Graduate Advisor FAQ

Department of Mathematics, UT Austin






Graduate Advisor: Kui Ren

Graduate Program Coordinator: Elisa Bass

Graduate Studies Committee (GSC) Chair: Gordan Zitkovic

The Graduate Program website at the Department of Mathematics:

The website of the Graduate School:

Below, you find detailed information and the relevant links concerning undergraduate students wishing to enroll in graduate courses, Admissions, Prelim Exams, the selection of your Academic Advisor, how to enter Candidacy, some career considerations, and how to prepare for your PhD Thesis Defense.

Please note that as a graduate student at the Department of Mathematics, it is your responsibility to be well-informed about the administrative procedures involved with these milestone steps in your studies; don't expect your advisor to prompt you with the detailed procedures. Please plan well ahead of time, and keep all deadlines, so that no unnecessary burdens are imposed on the Graduate Coordinator and Graduate Advisor, as well as on other administrative staff and faculty.


If you are an undergraduate student wishing to enroll in a graduate course, please place the forms into the tray on the office door of the Graduate Advisor, and send an email notification. You will receive an email when they are signed and ready for picking up (at the same location).


The Department of Mathematics accepts students interested in pursuing a PhD in pure or applied mathematics, and students interested in a Master's degree in actuarial science. All students admitted to the PhD program are offered financial support.

Admission to the Math Department is highly competitive. In recent years, we have seen 300-400 students per year apply to be among an incoming class of usually no more than twenty students.

All information about the application process can be found on the
graduate admissions website. The only way to apply to our graduate program is to go through all the necessary steps listed there.

Graduate School information about test requirements (also contains TOEFL or IELTS Waiver Information):

Please read the information provided on the websites linked above in detail. If you still have any questions, please fill out this form.


The complete information can be found in the Graduate Brochure. The main points are:

All graduate students need to fulfill the following preliminary exam requirements (3+4 rule):
  • Prelim exams are administered every year in January and August. Students are required to pass two prelim exams by the end of August before their second year begins, and three prelim exams before their third year begins.

    Click here for details, including the schedule for the upcoming prelim exams.

  • In addition, before entering into candidacy, a student needs to pass four prelim courses based on the coursework (consisting of homeworks, midterms, and a final exam). Those have to be disjoint from the three courses on whose content he or she passed the prelim exams.
NOTE: Prior to 2009, a preliminary exam for a course could be skipped if the course grade was sufficiently high. This option does not exist anymore.

A very useful website listing Academic and Registration Policies and Resources:


As stated in the Graduate Brochure, a student has to identify an academic advisor and an area of specialization within one year of passing the third prelim exam. At very latest, this would be before the end of the third year.
  • Timing: It is recommended that you find your (potential) academic advisor already near the end of the 2nd year or the beginning of the 3rd year. Entering a research area as soon as possible will allow you to make optimal use of the time available during your doctoral studies, especially to build your portfolio of research results and publications; this will be of key importance for your further career. Also, the issue of timely graduation will be given more emphasis than in the past (with budgetary considerations being part of the reason).

  • How to find a thesis advisor: You should inform yourself about the state of the art in mathematical research areas that might interest you; for this, you should develop the habit of attending to research seminars. To learn more about the research conducted by the faculty at our department, you should read their websites, and look into their papers and preprints. Graduate Topics Courses provide an excellent way to learn about the mathematical research of some of our faculty members, but not every faculty member is teaching such a course in a given academic year. Asking a faculty member to conduct an individual reading course with you is an excellent way to initiate contact, and to gain an in-depth view of her/his research area. Often, a successful sequence of reading courses leads to the selection of an academic advisor.


Detailed information about the requirements for entering Candidacy are given by the Graduate School here. The main steps are as follows.
  • Step 1: Oral candidacy exam. The student and her/his advisor determine a candidacy committee of three (including the advisor) faculty members. The student has to pass an oral candidacy exam at latest by August of her/his 3rd year. After passing the candidacy exam, the supervisor sends a confirmation email to the Graduate Advisor and Graduate Coordinator. No forms need to be submitted up to this point.

  • Step 2: Determining the PhD Committee, and submission of documents. To officially enter candidacy with the Graduate School, a PhD committee must be determined (the members can be selected independently from the candidacy committee), and the necessary documents have to be submitted to the Graduate School. The detailed requirements are given here. Please read the directions very carefully.

    Your PhD Committee has to consist of at least 3 GSC members (tenure stream faculty at our Department, including your supervisor) and one external member (from another Department at UT, or from another institution).

  • Step 3: Online Application. Once those steps have been completed, students ready to file the Application for Candidacy need to log in to UT Direct via
    and officially enroll into Candidacy status online. Subsequently, all committee members, as well as the Graduate Advisor, will receive an email that requires their confirmation for finalization.
For forms, important deadlines and general instructions, see here.


  • The job of a researcher is to discover new results, and to publish them in the form of peer-reviewed research papers. The peer-review process is a generally accepted method to apply quality control to your work; the fact that it is published in a good journal indicates that it is correct (although errors can sometimes slip through), and the ranking of the journal indicates how important your results are.

    A researcher is expected to produce a steady stream of research papers. You should adopt the habit of partitioning your research work into publishable portions, and become well-rehearsed in writing up your results as papers. By the time you defend your PhD thesis, you should ideally have several papers posted on the arXiv preprint server, or even better, accepted or published in a research journal. You should discuss with your advisor how to convert segments of your work into publications throughout the time of your candidacy, and not wait until near the end of your thesis. Also, if possibilities of collaborations with other people (your graduate colleagues, other faculty, etc) should happen to emerge, you should be open to those.

    When you apply for your next job, your publications are your strongest asset in your application file. If you do not convert the work of your thesis into peer-reviewed research publications, it will not receive as much attention; but even in this situation, you should at least post your thesis on arXiv (otherwise, your thesis might not be much different from a term paper).

  • Building a network of research collaborators, mentors, and colleagues is a crucial part of a research career. Through this network, you will receive up to date news about research developments in your field, you will obtain invitations to conferences and seminar presentations, you will obtain opportunities to meet more experts in your field, and thereby further enlarge your research network. When you apply for jobs, your most likely reference letter writers will be colleagues from your network; moreover, it is always helpful to have some friends at the institution you are applying to, and this is more likely if you have a large network. For these and many more reasons, networking is very important. One of the best ways to network is to attend to conferences, present your work, and get to know other participants.

    It is important that you are visible online, and that your research work is easily accessible. Therefore, it is highly recommendable that you write and maintain a website where your research work can be downloaded. To this end, see for instance here.

  • If you are interested in the possibility of pursuing a career in the private sector, it is recommendable to inform yourself about summer internships, which can prepare you for the job. For example, the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) provides a website enlisting internship openings, see also here.

    As a preparation for a career in the industry, it is highly recommendable that you acquire strong programming skills.


Please notify the Graduate Advisor and Graduate Coordinator at latest until the 2nd week of the semester if you intend to defend your PhD thesis in that semester.

Advancing to your PhD Thesis Defense contains a significant number of administrative steps, all of which are described here; please read all instructions here carefully.
Please do not expect your advisor to prompt you to do these detailed steps.
It is the student's responsibility to be completely informed about the process, and to carry out all steps within the deadlines, so that no unnecessary burdens are imposed on the Graduate Coordinator and Graduate Advisor, as well as on any other administrative staff and faculty.

  • Step 1: Read the Submission Instructions and find the deadlines: Please do this at the beginning of the semester in which you plan to defend your PhD thesis. Note that it is usually a bigger challenge to have sufficiently many committee members attend to your PhD Defense with a summer submission than with a fall or spring submission (because many faculty will be traveling during the summer). (Submission deadlines and instructions)

    Read the instructions very carefully, and in full detail. Prepare all forms well ahead of time. Many of these can only be submitted after your PhD Defense, at the time when your PhD Thesis can be uploaded in electronic form, see Step 5. However, the time between your PhD Defense and the submission deadline might be very short, and you will be busy with many other tasks.

    You need to be registered for Dissertation and have to submit the online Doctoral Graduation Application Form: See the link for the submission deadlines and instructions above that corresponds to the semester in which you plan to defend. Careful: The online Doctoral Graduation Application Form is not the same as the request for Final Oral Examination (Step 3). In particular, the online form has to be submitted first, it has an earlier deadline if your defense is late in the semester !

    Preparation of your Thesis: Here are the format guidelines for the PhD thesis and Latex templates:

  • For more info: (main page for forms)

  • Step 2: Determine a date for your PhD Defense: Check with the members of your PhD Committee whether it is possible to schedule a time for your PhD Defense so that sufficiently many can attend.

    New since Dec 2015: There is no more choice between traditional and virtual option.

    • As of Dec 2015, the Graduate School does not distinguish between physical or electronic attendance any longer. Even the supervisor and the student may attend in person or virtually; however, it is very strongly recommended that at least the student is present physically.

    • It is expected that all members of the committee attend the defense, either in person or via teleconference. The Graduate School does not distinguish between physical attendance or electronic/virtual attendance. If one non-supervisory committee member is unable to attend the defense, there must be an explanation of the member's absence, together with an assurance that your dissertation will be read, and if approved, signed. There is a pre-typed section on the 2nd page of the Request for Final Oral Examination form which may be used, or an attached letter may be used. These explanations must be signed by the committee member in question, OR your committee supervisor, OR your graduate advisor. Call the Graduate School at 512-471-4511 with any questions concerning this.

    • If more than one committee member is unable to attend physically or electronically, a petition letter from the GSC Chair and the student's supervisor must be submitted to the Graduate School which explains the extraordinary circumstances. The absent committee member should also endorse such a petition.

    • Some questions and answers about the new dissertation defense format:
      • Q: What is the minimum membership on dissertation committees ?
        A: As before, it is 4 (3 GSC members + 1 outside member)
      • Q: What is the minimum number of committee members who must attend to the defense (physically or electronically) ?
        A: All but one non-supervisory member of the committee must attend the defense, either physically or electronically. Requests to schedule a defense at a time when there will be more than one absence require approval of the Graduate Dean.
      • Q: If one member may be excused, is it still so that at least 4 members must attend ?
        A: No. If a student has a five-person committee, four members of the committee including the supervisor(s) must attend the defense, either in person or electronically. If a student has a four-person committee, three members of the committee including the supervisor(s) must attend the defense, either in person or electronically.
      • Q: The "Gold Form" so far had to be signed by those committee members who attended physically. Who is going to sign it now ?
        A: The "Gold Form" needs to be signed by the supervisor, those who physically attend the defense, and the GSC Chair.
      • Q: If all on the committee who attend do so electronically, who needs to sign the "Gold Form" ?
        A: It has to be signed by the supervisor(s) and the GSC Chair.

    Because faculty are typically busy and travel often, it is important that you start scheduling your dissertation defense well ahead of time. Check here carefully if the requirements on committee member attendance are satisfied. If there is no possibility that sufficiently many committee members can attend to your defense either physically or virtually, you may need a change of committee. If so, you need to submit the following (to Main Building 101):

    • Change of PhD Committee petition form (to be submitted more than 30 days prior to your dissertation defense). Download it here (under 'Committees'), and type the information into the pdf file (UT IDs can be found via the directory).

    • If you must request a change of committee within less than 30 days before your defense, you need to ask the Graduate Advisor to write a petition letter on your behalf, which you submit to the Graduate School together with the change of committee form. Please plan in a timely manner so that this can be avoided.

    Do Step 2 early enough to have sufficient time to send the three copies of the Doctoral Signature Page to all non-attending PhD Committee members for signing, see Step 4.

  • Step 3: Submit the formal request for Final Oral Examination: Once you have determined the date of your PhD Defense, and your definite PhD Committee, you have to submit the request for Final Oral Examination earlier than 2 weeks before the defense (to Main Building 101).

      Caution: The form will only be accepted by the Graduate School if printed on pink paper (previously, there was another option requiring a form on green paper; this option does not exist any longer).

  • Step 4: PhD Thesis Defense and signing of forms: The following forms need to be signed at the time of the defense:

    • The Graduate School will send the "Gold Form" to the student's supervisor who has to bring it to the PhD Thesis Defense. It has to be signed by all committee members who are present at the defense, and by the GSC Chair (Prof. Gordan Zitkovic).

      Note: The Gold Form does not need to be signed by the Graduate Advisor.

    • Print out three copies of the Doctoral Signature Page: The format of the Doctoral Signature Page is on pg 18 in the format guidelines (under Dissertation Formatting)
      You need to write this form yourself. Have three copies ready as soon as possible, together with your thesis, because:

      • All three copies have to contain the signatures from all PhD Committee members (whether they attend to the PhD Defense or not). Signing this form indicates that the committee member approves of your thesis; therefore, you need to email them your thesis ahead of time.

      • UPDATE: Scanned signatures are now accepted by the Graduate School. There are two caveats:
        • The supervisor's signature must be original (i.e., cannot be scanned).
        • The scanned images must be clear enough that the Graduate School can capture them digitally; otherwise, the student will be sent back to try again.

      Be absolutely sure that at the conclusion of your Defense, all forms have been signed by all PhD Committee members who need to sign them. It is your responsibility to verify this.

  • Step 5: Upload the electronic version of your final thesis version and submit all forms: Read the checklist from Step 1 again and follow the instructions carefully !

    All of the forms from Step 1 and Step 4 need to be delivered to Main Building 101 before the submission deadline.

Last updated 1/9/2017.