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Finding a Master's Advisor and What to Expect for your Master's Exam

For graduate students who do not already have a Master's degree, the department strongly encourages you to get a Master's degree. There are multiple reasons for this; for example, doing a Master's exam gives you practice reading and presenting on advanced mathematics. Also, in case of a major disruption to your graduate studies due to illness, family emergency, etc, we want to make sure you leave our program with a graduate degree.

To earn a Master's degree, you need to satisfy the 30 hours of course requirements listed in the graduate handbook and you need to pass a Master's exam.  The Master's exam consists of a 40-50-minute oral presentation followed by questions from your Master's exam committee. Here is what you need to know and do for your Master's exam.

  1. You can complete your Master's exam during the semester in which you will have earned 30 credit hours. Typically, this means Spring of the second year. You do NOT need to pass any prelims before completing your Master's exam.
  2. Most students will complete their Master's exam between February of their second year and December of their third year, but some students complete it earlier or later than this.
  3. To complete a Master's exam, you will need to ask a faculty member to serve as your Master's advisor. Your Master's advisor serves as your Master's committee chair. You should ask a professor who works in a research area you find interesting and who you feel you would work well with. It is common for graduate students and faculty to use the Master's exam preparation as a "testing-out" phase for possible PhD advising.
  4. It is common for students to enroll in an independent study course, MA 611, to prepare for their Master's exam.
  5. For most Master's exams, you work with your Master's advisor to find either a research paper(s) or an advanced textbook to read. During the Master's exam, you give a presentation about the reading and you then answer questions from your committee.
  6. Prior to scheduling the Master's exam, you will work with your Master's advisor to identify two additional faculty to serve on your Master's committee. One of these faculty members must be a full graduate faculty member (this usually means an Associate or Full Professor), one must be either an associate or full graduate faculty member (this usually means an Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor), and the third member can be any faculty.
  7. After you have asked and confirmed the faculty for your committee, you should work with them to select a date and time for your exam. At least two weeks in advance, you will need to submit a Master's degree examination form, which you can get from the DGS Staff Administrator.
  8. You will also need to submit a separate application for the Master's degree from the graduate school, which is typically due Nov 1 (Dec graduates) and April 1 (May and August graduates). However, these dates can change, so make sure to check the deadlines!

If you have any questions about this process, or if you would like assistance identifying potential Master's advisors, contact the Director of Graduate Studies.