Dissertation Research, the PhD, and Finding a Job


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Once you have passed the General Exam, most of your courses with your Advisor should be under the 9000-number: Dissertation Research. The Graduate School requires at least nine hours of Dissertation Research prior to the award of the PhD. It is also required that you remain enrolled each regular semester until the degree is awarded, and that you be enrolled for at least one hour of Math 9000 during the semester in which the dissertation is defended. Of course, most students take many more than nine such hours!

It is difficult to write general advice about dissertation research itself. In effect, this is an apprenticeship in mathematical research. It reflects the individuality of both the Advisor and Student. The goal is to come up with research results which are original and of sufficient quality, interest and substance to be deemed by your Advisor and the Advisory committee as publishable in a respectable refereed research journal. It is up to your Advisor to decide when your results have reached this level. In some specialties it is customary to have results sufficient for several papers, while in other specialties one substantial paper is the norm. Your Advisor will also be considering your career goals and the competitive nature of today's job market in deciding when your work is ready for award of the PhD. It is very rare for such results to come quickly and easily - and it may not even be good preparation for the life of a Mathematician if your results do not require some real up-hill battles! You must be prepared for periods of discouragement. You should feel free to discuss your reactions to the ups and downs of research with your Advisor. He or she has been there and it helps to know you are not alone! Perseverance pays off in this endeavor.

Regardless of whether your advisor requires you write one paper or several papers based upon your dissertation results, be sure to have your advisor's guidance in the writing and the submission of your paper(s) for publication. Your advisor may wish to suggest a specific journal and even a specific editor to whom you should submit your paper(s). Your advisor may also find it appropriate to give you guidance as to how to apply for a research grant in your field in subsequent years.

When your Advisor tells you your results are ready, it is time to begin writing the Dissertation itself. Do not underestimate the difficulty of this task! A good exposition of Mathematical research is very difficult to write. It is especially hard after you have worked on a problem for a year or two, and are immersed in its details. You must be able to see how to present these results in a clear and appetizing way to a reader who has not shared your experience! It is also common for errors or gaps in proofs to appear during the writing of a dissertation. Do not be alarmed by this! It is usually possible to fill the gaps, and sometimes it becomes possible to prove stronger conclusions at this stage. Your Advisor is your principal guide in this writing and you need to follow his or her advice. Do not be surprised if you must write several successive drafts before the Dissertation is ready for presentation to the Advisory Committee! Please be aware that the Graduate School requires that your dissertation be provided to each member of your Advisory Committee (including the Dean's Representative) at least two full weeks before the date of the Final Exam (Defense).

Your Advisor may want you to write and submit your results to a research journal before you leave LSU. This will help you to get a job and is an important part of your training as a professional mathematician. You will find that the responsibilities of a new job can delay the writing and submission of your research results. By undertaking this process while still at LSU, you will have a head start in your new job and will have the benefit of your advisor's counsel during the submission and perhaps even the revision process. Even if it happens that your Advisor does not ask you to write and submit your paper before leaving, the Department encourages you to discuss this possibility with your Advisor. Tell your Advisor that you would like to have his or her valuable guidance for the paper writing and submission process.

There is something else you need to do. The Graduate School has a publication listing specific format requirements for all dissertations. These requirements may seem trivial to you (concerning even Capitalization in Titles!) - but they are rigidly enforced by the Graduate School! You will save yourself some grief if you familiarize yourself with these format requirements before you complete the final draft of your Dissertation! You should also be sure to make an appointment well in advance to have a preliminary version of your draft of your final document reviewed for format by the Graduate School's Editor.

You will need to write your dissertation in LaTeX, and the Department has available a current LaTeX format file for your LSU Doctoral Dissertation. It was written by one of our graduates a few years ago and has been used several times since. However, even if you use this format, it is vital that each student go through the required approval process through the Graduate School, as explained below. To use this LaTeX format, please visit the Section entitled Online Resources listed in the Student Handbook Menu at the left. There you will find the files which you need and instructions.

The Graduate School requires that all dissertations and theses be submitted as pdf files, for editorial checking and approval, and for final submission. LSU is now a member of the worldwide Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations. You can download MikTeX software free from the web, or you can use it in the Department's PC Lab. The command dvipdfm will convert your dvi file into a pdf file with clean, clear fonts. The pdf fonts generated by the Unix software which is also available are less clear and the Graduate School prefers those generated by MikTeX and other commonly available PC software. The Graduate School's Guidelines for Submission of Dissertations electronically is available at the link below. If you have difficulty opening this document directly from this link, just save it instead to your own system and then open and print it if desired.

You must visit the LSU Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Website for the Guidelines and for more information about the processes and procedures for the required method of submission. Here you will also find out about making an appointment with the Editor.

You will need to fill out an Application for the PhD Degree and an Application for the Final Exam for the PhD being sure to follow the deadlines in the published Graduate School Calendar for the appropriate semester. You will need to follow the Graduate School's rules regarding how far in advance of the Exam to provide a copy of your Dissertation to each Committee Member, being sure to include the Dean's Representative. At your Final Exam, you will give a lecture presenting your research results for the approval of your Committee. The Committee members may ask questions about your research, and about other matters, such as possible directions for future research. This is good training for giving a Colloquium Talk at some other Department in the future, and it may serve you well also when applying for a job!

When you are at the stage of your studies in which you are proving original results, it may be possible for you to travel to a research conference to present your work. You may be eligible for either or both of two travel grants from the Graduate School at this time. Be sure to apply to the Graduate school as early as possible for a Graduate School Travel Award. Sometimes the Department or the College of Science has limited funds to assist graduate students' travel. Inquire of the Chair and the College of Science Dean's Office.

Sometimes there is good reason for a doctoral student to spend a semester of his or her research working with the dissertation advisor's colleagues at another university in the US or abroad. A Research Semester off Campus can sometimes be arranged for this purpose, with suitable advance planning. Sometimes the Department has available a special grant to help finance the cost of travel and lodging for such a research semester.

As you near completion of your PhD degree, you should begin preparing to find a job. You may have already presented your results at a professional meeting, or you may have communicated about your research with a mathematician outside LSU, perhaps on the Department's Research Semester Abroad program or some grant-funded research trip. If this is the case, discuss with your advisor the possibility of asking that outside expert to write one of your letters of recommendation for a job application. Such an outside letter can increase your chances for a post-doctoral research job especially. You should visit some young mathematicians' web-sites and read their vitae, to learn how these documents are generally written. Again, ask your advisor to help you in this. Please see the Section entitled Finding Your First Postdoctoral Job in the Student Handbook Menu at the left!

After the award of the PhD your connections with your Advisor and with the LSU Mathematics Department are by no means severed! The Department retains a continuing interest in your career after graduation. It is a great pleasure to hear from former students as their careers progress. Also, mathematicians' paths cross in many ways. You are likely to meet your former teachers and your former classmates many times in the future. The Department encourages you to send word about your life after graduation.