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Section 12 Frequently Asked Questions

The questions below have been posed by graduate students at various stages of their careers. They are either of a technical nature or they ask about topics perceived to be beyond the written policies of the department.

The remarks below represent an interpretation of current policies by the Graduate Program Committee (GPC). Just as our own court system constantly refines its interpretation of laws, the interpretations below can and no doubt will change with time.

First, we state just all the questions for the sake of compactness, and the give links to their answers.

  • The most important question: Who or what is the definitive source for answers about policies affecting my status in the graduate program? Answer/Opinion
  • Registering for classes: What is the department policy on signing up for independent studies, taking classes outside the department? What does it mean to sign up for thesis research versus graduate research versus a reading course versus independent research versus supervised teaching, etc.? What classes count towards the 15-course requirement for a master's degree? Answer/Opinion
  • Late registration: Can I drop or add a class late? Answer/Opinion
  • Opting out/auditing of required courses: What do I do if I don't want to take one of the core courses in my first year (e.g., because you've already seen the material)? Can I audit a class? Answer/Opinion
  • Grades in classes: How do grades in graduate classes work? What does it actually mean if you get a low pass (LP)? Answer/Opinion
  • Holidays: Do graduate students have classes on days that undergrads get off? Answer/Opinion
  • Advancement Examination: What do I do if:

    • I don't think I will be able to make a deadline (including extended deadlines)?
    • I think I want to change my Advancement Committee?
    • I'm having trouble finding a time before the deadline that the whole Advancement Committee can meet?
    • I failed the Advancement Exam?
    • What circumstances warrant an extension?
    • How does the GPC view missing a deadline?
    • What happens if I don't make the deadlines?

    Answer/Opinion

  • Travel funding: What kinds of funds are available for graduate students to attend conferences? How do I request funding? What are examples of the kinds of things that have and haven't received funding? Answer/Opinion
  • Teaching seminar: What happened to the teaching seminar? Answer/Opinion
  • Teaching: What are my responsibilities as an instructor? Am I in charge of my own courses? Answer/Opinion
  • Seminars: What seminars exist in the department? Should I attend them if I haven't picked a research area yet? How do I find out about seminar talks? What about colloquia? What's the point of going to talks if they are boring or I get lost all the time? Answer/Opinion
  • Being away from the department: … for a day, a week, a month, or forever—when does going on vacation count as a leave of absence? What do I do if my (potential) advisor tells me to go to a conference, but the professor teaching your course says I shouldn't? If I don't get GPC approval before leaving to do something math-related, what happens? What's department policy on leaving campus during Dartmouth breaks? Answer/Opinion
  • How much trouble am I in?:If you're not on probation, do you automatically count as a student in good standing? Answer/Opinion
  • Outside funding and tutoring: Can I receive outside funding? Can I get a tutoring job? Can I get paid by a summer workshop or REU? Answer/Opinion
  • I've advanced to candidacy, now what?: Answer/Opinion
  • Choosing an advisor and an Advancement Committee: Answer/Opinion What are good strategies for finding an advisor and secondary advisor (as part of my Advancement Committee)? What about the third person on the committee?
  • Advancing to candidacy: Where do you get the forms? To whom do you turn them? Answer/Opinion
  • Having trouble with a thesis advisor?: What do you do if you're having a problem with your thesis advisor? What do you do if you want to change thesis advisors? What's the department policy on interdisciplinary work and thesis advisors outside the math department? What about thesis advisors at other schools? Answer/Opinion
  • Language exam: When is the language exam supposed to be taken? Answer/Opinion
  • Thesis defense: What happens if you don't finish your thesis on time or need to reschedule your thesis defense? Answer/Opinion
  • Teaching issues: What are the policies on using other people's problems or tests? What's the procedure if you're going to fail someone? What do you do if you have problems with your evaluation by the teaching committee? What happens if the department is unhappy with your teaching? Answer/Opinion
  • Fifth year teaching: If I want to do something other than teach in my fifth year, how do I propose a project and to whom? What are some possibilities for what to do? Answer/Opinion
  • Which faculty can comprise a thesis defense committee? Answer/Opinion
  • Who's who: What are the roles of the GPC, the Graduate Student Representative, the Graduate Student Advisor, Advisor to First Year Graduate Students, Head of the Graduate Program, the Graduate Admissions Committee, Department Administrator, Department Secretary, etc.? What kinds of questions do each group or person handle? Answer/Opinion
  • Tea: How do I handle tea (getting the card, setting up, cleaning up, turning in receipts), plus what to do if you forget or lose the card? Answer/Opinion

Subsection 12.1 The most important question:

Who or what is the definitive source for answers about policies affecting my status in the graduate program?

Answer/Opinion: If you have any question about whether an action or inaction on your part will have repercussions for your graduate career, the Graduate Program Committee (GPC) is the definitive source for answers. The GPC formulates policy; this formulation is considered, modified, and then approved by the department; and finally the GPC carries out that policy.

The GPC controls your stipend, gives (or declines to give) extensions to deadlines, sets the terms for you to regain good standing should you fall out, and so on. (However, the GPC does not control all aspects of the graduate program, for example teaching assignments are made by the chair and vice chair.)

The members (and chair) of the GPC changes from year to year, but membership is listed in the committee assignments list which can be found on the department website via the Department Documents page.

Subsection 12.2 Registering for classes:

What is the department policy on signing up for independent studies, taking classes outside the department? What does it mean to sign up for thesis research versus graduate research versus a reading course versus independent research versus supervised teaching, etc.? What classes count towards the 15-course requirement for a master's degree?

Answer/Opinion: According to official requirements (see ORC and Subsection B.1 and Subsection B.2, students must take at least fifteen courses of graduate quality to qualify for a master's degree, with a limit of at most five replaced by approved research or special study (i.e., non-classroom courses). (Courses numbered \(\geq 100\) are those 'of graduate quality'; exceptions for courses numbered \(< 100\) are infrequent, requiring permission of the GPC and submission of an Add/Drop Course form to the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, see the Course Changes Policy.)

Additionally, as a requirement for the master's degree, students must register for and successfully complete three courses per term in order to be considered a full-time student, a necessary condition to receive a stipend. (These can be classroom or non-classroom courses.) Before the end of the first year, students are expected to take at least three of the five pairs of core courses: in algebra (101, 111); in analysis (103, 113); in applied mathematics (106, 116; 126, 136); or in topology (104, 114). In the first three terms, students are required to take two classroom courses per term even if they have been exempted (by the advisor to graduate students) from some of the standard courses listed above; we still generally advise that students in their first year take advantage of our offerings by enrolling in three classroom courses each term.

Beyond the core classroom courses, the department offers other topics courses: see the ORC graduate course descriptions and the department's course offerings. A tip to understanding the numbering system in math is that courses numbered above 20 are generally categorized by their last digit: courses ending in

  • 0 correspond to probability and statistics
  • 1 correspond to algebra
  • 2 correspond to geometry
  • 3 correspond to analysis
  • 4 correspond to topology
  • 5 correspond to number theory
  • 6 correspond to applied mathematics
  • 7 (reading, research, teaching courses)
  • 8 correspond to combinatorics
  • 9 correspond to logic and set theory

In addition to these classroom courses, students can sign up for a supervised reading course (Math 127), which may be repeated in successive terms. To take two reading courses in a term (not recommended), sign up for Math 127 and 137. In a reading course, a student pursues a topic of interest outside the usual course offerings. Each reading course must have a faculty supervisor who agrees to it; please send this information to the advisor to graduate students.

In all cases, course selection should be done in consultation with a student's advisor; as appropriate, it should be reviewed at the beginning of each term.

It is unusual for students take courses outside the department in the first two years, unless their content clearly advances the student towards their scientific goals. Such goals could include pursuing a mathematically-inclined course in computer science, physics, engineering, or another allied field. After advancement to candidacy, the student's thesis advisor should concur that such a course advances the student's research program.

In the second year of study, students must take at least four classroom coourses. After the first two years, students taking (the expected) five years to complete the degree are required to take a minimum of eight classroom courses during years 3 – 5. The courses 127 and 137 are typically taken prior to advancement to candidacy. In the summer after advancement to candidacy, students register for 137 or 156 (independent reading or graduate research, as appropriate). For subsequent terms — remembering that students are required to enroll in three courses per term — the default if no classroom courses are being taken is 156, 157, and 158, with 158 replaced by 147 when the student takes DCAL's Teaching Science Seminar and by 149 in the term in which the student teaches (or does their fifth-year teaching experience).

Subsection 12.3 Late registration:

Can I drop or add a class late?

Answer/Opinion: Students should register for courses promptly when requested by the Registrar/Graduate Office. Adding courses late (and dropping courses) cause numerous problems for the department. The graduate program is small and graduate course enrollments are correspondingly small. The Dean's office reviews the (official) enrollments of all courses in the first week of each term, and those with an enrollment of less than five are subject to immediate cancellation. Cancellation of a course means the student will no doubt have to learn this material on their own, perhaps finding a viable alternative course to replace the canceled course. It also creates problems for the faculty member who was scheduled to teach that course.

Moreover, according the Course Changes Policy of the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies:

Courses may be added or dropped at any time during the first two weeks of a term. Courses dropped after that will normally result in a grade of No Credit; exceptions for unusual circumstances require the joint approval of the instructor, the student's advisor or graduate committee (depending on the program) and the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies' Registrar.

All course changes after the first two weeks are made through the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies Office.

Subsection 12.4 Opting out/auditing of required courses:

What do I do if I don't want to take one of the core courses in my first year (e.g., because you've already seen the material)? Can I audit a class?

Answer/Opinion: The core courses are good preparation (or review) for the preliminary exam. Students who have seen and indeed mastered the material in these courses should talk to their advisor about possible substitution. The typical recommendation is to first try the course anyway to see if it will help you to deepen your understanding.

Auditing graduate courses is possible, subject to the instructor's discretion, but it is not encouraged: reduced enrollments on the Registrar's records both endangers the existence of the course, and generally diminishes the appearance of activity in the program, something which is actively monitored. Instead, the (advanced) student is encouraged to discuss the details of course requirements (attendance, homework, exams, etc.) with the instructor at the start of the course.

Subsection 12.5 Grades in classes:

How do grades in graduate classes work? What does it actually mean if you get a low pass (LP)?

Answer/Opinion: Requirements for a class are entirely the purview of the instructor, so there may well be all manner of requirements including attendance, homework, exams, required x-hours, and so on. There may be a distinction between the requirements for undergraduates and graduate students enrolled in the same course. There may be times graduate students have extra responsibilities; there may be times that students who have advanced to candidacy or who are in other special circumstances will have fewer requirements. All these variations are entirely normal.

Grades come in two flavors and have distinct consequences. First, there are the formal grades turned into the Registrar: HP, P, LP, NC. The grade P (pass) is a standard grade; many instructors rarely use HP (high pass) as there is no notion of a GPA for graduate courses, and it is your certification process and thesis which carry the significant weight. On the other hand, LP (low pass) and NC (no credit) are grades taken very seriously by the Graduate Office. Two LPs (cumulatively) or one NC automatically places the student on probation and scrutiny by the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies: see the Satisfactory Progress Policy. In this situation, there must be significant measurable positive progress in the next term to return to good standing. Failure to return to good standing jeopardizes your receipt of a stipend.

Second, the department also uses a system of internal grades in core courses intended to convey to you a finer-grained assessment of your progress; the numerical score is ideally accompanied by comments from the instructor. These grades are only meant for purposes internal to the department and they are destroyed after the student leaves the program.

Subsection 12.6 Holidays:

Do graduate students have classes on days that undergrads get off?

Answer/Opinion: Holidays (as provided by the Dartmouth term calendars) are the same for undergraduate and graduate students.

Subsection 12.7 Advancement Examination:

What do I do if:

  • I don't think I will be able to make a deadline (including extended deadlines)?
  • I think I want to change my Advancement Committee?
  • I'm having trouble finding a time before the deadline that the whole Advancement Committee can meet?
  • I failed the Advancement Exam?

What circumstances warrant an extension? How does the GPC view missing a deadline? What happens if I don't make the deadlines?

Answer/Opinion: There is a completely new section on the advancement exam in the Graduate Student Handbook which answers all of these questions and more. See Subsection 5.1 and Subsection 5.2 for details.

Subsection 12.8 Travel funding:

What kinds of funds are available for graduate students to attend conferences? How do I request funding? What are examples of the kinds of things that have and haven't received funding?

Answer/Opinion: Conferences are an integral part of every professional mathematician's career. They are places to present your work to the community, gain a sense of the vista in your own field, meet new colleagues whose work you have seen online, and gain new perspectives or new insights on problems that are part of your research program. As such they are most appropriate when your own research program is underway, or at least burgeoning—though there are notable exceptions.

For graduate students in their first and second year, there are often workshops appropriate for those who are “still looking”. For example, as an institutional member of MSRI, the department can often send two graduate students for summer workshop spanning a week or two; see the calendar tab at the MSRI summer graduate schools web site. Other research institutes will offer workshops and solicit applications for funding for graduate students. Even small conferences will often have funding available to those who apply early. As you advance in your graduate career, conferences related to your research will become relevant. At the very least, you should probably attend the Joint Math Meetings in January of your fifth year since you will be on the job market and many prospective employers will be there. In your fourth or fifth year, it would be ideal to give a talk at a research conference to begin to make yourself known to other researchers in the field; perhaps a prospective letter writer will be among your new acquaintances.

Assuming that your schedule permits you to attend (e.g., classes, tutorials, teaching responsibilities), you can go to essentially any conference you like. Getting funding is of course the trick.

You should solicit financial support in the following order:

  1. Request funding from the conference itself: often a conference will have some external funding, in many cases directed specifically at graduate students and junior faculty. You should apply for it. Often this funding provides for travel expenses, sometimes hotel, generally not food. In fact, you have a reduced chance of getting funding from Dartmouth unless you can document your failure to receive external funding. (We want to know you tried first at the source.)
  2. Your advisor or a faculty member in your group may have travel funding through a grant.
  3. If you are giving a talk at a conference (always a good idea), you can receive a one-time allotment of \(\$\)500 from the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies: see their Travel Awards.
  4. Depending on how department resources look, graduate students can often request funding from the department itself through the Graduate Representative. This is always after all other sources of support have been exhausted.

    If you are presenting a paper at a conference (and meet the other departmental criteria), you can reasonably expect to receive support for one conference per year from the department. If you are just an attendee, your priority is a good deal lower, and funding will be highly dependent on the availability of resources.

  5. There may also be a new bit of funding available from the College Graduate Student Council, but this will be available only after all the above sources of money have been exhausted. We have at least one graduate student representative to the council, so ask around for who it is to get more information.

Subsection 12.9 Teaching seminar:

What happened to the teaching seminar?

Answer/Opinion: See the sections on pedagogical training, teaching, and graduate certification in pedagogy in this Handbook.

Subsection 12.10 Teaching:

What are my responsibilities as an instructor? Am I in charge of my own courses?

Answer/Opinion: If you are in your first or second year, then you are a TA and your responsibilities are indicated by the instructor of your course.

After you pass through the pedagogical training and requirements, you will have at least two and typically three teaching opportunities as part of the graduate program, one in each of your third, fourth, and fifth years. (In the fifth year, there is also the possibility of a more flexible teaching experience described below.) As with all temporary and junior faculty in the department, you will have a course supervisor (see Subsection 6.2), for each course you teach, with whom you must discuss and obtain agreement on your choice of textbook, syllabus, and grading scheme. In addition, you must show your course supervisor drafts of all exams (prior to them being given), and consult with them about the assignment and distribution of final grades. Hopefully you will also take advantage of your supervisor's experience to engage in broader discussions should unexpected issues arise in the class.

Beyond the formal oversight by the course supervisor, you will also have a teaching mentor whose job is to advise and assist you to develop as a teacher. For students teaching their first course, the teaching mentor should at a minimum review the first week's worth of lesson plans and visit at least three classes throughout the term. Classroom visits will be preceded by a review and discussion of the objectives and lesson plan for the day and followed by a discussion of how the class went. The teaching mentor may also (if they and the course supervisor wish) replace the course supervisor in reviewing drafts of syllabi, exams and so forth. You should also make a point to ask the Teaching Evaluation Committee to visit your class (optimally in the second week), both for feedback for you, and to write a formal review which can be used for part of a teaching letter when you apply for jobs.

Subsection 12.11 Seminars:

What seminars exist in the department? Should I attend them if I haven't picked a research area yet? How do I find out about seminar talks? What about colloquia? What's the point of going to talks if they are boring or I get lost all the time?

Answer/Opinion: There are numerous seminars in the department supplemented by weekly colloquia and special lectures series at various times in the year. The starting point for learning about them is the activities page on the department web page. There you will see links to the aforementioned items. You may also subscribe to math events in your calendar: go to the math calendar page for links.

All graduate students should attend the graduate student seminar. This seminar consists of talks by graduate students for graduate students; faculty are not in attendance. Oh, there is also free food.

The general departmental expectation is that you should attend colloquia: make it a habit. When you are a newbie, sit in the back and bring something to work on for when you get lost. Sometimes you will get lost in the first ten seconds, sometimes the first ten minutes, sometimes not at all. As you learn more, it will (usually) take a longer time to get lost.

What's the point of coming if you get lost all the time? A very good question with at least three answers.

  • The first is that mathematics is about making connections, and really interesting mathematics comes from making connections among ideas that appear quite disparate. All of a sudden in a colloquium (which are supposed to be aimed at a “general” audience) you find the speaker talking about something which you have seen in a very different context. Following that connection can often lead to an interesting research problem.
  • Second, you will be giving many talks in your life (seminar talks, thesis defense, job interview talks), and attending colloquia allows you to form strong opinions about what constitutes a good or bad talk including what styles and approaches are most effective. This can be even more impactful when the speaker is not necessarily talking about something you're automatically interested in.
  • And last, but not least, is that these speakers have been invited by someone in the department to speak to us. Common courtesy suggests the hosts show up! A good turn out reflects well on how the department is viewed by the outside which can have all manner of positive effects.

The schedule of colloquia is available on the department's activities page. If an upcoming talk looks particularly interesting, you can ask the colloquium chair who invited the speaker and ask to meet with the speaker or ask to go out to dinner with the speaker and other faculty.

Research seminars are often more specialized, but just as often they will have periods in which talks are given which are intended to introduce a more general audience to aspects of the field. Usually the web pages for these seminars (see the activities link) gives information about the subject. Find out who the speaker is and see if they think you will understand. If you are not sure on what area you would like to work in, a seminar can be an excellent vehicle to observe not only the types of problems people in the department like to work on, but also the personalities of prospective advisors. A large part of success is just showing up; moreover, many faculty appreciate and take notice students who participate in seminar.

Often at the beginning of each term, emails will be sent to the entire department asking if you want to be on a mailing list for announcements and giving organizational information. The mailing lists are low volume and usually contain an abstract of the upcoming talk.

Subsection 12.12 Being away from the department:

… for a day, a week, a month, or forever—when does going on vacation count as a leave of absence? What do I do if my (potential) advisor tells me to go to a conference, but the professor teaching your course says I shouldn't? If I don't get GPC approval before leaving to do something math-related, what happens? What's department policy on leaving campus during Dartmouth breaks?

Answer/Opinion: Well this is a broad spectrum of questions! To begin, graduate students in this program are supported 12 months out of the year, whether it be (partially) through a grant or entirely from a Dartmouth Fellowship. The official policy from the Associate Dean of the Sciences is that aside from College holidays (e.g., Christmas, New Years, Fourth of July, etc.), students on twelve-month contracts receive a total of four weeks of vacation, which can be twice as much as you would get starting a job in the “real” world. For example, if you take one week off between each term, that constitutes your four weeks of vacation. The rest of the time is “on the clock.”

Certain activities are generally construed not to count as vacation, e.g., attending a week-long conference, though attendance presupposes that there are no conflicts with ongoing obligations. The scenario of a conflict between a potential, future advisor telling you that you should go to a conference and your course instructor saying you should not is probably a bit distorted. One could easily see a potential advisor suggesting it might be useful for you to go to a conference, but realistically if you are still taking core courses, it is probably better to focus on one thing at a time and extract the most out of your courses. In the rare event of real conflict, the student should take themselves out of the discussion and let the two faculty members work it out. Perhaps there is some extraordinary reason the student should attend that the other faculty member would acknowledge supersedes the need for your presence in his or her course, or some other relevant factor? It is better to let them work it out to find out what would be in your best interests.

If you leave campus for an extended period without consent of the GPC, you are in breach of contract and you can have your stipend suspended. The reason for your absence is of little consequence if it has not been officially approved. Leaving for an emergency would of course be approved. But the bottom line is that you are paid to be here; if you are not here, you don't get paid. (For perspective, faculty are paid a nine-month salary and so have a commitment to be on campus for only nine months out of the year. While many faculty remain on campus for much of the year, there is no contractual obligation, and no matching financial compensation afforded them, to do so.)

This all of course assumes more ordinary times, and the situation of a global pandemic makes this subject to whatever departmental policy is in effect.

Finally, just as a faculty member on sabbatical cannot be paid by another institution, a graduate student on stipend cannot receive salary which supplements his or her income.

Subsection 12.13 How much trouble am I in?:

If you're not on probation, do you automatically count as a student in good standing?

Answer/Opinion: The normal status of a graduate student is to be in good standing, meaning you are currently meeting all deadlines and satisfactorily completing all requirements of the program. To not be in good standing represents a broad spectrum of noncompliance with a correspondingly broad set of responses, some of which are internal to the department and some of which come to the attention of the graduate office.

Doing poorly in your courses quickly comes to the attention of the graduate office and can immediately place you in a position in which your stipend is in jeopardy. For example, if a student fails a course (NC) or (cumulatively) receives two low passes (LPs), the graduate office automatically places the student on probation. As a consequence, the department must be able to provide concrete evidence that the student has made significant progress towards remediating these deficiencies. Failure to do so could easily result in a suspension of stipend and conditions and deadlines issued to avoid separation from the program.

A student who gets a low pass in one course will probably get a letter of concern from the graduate office and one from the GPC. The letter will require a response: what went wrong? how will you recover?, etc. If this is the first such stumble, probably no further action will be taken. If the spiral continues downward (e.g., now a missed qual deadline in addition to a LP), concern is growing and the student is now changing status to not be in good standing. The GPC will no doubt issue a letter expressing increased concern and ask for more detailed input for how and when you will get back on track and perhaps for a note of support from a faculty member with whom you are working to remedy your deficiencies. Further downward spiral suggests you are reaching a point from which recovery is becoming problematic. At this point, deadlines may be imposed by the GPC and failure to meet those deadlines will result in a suspension of stipend. If a stipend is suspended, no doubt one last set of deadlines will be imposed after which you would be separated from the program. There are other variations on this scenario, depending on the nature of the spiral.

The GPC and the department in general are here to help you stay in good standing. Talking to your advisor and the GPC when any difficulty arises is a good idea. As you can see from above, it takes several steps to be separated from the program, but if you get caught in a downward spiral, things tend to happen quickly.

Subsection 12.14 Outside funding and tutoring:

Can I receive outside funding? Can I get a tutoring job? Can I get paid by a summer workshop or REU?

Answer/Opinion: Financial support for graduate students comes from Dartmouth Fellowships, faculty research grants, departmental grants, and from grants and scholarships obtained by students themselves (e.g., NSF graduate fellowship). Students are encouraged to apply for any external fellowship for which they may be eligible. Outside fellowships sometimes pay more than Dartmouth Fellowships, and it is certainly something notable to put on your vita. In addition, outside fellowships supplement the limited pool of internal resources, allowing more flexibility in the size of our graduate program.

In terms of graduate students receiving salary in addition to their stipend, we quote from the Employment Policy (effective January 1, 2016) from the Guarini School:

Graduate students who are fully supported (a full tuition scholarship and a full stipend) cannot receive additional payment from Dartmouth College for services rendered and cannot accept employment outside the College while enrolled.

See also the exclusions and exceptions listed.

Subsection 12.15 I've advanced to candidacy, now what?:

Answer/Opinion: All graduate students are strongly encouraged to read the (58 page) document written by a former graduate student (Ph.D.\ 2002) who posed precisely this question: See Mark Tomforde's guide which offers a great deal of insight into the entire process of choosing an advisor, successfully writing your thesis, and thoughts for how to sustain a research program.

Subsection 12.16 Choosing an advisor and an Advancement Committee:

What are good strategies for finding an advisor and secondary advisor (as part of my Advancement Committee)? What about the third person on the committee?

Answer/Opinion: Reread the first part of Mark Tomforde's guide described in the previous answer.

The choice of a secondary advisor is less critical than that of the advisor. Each year you and your primary and secondary advisor sit down and discuss your progress. Typically you have provided a written summary of where you think you are in the thesis process in advance of the meeting. You all discuss this document, then the advisor discusses where they thinks you are. The secondary advisor freely asks questions of both the student and primary advisor. The goal is for the advisor to produce a document which gives a reasonable assessment of where you are and which (hopefully) makes a case for your continued financial support. Stipends are renewed annually based on continued good progress, but need not be otherwise.

In rare cases where there may be some disagreement between student and advisor, the secondary advisor acts as a mediator.

Choosing an advisor in another department or from another institution is very complicated and case sensitive. No general advice is offered here. Talk to the GPC, graduate advisor, graduate representative or department chair as a starting point.

The third person on the committee is supposed to be from a different (though perhaps allied) research area. Their role is to provide balance and another perspective on your advancement process to complement those of the other two as potential advisors. There are no hard-and-fast rules about the composition of these committees, and we hope that they will be formed in a manner which allows for a purposeful and mathematically meaningful second year, setting the student up for a successful outcome with their Advancement Examination.

Subsection 12.17 Advancing to candidacy:

Where do you get the forms? To whom do you turn them?

Answer/Opinion: The advancement to candidacy form is available from the Department Administrator. Have your advisor and secondary advisor sign it, which indicates they are aware of their roles going forward. Then return it to the Department Administrator and the GPC will review things from there.

Subsection 12.18 Having trouble with a thesis advisor?:

What do you do if you're having a problem with your thesis advisor? What do you do if you want to change thesis advisors? What's the department policy on interdisciplinary work and thesis advisors outside the math department? What about thesis advisors at other schools?

Answer/Opinion: A student-advisor relationship is always an important one, and can sometimes be a difficult one, which is why one of the criteria you hopefully applied in choosing your advisor was the ability to communicate easily with them. Often tensions arise between student and advisor because of differences in expectations. The advisor believes you should be capable of \(X\text{,}\) while you are thinking along the lines of \(X/\log X\) as being great. Perhaps you don't understand what your advisor wants. Perhaps your advisor doesn't understand why you can't push through.

The first course of action is to talk; try to explain that you perceive some tension and try to explore expectations together. If you still feel you are getting nowhere, engage your secondary advisor for counsel. Maybe they can more easily see both sides of th issue and act as an intermediary.

You think you want to change advisors? This is clearly a major step and it is strongly recommended you consult your advisor, secondary advisor, and other faculty whose opinion or insight you value. Other graduate students probably do not have the life experience to advise you accurately, so you should weigh the advice you get accordingly. The underlying issues may be broad. For example, maybe you hate the problem you are working on, but are content with the general area. Your advisor may be happy and able to get you started in a new direction. Maybe you hate the field in general and want to make a large-scale change. Changing advisors generally means that significant retooling will be required, and you are going to lose not only the time up to this point, but the additional time to retool before you can make forward progress again. Compounding this, you have at most five years of funding from Dartmouth. So if you can do anything to avoid changing advisors, do so, or at least do so early in the game. All this amplifies the importance of trying to make a good decision in the first place.

Subsection 12.19 Language exam:

When is the language exam supposed to be taken?

Answer/Opinion: Trick question! The language exam is no longer a requirement, but don't be surprised if your advisor expects you to refer to papers written in some language other than English.

Subsection 12.20 Thesis defense:

What happens if you don't finish your thesis on time or need to reschedule your thesis defense?

Answer/Opinion: From time to time, something happens which precludes a student from defending a thesis before the deadline in the spring. We'll presume here that your results are in hand, but the thesis is not quite written or a committee member is unable to make it before the College's deadline.

You have to check the details with the graduate office, but you can maintain your status as a student (without stipend) and defend in the summer, with your degree granted at the end of summer. You may also be able to walk at graduation with your class. Of course if the results are not in hand, you may need to apply for a leave of absence formally to give the time needed to complete the thesis. College regulations come to bear in such an instance. For example, the Residence Requirements Policy states:

Candidates for the Master's degree must spend at least three terms (one academic year) in residence at Dartmouth [Note the Math Department requires more]; for Ph.D. candidates the requirement is six terms (two academic years). However, to prevent unduly prolonged residence, it is expected that the requirements for the Ph.D. degree will be completed no later than seven years after initial enrollment, unless the student enters with a Masters Degree in his or her field of proposed study, in which case the student is expected to complete the doctorate in five years.

Subsection 12.21 Teaching Issues:

What are the policies on using other people's problems or tests? What's the procedure if you're going to fail someone? What do you do if you have problems with your evaluation by the teaching committee? What happens if the department is unhappy with your teaching?

Answer/Opinion: The department's course web pages course web pages are a tremendous source of teaching material. They often include homework assignments, syllabi, practice or actual exams and so on. Such materials are free for you to use (and web sites to steal) with the caution that copies of homework or exam problems may exist in fraternity or sorority files.

Asking what the procedure is if you're going to fail someone raises all sorts of flags. In particular, your course supervisor has been kept up-to-date on the situation and in reviewing grades for submission agrees that the student should fail. The more pressing issue is that you have created a paper trail warning the student of their poor progress throughout the term, and alerted the appropriate class dean much earlier in the term of the ongoing problem. In particular, it is strongly encouraged to use the \href{https://students.dartmouth.edu/undergraduate-deans/resources-support/faculty} {DSASA (Dartmouth Student Academic Support Application)} to report students who are struggling with enough warning so that they can take corrective action. Aside from someone zeroing out the final exam, the expectation of a D or E should not be a surprise to the student, their parents, the class dean, or anyone else.

From another point of view, what if the department is unhappy with your teaching? You will be visited by the teaching evaluation committee for each course you teach here. If you are not contacted about a visit, contact the chair of the teaching evaluation committee, listed in the department's committee assignments.

Teaching is part of the degree requirements and we hope to train you to be as good a teacher as possible. Taking the teaching seminar/DCAL will not make you perfect and even if there were perfect teachers, they too would have terrible days from time to time. The person from the teaching evaluation committee is there to help you hone your skills. If there are issues, they will be discussed, tactics planned, and your class will be revisited to see how well they worked. The process repeats until things are going smoothly.

Subsection 12.22 Fifth year teaching:

If I want to do something other than teach in my fifth year, how do I propose a project and to whom? What are some possibilities for what to do?

Answer/Opinion: In their fifth year, at the discretion of the department chair in consultation with the GPC, students should expect to teach a course in the department. They should know what their responsibilities will be by the end of the spring term in their fourth year. Students teaching in their fifth year need only register for Math 149 in the appropriate term.

In unusual circumstances, a student may gain more benefit from an alternative fifth-year teaching experience. In such a circumstance, the student is required to petition the GPC for permission; this is accomplished in two steps.

  • The petition consists of three documents submitted to the GPC in the Spring term of their fourth year. First, the student submits a one-page proposal detailing the proposed teaching experience, the role of the faculty sponsor, and the student's role, including an estimate of their time commitment. Generally, students are expected to spend time comparable to the time necessary to teach their own course. Second, the student submits a letter from the faculty sponsor endorsing the proposal and indicating its pedagogical value to the student. Third, the student submits a letter of support from the student's thesis advisor. At this point, the GPC approves (or denies) the project, giving the student advice on how to improve and revise the proposal. If the proposal is denied, the student will most likely teach a course in the next year.
  • Subsequently, at least two weeks before the end of the term preceding the term in which the teaching experience is to take place, or the beginning of the Winter term of the fifth year (whichever is sooner), the student submits a detailed revision of the proposal to the GPC. The revision should address any concerns raised by the GPC and highlight any evolution of the proposal since its initial approval. This allows time for the GPC to review the proposal and ask for modifications, if necessary.

Some previous fifth-year projects include:

  • Participation in the NSF-sponsored GK-12 program: Martinez (2012-2013), Kinnaird (2013-2014), Engberg (2013-2014).
  • Participation in the NSF-sponsored Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) program: Wolff (Summer, 2014)

Subsection 12.23 Which faculty can comprise a thesis defense committee?

Answer/Opinion: The rules for who may be part of a thesis committee are determined by the Guarini school. See their documentation.

Subsection 12.24 Who's who:

What are the roles of the GPC, the Graduate Student Representative, the Graduate Student Advisor, Advisor to First Year Graduate Students, Head of the Graduate Program, the Graduate Admissions Committee, Department Administrator, Department Secretary, etc.? What kinds of questions do each group or person handle?

Answer/Opinion: The Department Documents page contains the Department Reference Guide, Course Supervisor lists, and Committee Assignment lists. The committee lists tells you the members of various committees and the course supervisor list tells you what you think it should.

The responsibilities of each of these roles is spelled out in Appendix A.

Subsection 12.25 Tea:

How do I handle tea (getting the card, setting up, cleaning up, turning in receipts), plus what to do if you forget or lose the card?

Answer/Opinion: One signs out the department credit card by talking to the department administrator. They will tell you the budget, which differs for regular or high teas. If you lose the card, it is really serious, so don't, but should it happen report its loss immediately to the department administrator; or if neither is available, to the department chair.

The graduate students are responsible for the traditions and logistics of tea, in particular for deciding who does what, for buying items, and then for setting up and cleaning up. Tea has typically been held from 3:30–4:00 p.m. daily, so it should be set up by 3:30 and cleaned up promptly after tea ends. If you are going to a colloquium, just remember to clean up after the talk. Take care of dirty dishes, etc.