS 498 Senior Research next semester. You are expected to find an advisor in the department to work with on your research, pick a research project, begin your research, write a research proposal, and give a talk about your chosen topic.

What is math research?

This differs widely by field. Pure mathematicians often experiment, conjecture, and then prove their guesses. Applied mathematicians often do statistical studies, optimize a system, or generate algorithms with fewer proofs. Some projects will require a literature search. Some projects will require computer programming. Whatever your project is, you will be working on your own and should do your own work.

Why is this course required?

Most of the math curriculum studies mathematics that was created hundreds of years ago. But you cannot fully understand what mathematics is all about unless you take part in the process of creating some. It can be scary and frustrating doing new mathemmatics, but it can also be rewarding, and looks very good on your résumé.

How do I find an advisor?

You can start by visiting the department project web site. This web page contains general topics of interest and suggested individual projects for students to work on. Hopefully you will find some faculty whose interests are the same as yours. Next you should visit these professors for more details about possible projects.

How do I find a research problem?

Maybe your advisor has some particular problems for you to work on. You might find a problem on the internet, from one of your upper division courses, from a math meeting you attended, or from a department colloquium you went to. Some faculty are willing to let students pick a problem from a field they are interested in, and they will have a list of internet resources available.

How will this work?

We will not be meeting as a class. You will schedule meetings with your advisor every week. You should set weekly goals, and keep to them. As coordinator, I will meet with you at the beginning of every month, and will contact your advisor separately by e-mail to get an update on your project. This is a 1 credit course, so plan to spend at least 2 hours per week on your research outside of your meetings. Most students spend more.

Am I expected to have original results in the fall?

Not necessarily. Some projects require more learning up front. But the more you get done this fall, the more you will have done by the end of MS 498. If you don't have results this fall, you have a heavier burden to demonstrate that you understand and can succeed with your project.

Am I expected to publish my results?

There are undergraduate math journals that would publish good research projects. This is something to strive for, but it is not required.

How do I write my proposal?

A WORD template will be provided to you. You should use this template for both your proposal this semester and research project next semester. You should write results as you get them rather than wait for the end of the semester. This way you can get feedback as you go, and won't be as busy at the end of the semester. You should be formal and precise in your paper. A rough draft is due before the final draft. For both the rough draft and final draft, you should give a paper copy to your advisor and an electronic copy to the organizer.

What guidelines I should follow in giving credit?

If you use someone else's idea, you should give that person credit. This could happen because you read a paper, attended a talk at a conference, found material on a web page, or talked with a faculty member. See the template for examples of citations. You can also give more general thanks to others on your acknowledgement page.

To whom do I present the proposal?

All the department faculty will be there, and all the students in the department are invited. You should feel free to invite other visitors. You are required to attend all the proposal presentations of your fellow math majors. Refreshments will be served.

What sort of presentation is expected?

You should use PowerPoint or overhead slides. You should plan to talk for 15-20 minutes about your problem, what you did this semester, and what you plan to do next semester. Your presentation may be less formal and less complete than your paper, but you should still be precise. You should be prepared to answer questions and get constructive feedback on your proposal. You should practice your presentation before you give it - a talk gets better every time you give it.

Will I be exempted from the communications requirement?

The department no longer routinely exempts students from this requirement.

What's the timeline?

First Day of ClassWednesday, August 25
Deadline to Pick AdvisorFriday, September 3
Proposal Abstract DueFriday, October 8
Rough Draft of Proposal DueWednesday, November 17
Final Draft of Proposal DueWednesday, November 24
Proposal PresentationsDecember 6, 7, and 8

Who will be grading me?

Your grades in MS 497 and MS 498 will be determined by the entire department faculty. Your advisor and the coordinator will determine your midterm grade.

How am I graded?

You will be graded on how well the faculty think you understand your problem, and how much progress you have made on it this semester. Things that will negatively impact your grade: not keeping to the deadlines above, missing meetings with your advisor, making little or no progress on a weekly basis, not making the indicated changes in your rough draft, writing a sloppy or incomplete paper, giving a poor presentation, or being unable to answer questions about your project.

Can you give me some percentages?

Your grade will be determined 10\% on whether you keep your meetings with your advisor and make steady progress, 65\% on your research proposal, and 25\% on your presentation. Failure to meet the above deadlines will be penalized 5\% per day.

What if I'm afraid?

Don't be. Every graduate from our program has lived through this, and the vast majority of them enjoyed the experience. Don't get discouraged if you don't get results right away. A year is a long time.