Academic Standards


Please direct inquiries about our graduate program to:

Professors Ferreyra and Richardson

The Department of Mathematics takes a keen interest in its students' academic success. Each year the Department will award a Pasquale Porcelli Award for Excellence in Graduate Research and a Pasquale Porcelli Award for Graduate Academic Excellence to graduate students who have distinguished themselves by their accomplishments. Nearly all of the Department's graduate students are in good academic standing during any given semester. Nevertheless, the transition from undergraduate to graduate-level courses in Mathematics is not easy. The level, intensity, and quantity of work required in a graduate course is much higher in a graduate course than in an undergraduate course in Mathematics. Sometimes a student does have difficulty making this transition, and so it is important to be aware of the academic standards of the Graduate School and of the expectations of the Department.

The Graduate School requires that every graduate student maintain at least a 3.0 (`B') average each semester as well as cumulatively. A student who drops below a 3.0 is placed on probation. A student who drops more than slightly below a 3.0, or who is on probation for more than one semester, receives a notice of being dropped from the rolls of the Graduate School. A student on probation is barred from receiving financial aid from LSU, unless the Department appeals for permission to continue such aid and the Dean approves. (Very few Mathematics graduate students are on probation during a typical semester.) It must be understood that there is a big jump in the level of difficulty when going from the most advanced undergraduate courses to the beginning graduate courses. Thus it is necessary for students to work hard in their studies. A graduate student in Mathematics who is taking a course from another department must be aware that the Graduate School counts grades in those (non-required) courses just the same as it counts grades in Mathematics. If you hold a special award such as a Fellowship, your letter of offer may stipulate other conditions. Typical additional conditions for holding such awards would be the requirement that you maintain at least 3.25 GPA each term and cumulatively, and that you pass the General Exam for the PhD before the end of your third year of study. If you are auditing a course, regardless of the Department, you should fill out an audit slip and get it signed at the Graduate School. Your copy of that slip will prove you are an auditor, in case computer-errors result in your being (incorrectly) assigned a grade for that course! Assigning grades for students' work in a course is the prerogative of the professor teaching the course. Mathematics faculty generally have the following interpretation of grades. A grade of `A' signifies excellent work, and could be considered encouragement to continue study in the area represented by that course. A grade of `B' is considered satisfactory work. This means that the `B' student could expect, given hard continuing work, to complete a graduate degree at LSU. A grade of `C' is considered unsatisfactory work for a graduate student. A grade below `C' is rare and is extremely unsatisfactory. A grade lower than `B' is a warning that a higher level of work is needed. Students can and do overcome shaky starts, progressing successfully all the way to the PhD degree and to careers as faculty members at various colleges and universities. However, during a recent period of two and a half years, we calculated the overall GPA's of the more than 20 PhD graduates for that period. The average was 3.9 and the lowest was 3.6. Thus doctoral students should strive for excellence in every course. It should be stressed that the Department wants each of its graduate students to have a successful, satisfying, and rewarding experience studying at LSU. Most graduate students in Mathematics do realize these objectives. The Department will not abandon a student because of a poor semester. We want to help such students to make a successful transition to graduate-level work and progress to successful completion of a graduate degree. The Department cannot change the fact that this requires very hard work on the student's part, but it can provide guidance and encouragement to help students in their work. You should visit the Graduate Director and/or your other faculty mentor(s) as soon as you perceive difficulty with your studies or with any other aspect of your life as a graduate student in Mathematics. Students should make a practice of visiting their professors regularly to ask questions and seek better understanding of the subject matter of their courses. If you are confused about the meaning or significance of the abstract concepts you encounter in your courses, it will help you to see your Professor so you can clarify your understanding as early as possible. It is difficult to overcome all obstacles alone, and help is available. Although the Department is committed to helping students find their way out of academic difficulties, it is also necessary to be fair to all its students as well as to follow the rules of the Graduate School.

Important Academic Advice

Here we address some issues which, if neglected, can cause serious adverse consequences for a graduate student.

  • Academic Responsibilities Regarding Assignments: It is essential that a graduate student understand the heightened importance of homework in study at this level. The objective of your studies is to do independent research, which requires a long- term, intense effort. In order to cultivate the capacity for this work, your teachers will assign progressively longer and more difficult problems to challenge you to rise to greater heights. Although many courses do require an examination at the end of the course or in the middle, the major part of your grade is likely to be determined by the homework assignments. Your teachers will give you instructions about this. But if your teacher assigns problems due in a week or in several weeks, it is necessary to begin at once so you can return to your efforts repeatedly thinking and re-thinking the problems until you are confident that you understand correctly. No one expects your work to be perfect, but you are expected to turn in your assignments on time and after a substantial effort has been invested in the work.
  • Academic Honesty: In an intellectual community, a good idea is greatly valued. If you were to walk into a bank and remove money which does not belong to you, how would you expect to be treated by the banker? Among scholars, there is immense generosity with ideas, because it is such a great joy to share the thoughts one loves best with others. When we are young children, our parents teach us how to say please and thank you. It is an important lesson. If you get a good idea from a teacher, a classmate, or a book, do not claim it as your own. Openly acknowledge the source, and thereby show yourself to be a young scholar with moral integrity. This will serve you well throughout your career.
  • Requirements for Receiving Financial Aid: As explained above, the University requires that every student receiving financial aid maintain at least a 3.0 GPA each semester as well as cumulatively. Also, students who hold special financial enhancements, supplements, or fellowships are subject to higher GPA requirements stipulated in the Award Letter. The Department wishes never to see a student lose financial aid, but failure to maintain the required standards will have that effect. Your teachers will grade your work by fair and reasonable standards. Your part is to do your best and turn in your work on time. Do this and you can let the grades worry about themselves, while you think about more interesting things in Mathematics.
  • The Meaning of Doing Your Best Work: Mathematicians are driven by curiosity. If you need to know the answer to a question, you seldom think about how much time is required to find it. You do your best. As a graduate student in mathematics, you should not think in terms of a 40-hour work week. You should follow the good examples set by your teachers. But if you need a guideline, we recommend this: you should work as much and as hard as you can. Even if you are very quick, you should still work this much, or else you will be wasting your ability.
  • How to Interpret Academic Grades: There are only two satisfactory grades for a graduate student: A and B. The Graduate School permits at most 6 hours of C's to be counted towards a degree. Since most grades in your classes will be A's and B's, and since professors vary in regard to where to draw the line between A, B and C, you should consider your overall Math GPA at LSU in estimating where you stand as a PhD student. We have calculated the Cumulative LSU Math GPA's of the first 21 PhD graduates from this department since the year 2000. The average is 3.913. The lowest GPA was 3.645, and the highest was 4.0, which was earned by 7 of these 21 PhD graduates. Doctoral students take mainly Math 9000 (Dissertation Research) which does not carry a letter grade for the final year or two of study. This means that in courses taken during the first two or three years of study, PhD graduates were recognized by most of their teachers as excellent students. It is something the bear in mind if you are a doctoral student.
  • Teaching Responsibilities: It is important for each graduate student in mathematics to learn to communicate mathematics clearly and effectively, both orally and in writing. These skills include but are not limited to becoming a good teacher. If you discover and prove an interesting theorem, you must still be able to present it in an effective and interesting way to other mathematicians. If you apply at the end of your studies for a good job and are invited to give a talk about your work, it is important that you give a good one. If you apply for a job at a college or university, it will be very important for you to have a good record as an effective teacher of mathematics during your own graduate studies. Do not neglect these aspects of becoming a professional mathematician. When you are teaching a class of your own, you are responsible for doing your best on behalf of your students. The Department takes a keen interest in your progress as a teacher. Awards are presented each year to outstanding graduate student teachers, including one \$250 cash award each semester.

The Department looks forward to an intellectually stimulating and enjoyable experience for all. It is hoped that you will find in your vigorous efforts this year and always the great excitement of learning new ideas, through study and research. We hope that in the companionship of one another, and in the guidance of your teachers, you will find the support and the confidence of knowing you are not alone, and the joy of sharing what you learn.