Skip to Content

Search: {{$root.lsaSearchQuery.q}}, Page {{$}}

Advancing to Candidacy

Thesis Proposal, Committee, & Preliminary Examination

AIM students are encouraged to explore potential advisors in both math and the partner discipline.  The math advisor should be chosen first, and the partner discipline advisor should be chosen in consultation with the math advisor.  Exceptions may be allowed in special cases with the approval of the AIM Director in consultation with the AIM Graduate Admissions & Fellowships Committee.

During the second or third year of study, students will work with their two co-advisors to prepare a thesis proposal. When the proposal is written and a committee is assembled, each student will then take a Preliminary examination (based on the proposal and related coursework) administered by the committee. Upon successful completion of the Preliminary examination and a sufficient fraction of the required coursework for the AIM Ph.D., the Director will recommend that the student advance to candidacy.

The AIM Thesis Proposal

Preparing for interdisciplinary research requires the mastery of background information from two distinct fields of study, as well as careful planning. The AIM Thesis Proposal is a document that crystallizes the process of preparing for an extended research project. Unlike the Mathematics Ph.D. degree, the AIM Ph.D. degree emphasizes the Thesis Proposal because writing high-quality research proposals is an important skill to develop for work in many research careers.

The Thesis Proposal should be prepared by the student in collaboration with both co-advisors. The proposal should contain

  • a careful review of the relevant literature,
  • a well thought-out plan for the dissertation research, and
  • any Prelim results already obtained.

The AIM Thesis Proposal should also explain how the dissertation work is expected to make an original contribution, using novel mathematical ideas, to the partner discipline field. The length of the written document is not specified, but rather is determined by the two co-advisors accounting for the required contents. An average AIM Thesis Proposal is approximately 20 pages in length.

Assembling a Dissertation Committee

As the AIM Thesis Proposal nears completion, the student should assemble a dissertation committee, consisting of individuals who will follow the dissertation work to its completion, and in particular who will administer the Preliminary examination and defense of the dissertation. The dissertation committee is made up of at least four people, including:

  • the mathematics co-advisor,
  • the partner discipline co-advisor,
  • a second faculty member from the Department of Mathematics, and
  • one more faculty member representing any department (including mathematics).

Once the committee members have expressed their agreement to serve on the dissertation committee, the student should provide each with a copy of the AIM Thesis Proposal.

The Preliminary Examination

When the committee has had sufficient time to review the AIM Thesis Proposal, the student should next work with the committee and Department of Mathematics staff to schedule a time and location for the 2-hour Preliminary examination. The Preliminary examination takes the form of a presentation by the student to the dissertation committee based on the AIM Thesis Proposal. The student should plan for a 50-minute presentation, although it may take longer if the committee members wish to ask questions during the talk. After the presentation is finished, the committee may ask other questions, possibly related to other relevant coursework or preparation that is not covered in the proposal document or presentation. Generally speaking, students should expect questions broadly related to the partner discipline and associated mathematics. The result of the examination will be decided by the committee in attendance at the conclusion.

Advancing to Candidacy

The Rackham Graduate School requires that all Ph.D. students achieve candidacy by the beginning of the fall semester of the fourth year of study. Candidacy refers to the final stage of the Ph.D., in which the student is focused on original research as planned in the AIM Thesis Proposal and the careful writing of the doctoral dissertation. A student must do the following:

• take the AIM Student Seminar course (Math 501) for the first three semesters
• pass two AIM QR Examinations within the first 13 months of graduate study
• write an AIM Thesis Proposal and pass the Preliminary examination
• complete the required coursework (The requirement of completing coursework is crucial to allow graduation by the end of the fifth year of study.)

Term Wish to Achieve Candidacy Prelim Window
Fall 2023 Saturday, January 7, 2023 through Wednesday, May 31, 2023 OR Monday, August 28, 2023 through Wednesday, August 30, 2023
Winter 2024 Thursday, August 31, 2023 through Friday, January 12, 2024
Fall 2024 Saturday, January 13, 2024 through Friday, May 31, 2024 OR during the first three days of Fall classes.

Once completed, then he or she will be eligible to advance to candidacy. The Rackham Graduate School mandates that a student in the candidacy stage of the Ph.D. degree must enroll each fall and winter term for 8 credits of Math 995 under the supervision of their advisor. Students may elect to register for additional courses not totaling more than 4 credits per term. Any coursework beyond that may result in tuition charges for which the student would be responsible to pay.