Common Questions from Math Majors
For these and other questions, you can always talk to mathematics faculty for more details.
What can I do with my math major?
Anything you want! Well, almost. Come talk to math faculty members about it. For some quick insight into what several other people have done, check out the Math Association of America’s Career Profiles, a collection of short essays by former math students about their chosen careers.
How can I find a summer job or research experience involving math?
There are a lot of possibilities, and Math Department faculty get regular emails and flyers about opportunities for undergraduates. We forward some of the emails to mathstu and post others. You can also let us know you are interested, and tell us what kinds of programs you particularly hope to engage in. (Undergraduate research into number theory? An interdisciplinary team project in biomathematics? Etc.) Here are some websites you may wish to check into on your own:
- The National Science Foundation’s list of REUs (Research Experiences for Undergraduates)
- The American Mathematical Society’s student resources page. There is a section for undergrads.
- The National Security Agency’s list of programs for college students (hint: START EARLY – the NSA accepts applications at the start of the school year for work the following summer)
Where can I go to present my research, and how can I learn more about the mathematics community?
Go to a conference! There are a lot of possibilities, and we can often find ways to pay for students to attend if you will be making a presentation. Consider the following possibilities:
- A regional MAA (Mathematics Association of America) conference. The fall conferences are typically the weekend before Thanksgiving, and the spring conferences are typically in early June. (Note for the web page: Bates is in the Northeastern Section.)
- The annual Joint Mathematics Meetings (with web page by AMS, the American Mathematical Society). This meeting is in January, at or near the start of Winter Semester at Bates.
- The Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics. Nebraska holds this acclaimed conference each year, usually in early February.
- The Hudson River Undergraduate Mathematics Conference. Usually held in April at a rotating group of colleges, HRUMC is a full day of mathematics activities.
How do I decide between taking a Senior Seminar and writing a Senior Thesis?
The mathematics major at Bates requires a capstone experience, either the Senior Seminar or the Senior Thesis. The Senior Seminar lasts one semester, and is an intense experience involving group work and several presentations in a small classroom environment. The Senior Thesis can last one semester or a full year, and requires you to work both independently and one-on-one with a faculty advisor. To help you decide which format will be best for you, the Department holds an information session during the winter semester. This info session gives faculty and seniors an opportunity to talk about their experiences with the Seminar or Thesis, and gives juniors a chance to ask questions; sophomores and first-year students are of course welcome to participate in this meeting. Faculty attend the first part of the meeting, while the second part is reserved just for students — current and rising seniors, and interested sophomores and first-years too.
I’m a junior who wants to write a Senior Thesis. How should I begin?
You can start by talking with some of the mathematics faculty – they are happy to suggest interesting topics. If you already have ideas of what you would like to work on, that’s fine too, but you are strongly encouraged to run your ideas by some of the faculty. The Math Department requires its majors to submit a thesis proposal by the last day of winter semester classes of the junior year. The proposal is to be completed using our downloadable LaTeX thesis proposal template. In particular, this document requires a carefully written 1–3 page narrative describing what you plan to work on, and a list of references you have considered. You will email your completed proposal to Hathorn Hall’s Academic Administrative Assistant, Kelly Perreault (kperrea2), as a PDF document. Complete details and instructions are in the LaTeX proposal template and on the Thesis Information page. Here’s a sample proposal, as Riemann would have submitted it.
What if I plan to spend my junior year abroad?
We recommend you plan ahead as much as possible, so you can fulfill all your requirements in time for graduation. Talk with one or more members of the Mathematics Faculty, as well as the Off-Campus Studies Office. We also suggest you go in your sophomore year to the sessions listed in the previous question, to help you decide about your senior capstone experience while you are away. A junior who is abroad winter semester of the junior year and who wishes to submit a thesis is still expected to submit a proposal by the last day of class of the Bates winter semester; please see the Thesis Information page for details.