Department of Mathematics FAS Harvard University One Oxford Street Cambridge MA 02138 USA Tel: (617) 495-2171 Fax: (617) 495-5132


The application deadline for fall 2015 admission is December 15, 2014. All applications and supporting materials must be submitted online before 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Late applications are not accepted. Please check the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) website for Prospective Students for more inforamtion on admissions and financial aid.


To apply for admissions and financial aid, or for additional information on admission requirements for the PhD program in pure mathematics, please go to the appropriate Graduate School of Arts and Sciences web site listed below. All other inquires may be directed to the Graduate Program Administrator of the Mathematics Department. Here are the addresses and links:
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Harvard University
Phone: (617) 495-5396
E-Mail: GSAS Admissions
Mathematics Department
Graduate Program Administrator
Susan Gilbert
(617) 496-5211
E-Mail: sgilbert@math
Preparing the Application
The statement of purpose for graduate applications is very different from writing a personal essay. It is neither a biographical sketch nor a reflection on your decisions to enter the field. It should be written for a particular audience: The admissions committee, which consists of faculty members in the department. Your statement should convince the committee that you are able to communicate effectively and with a deep understanding of mathematics.

Request three letters of recommendation from faculty or others qualified to evaluate your potential for graduate study in mathematics. The letters must be submitted online and by the application deadline.

The Department requires all applicants to submit GRE Mathematics Subject Test scores. Applicants should check on the ETS website for test dates in their area to insure the scores will be submitted before the application deadline. While the admissions committee reviews all applications submitted by the deadline, missing math subject test scores are one less data point available to evaluate the application. Depending on the applicant pool and the strength of the application materials, the missing subject test scores may put the application at a disadvantage.

The Graduate School requires scores to be submitted for the General Test of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).

Applicants whose native language is other than English and who do not hold the equivalent of a US Bachelor degree from an institution at which English is the language of instruction must submit scores from the Internet based test (IBT) of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

The Graduate School requires applicants to upload an electronic copy of undergraduate transcripts. Hard copies of official transcriptsare not required at the time of application.

PhD Program in Pure Mathematics
The department does not grant a terminal Master's, but a Master's degree can be obtained "on the way" to the PhD by fulfilling certain course and language exam requirements.

In general, there is no transfer status application to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences or to the Department of Mathematics. No formal credit is given for an MSc or MA earned elsewhere. All applicants are considered to be applying as first year graduate students. The only difference Master's study may make is to better prepare a student for the Qualifying Exam, which is required of all first year students.

All graduate students are admitted to begin their studies in the fall term. We plan on an entering class of about ten to twelve students. Since we normally receive over two hundred applications, the competition is keen.

Funding Graduate Study
Applicants are urged to apply for all funding available to them. If no outside funding is available to the applicant, financial aid in the form of scholarships, research assistantships, and teaching fellowships is available. In general, students who do not have outside support will get scholarship support in their first year, but students are required to act as a teaching fellow for one half course (i.e. for a one term course) in their second through fourth years and for two half courses if they stay for a fifth year.

The department strongly recommends applicants to seek out and apply for all sources of financing availalbe for graduate study. Recommended sources for funding US graduate students are NSF Graduate Fellowships and NDSEG Fellowships. Applicants from the UK are urged to also apply for the Kennedy fellowships and applicants from UK, New Zealand, Canada and Australia, for Knox fellowships. International students may apply for the Fullbright IIE or any home country fellowships available for study abroad.

A list of courses offered by the Mathematics department can be found here.

Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences offers the Masters and PhD Degrees in Applied Mathematics
The Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) offers programs for both the Master's degree and the PhD degree in Applied Mathematics. Please visit the SEAS Web site for more information on degrees in applied mathematics.

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Guide To Graduate Study

The PhD program of the Harvard Department of Mathematics is designed to help motivated students to develop their understanding and enjoyment of mathematics. It seems to be generally the case that enjoyment and understanding of the subject, as well as enthusiasm in teaching it, are greater when one is actively thinking about mathematics in one's own way. For this reason, a PhD dissertation involving some original research is a fundamental part of the program. The stages in this program may be described as follows:

  • Acquiring a broad basic knowledge of mathematics on which to build a future mathematical culture and more detailed knowledge of a field of specialization.
  • Choosing a field of specialization within mathematics and obtaining enough knowledge of this specialized field to arrive at the point of current thinking.
  • Making a first original contribution to mathematics within this chosen special area.
The word "help" (in the opening sentence above) is to emphasize that the student is expected to take the initiative in pacing him or herself through the PhD program. In theory, a future research mathematician should be able to go through all three stages with the help of only a good library. In practice, many of the more subtle aspects of mathematics, such as a sense of taste or relative importance and feeling for a particular subject, are primarily communicated by personal contact. In addition, it is not at all trivial to find one's way through the ever-burgeoning literature of mathematics, and one can go through the stages outlined above with much less lost motion if one has some access to a group of older and more experienced mathematicians who can guide one's reading, supplement it with seminars and courses, and evaluate one's first attempts at research. The presence of other graduate students of comparable ability and level of enthusiasm is also very helpful.

The University requires a minimum of two years academic residence (16 half-courses) for the PhD degree. On the other hand, five years in residence is the maximum usually allowed by the Department. Most students complete the PhD in four to five years. Please review the program requirements timeline.

There is no prescribed set of course requirements, but the department runs several introductory graduate courses (e.g. Math 212a, 213a, 230a, 231a, and 232a) to help students acquire the necessary broad basic background in mathematics. Students are required to register and enroll in four courses each term to maintain full time status with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, but students may substitute TIME for one course when teaching or engaged in independent study or research.

The department gives a biannual qualifying examination at the beginning of the fall and spring terms. One's first goal should be to bring one's basic knowledge up to such a point that one can pass the qualifying exam. Some students are able to pass as soon as they enter, and all are required to take the exam at the beginning of the first term. Those who do not pass simply try again on the following occasion. All students are expected pass the qualifying exam before the end of their second year.

The qualifying examination covers algebra, algebraic geometry, algebraic topology, complex analysis, differential geometry, and real analysis. More details about the qualifying exams can be found here.

After passing the qualifying exam students are expected to find a PhD dissertation adviser.

The minor thesis: The minor thesis is complementary to the qualifying exam. In the course of mathematical research, the student will inevitably encounter areas in which he or she is ignorant. The minor thesis is an exercise in confronting gaps of knowledge and learning what is necessary. The student chooses a topic outside her or his area of expertise and, working independently, learns it well and produces a written exposition of the subject.

The topic is selected in consultation with a faculty member, other than the student's PhD dissertation adviser, chosen by the student. The topic should not be in the area of the student's PhD dissertation. (For example, a student working in number theory might do a minor thesis in analysis or geometry). At the end of three weeks time (four if teaching), the student will submit to the faculty member a written account of the subject and be prepared to answer questions on the topic.

The minor thesis must be completed before the start of the third year in residence.

Mathematics is an international subject in which the principal languages are English, French, German, and Russian. Almost all important work is published in one of these four languages. Accordingly, every student is required to demonstrate the ability to read mathematics in French, German, or Russian by passing a two-hour, written language examination. Students are asked to translate one page of mathematics into English with the help of a dictionary. A student who thinks it is pertinent to his or her field of interest may request to substitute Italian for the language exam. The language requirement should be fulfilled by the end of the second year. Non-native English speakers who have received a Bachelor's degree in mathematics from an institution where classes are taught in a language other than English may be permitted to waive the language requirement. For more information on the graduate program requirements, a timeline can be viewed at here.

Upon completion of the language exam and having taken eight real courses (not TIME), students can apply for a continuing Master's Degree, which may be useful for higher paying summer jobs.

Most research mathematicians are also university teachers. In preparation for this role, all students are required to participate in the department's teaching apprenticeship program and to complete two semesters of classroom teaching experience, usually as a teaching fellow. During the teaching apprenticeship the student is paired with a member of our teaching staff. The student will attend some of the adviser's classes and then prepare (with help) and present his or her own class, which will be videotaped. The apprentice will receive feedback from the adviser and from members of the class.

Teaching fellows are responsible for teaching calculus to a class of about 25 undergraduates. They meet with their class three hours a week. They have a course assistant (usually an advanced undergraduate) to grade homework and to take a weekly problem session. Usually there are several classes following the same syllabus and with common exams. There is a course head (a member of our teaching staff) who will coordinate the various classes following the same syllabus and who is available to advise teaching fellows. Sometimes graduate students also act as graduate course assistants for advanced courses or run tutorials for small groups of undergraduates studying advanced subjects not taught in regular courses.

How a student goes through the second and third stages of the program varies considerably among individuals. While preparing for the qualifying examination or immediately after, the student should begin taking more advanced courses to help with deciding on a field of specialization. Unless prepared to work independently, she or he should choose a field that falls within the interests of a member of the faculty who is willing to serve as thesis/dissertation advisor. Members of the faculty vary a great deal in the way that they go about thesis/dissertation supervision, and the student should take her or his own needs in this direction into account as well as the faculty member's field in making a decision. Some faculty members expect more initiative and independence than others, and they vary in how busy they are with other students. The student must take the initiative to ask a professor if she or he will act as the dissertation advisor. If one has trouble in deciding under whom to work, it is possible to spend a term reading under the direction of two or more faculty members simultaneously on a tentative basis. The sooner a decision is made the sooner the student can begin reaearch. Students should have a provisional advisor by the second year.

It is important to keep in mind that no technique has been discovered for teaching students to have ideas. All that the faculty can do is to provide an ambiance in which one's nascent abilities and insights can blossom. Moreover, PhD dissertations vary enormously in quality, from hard exercises to highly original advances. Finally, many very good research mathematicians begin very slowly, and their dissertations and first few papers could be of minor interest. On the whole, we feel that the ideal attitude is: (1) a love of the subject for its own sake, accompanied by inquisitiveness about things which aren't known; and (2) a somewhat fatalistic attitude concerning "creative ability" and recognition that hard work is, in the end, much more important.

The Qualifying Exam

The qualifying exam is designed to measure the breadth of a student's knowledge in mathematics. Passing the exam early is mainly an indication that a student has attended an undergraduate university with a broad undergraduate program in mathematics. It is not a good predictor of the quality of the eventual PhD dissertation.

A student may take the qualifying examination any number of times, beginning in the first term. The exam may prove a useful diagnostic in helping to identify areas in which a student's knowledge is weak. There is absolutely no stigma attached to taking the exam several times, but students are expected to pass the examination by the second year in residence in order to begin more specialized study leading to research work.

Before passing the qualifying exam, students should enroll three beginning 200 level (or 100 level) math courses each term and may substitute TIME for one course to prepare for the exam.

The exam is given at the beginning of each term. It consists of three, three-hour papers held on consecutive afternoons. Each paper has six questions, one each on the subjects: Algebra, Algebraic Geometry, Algebraic Topology, Differential Geometry, Real Analysis and Complex Analysis. Each question carries 10 points. In order to pass in each subject, a student must obtain at least 20 of the available 30 points in that subject. Students are considered to have passed the qualifying exam when they have passed in all six subjects (120 of 180 points) in one sitting, or they have passed at least four subjects in one sitting and obtained an A or A- grade in the basic graduate courses corresponding to the subject(s) not passed. Students are expected take the suggested course(s) at the first opportunity.

Once the qualifying exam has been passed, students no longer need to take math courses for a letter grade and may elect to receive the grade (EXC) excused. Students should inform the instructor at the beginning of the term if they are electing to take (EXC) as a grade.

The Qualifying Exam Syllabus

The questions on the qualifying exam aim to test a student's ability to solve concrete problems by identifying and applying important theorems. The questions should not require great ingenuity. In any given year, the exam may not cover every topic on the syllabus, but it should cover a broadly representative set of topics and over time all topics should be examined.

The syllabus is on a seperate page.

Past Qualifying Exams

Some old departmental qualifying exams are available here
(all links are PDF's)

Fall Spring
2014(with Sol)
2013and [Sol]
2012 and [Sol]
2008 and [Sol]
2014 and [Sol]
2013 and [Sol]
Some old quals from 1990-2002 [PDF]
Some PDF files of questions arranged by topics.
Collected by Danny Calegari and Tom Coates source.

Teaching Requirements

Every student, whether or not they have outside support, is required to have two terms of classroom teaching experience as preparation for their likely future role as teachers.

For those students without outside support: In the first year, students automatically receive an offer of the full departmental stipend with no obligation to teach. The department offers second, third and fourth year students half the departmental stipend without an obligation to teach, and students are required to teach to cover the other half of the stipend. However, the department caps the amount of teaching students are required to do: If a student teaches one section of calculus, or the equivalent, the department will supplement the stipend up to the full stipend. Fifth year students are expected to teach to cover the full stipend. Again, the department caps the teaching required: If a student teaches two sections of calculus, or the equivalent, and the pay does not support the annual stipend, the department will supplement the stipend up to that year's level. Students may arrange to teach twice in an earlier year to reduce teaching in the final year.

Work restrictions on student visas may limit international student teaching. Please check with the Graduate Program Administrator before finalizing your teaching plans.
Equivalence is based on what the department perceives to be the time commitment of a teaching job. We consider the following to be equivalent to one section of calculus:

  • One tutorial (teaching)
  • Two CA sections for Gen Ed
  • Two CA sections of applied math
  • Two jobs at the Math Question Center
  • Two GCA courses in our department

We consider the following to be equivalent to two sections of calculus:

  • Two tutorials (teaching)
  • Three CA sections for Gen Ed
  • Three CA sections of applied math
  • Four GCA courses in our department
  • One section of calculus (teaching) and one CA section of core/applied math
  • One section of calculus (teaching) and two GCA courses in our department
There are other possibilities, which will be allowed on an ad hoc basis, but this list gives an idea of what is expected.

Students with outside support available in their first year are expected to take it in their first and second year. Students who choose to defer outside fellowship support to a later year will need to teach twice in an earlier year to cover their full stipend in the deferral year. For instance, a student with one remaining year of outside fellowship support who chooses not to take the funding in their fourth year, will need to teach two sections of calculus or the equivalent in their fourth year in order to receive the full departmental stipend. Similarly, a student with two remaining years of outside fellowship support who chooses not to take the funding in their third year, will need to teach two sections of calculus or the equivalent in their third year in order to get the full departmental stipend.

The department's teaching staff helps students find appropriate teaching jobs. While we would like to accommodate student's teaching preferences, the teaching staff works under many constraints. It is necessary to balance student preferences with those of other graduate students and the needs of the department. Students who have done a conscientious job on previous teaching assignments are more likely to get their preference in subsequent years. Students need to make teaching plans well in advance and in consultation with the teaching staff. Students should not change their teaching commitments at short notice.

Students making satisfactory academic progress may teach beyond the minimal requirement outlined above. Students who are not required to teach as part of their funding package may teach if jobs are available. Pay for additional teaching will supplement other sources of funding. Students must take the initiative to find additional jobs. In assigning teaching positions, first preference will be given to those required to teach for funding. After that, positions will be allocated to those with the strongest teaching credentials.

The department provides continuing students with summer support. In addition, a number of teaching opportunities are available during the summer.

Professional Development

This part of the page was put together by Stephanie Yang.

Writing papers and submitting them

Applying for jobs

Writing a CV

Writing a Cover Sheet

Mathematical Job Search Sites

AMS Employment site

Mathjobs AMS Employment Services

EIMS Employment Information in the Mathematical Sciences

NSF Mathematical Scienses Postdoctoral Research Fellowships

Senior Faculty Research Interests

Noam D. Elkies Professor of Mathematics Number theory, computation, classical algebraic geometry, music.
Dennis Gaitsgory Professor of Mathematics Geometric aspects of representation theory.
Robin Gottlieb Professor in the Teaching of Mathematics
Benedict H. Gross George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Mathematics Algebraic number theory, Diophantine geometry, modular forms.
Joseph Harris Higgins Professor of Mathematics Algebraic geometry.
Michael J. Hopkins Professor of Mathematics Algebraic topology.
Arthur Jaffe Landon T Clay Professor of Mathematics and Theoretical Science Analysis, probability, symmetry, and geometry related to quantum and statistical physics
Mark Kisin Professor of Mathematics Number theory and arithmetic geometry.
Peter Kronheimer William Caspar Graustein Professor of Mathematics Topology, differential and algebraic geometry, and their applications.
Jacob Lurie Professor of Mathematics Algebraic geometry, algebraic topology, and higher category theory.
Barry Mazur Gerhard Gade University Professor Number theory, automorphic forms and related issues in algebraic geometry.
Curtis T. McMullen Maria Moors Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences Riemann surfaces, complex dynamics, hyperbolic geometry.
Martin Nowak Professor of Mathematics and Biology Mathematical biology, evolutionary dynamics, infectious diseases, cancer genetics, game theory, language.
Wilfried Schmid Dwight Parker Robinson Professor of Mathematics Lie groups, representation theory, complex differential geometry.
Yum-Tong Siu William Elwood Byerly Professor of Mathematics Several complex variables.
Shlomo Sternberg George Putnam Professor of Pure and Applied Mathematics Differential geometry, differential equations, Lie groups and algebras, mathematical physics.
Clifford Taubes William Petschek Professor of Mathematics Nonlinear partial differential equations and applications to topology, geometry, and mathematical physics.
Hugh Woodin Professor of Philosophy and of Mathematics Set theory, determinacy, and strong axioms of infinity.
Horng-Tzer Yau Professor of Mathematics Probability theory, quantum dynamics, differential equations, and nonequilibrium physics.
Shing-Tung Yau William Caspar Graustein Professor of Mathematics Differential geometry, partial differential equations, topology, and mathematical physics,

Junior and visiting faculty interests comprise a diverse and important addition to the department. As these appointments vary in length from one term, on the part of visitors, to three-year appointments as a Benjamin Pierce Lecturer on Mathematics, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, they will be listed annually in the courses of instruction.

How to obtain copies of past PhD theses

PhD dissertations written since 2001 are listed in descending order by year, author, and title on this page. All scholars can order copies of most Harvard dissertations from 1982 to the present by contacting UMI/ProQuest at 1-800-521-3042. Permission of the author is usually required to copy theses within the last five years.

Most PhD dissertations submitted from March 2012 forward are available online in DASH, Harvard's central open-access repository. Access to Harvard theses/dissertations that are not available through ProQuest depends on the school of origin and its associated library. Check the Hollis catalogue to see where a thesis is housed.

Harvard affiliates with IDs and PINs can access the full text of most Harvard PhD theses since 1990 from the Proquest database.
Titles and names of dissertations written since 2001 are listed on this page.

Birkhoff Library

Birkhoff library
  1. Birkhoff is a non-circulating library. Books may be removed briefly for photocopying, but they cannot be checked out or taken to offices. The Cabot library, located on the first floor of the Science Center, has a much larger collection of mathematics books and journals that can be checked out.
  2. Books can be located using the Hollis catalog and in the library card catalog. There is a new section with books on calculus and math education near the computer.
  3. The computer in the library is reserved for consultation of the online catalog and related databases like Math Reviews. Please do not use this computer for non-library purposes (like email, etc.) General use computers are located on the first floor of the Science Center.
  4. Journals are shelved alphabetically by title. The alphabetized list of journals and a guide to their locations is next to the card catalog.
  5. Please keep the library environment quiet at all times. If you want to have a conversation, please step out of the library.
  6. Cell-phone use is not permitted in the library.
  7. Nancy Miller (nancy@math) is the librarian. Ms. Miller's office is located inside the library. Please direct your questions and report missing books to her.
  8. Nancy Miller welcomes suggestions for new acquisitions, either for Birkhoff or for Cabot.

Photos and Media

graduation photo