LSGNT has a diverse cohort; our students come from over all over the globe and from all kinds of different backgrounds. Even if you think you’re not a typical maths PhD student, we encourage you to think again and apply. What we’re looking for might not be what you expect.
Research is very different from undergraduate mathematics. Many people who don’t do well parroting lecture notes in undergraduate exams excel at the creative problem-solving we’re after. Conversely, many people who are brilliant undergraduate problem-solvers find they do less well when confronted with open-ended problems that do not fit well into one narrowly-defined area of mathematics. Those who are brilliant at working alone, perhaps driven by competitiveness, can struggle to harness the greater power of collaborative work with their peers. Those who are good at forming relationships and working well with others can thrive. Some students come with huge background knowledge in pure maths but can find it makes their thinking rigid; those with less sometimes bring new perspectives and ideas from other fields.
So we are not looking for students who necessarily know everything or aced every exam (though that can be good too).
We are looking for people with curiosity, who like to explore ideas, solve problems, and see connections between different areas. We want people with a dogged determination to get to the bottom of things, to really understand what’s going on. We like imagination, creativity and improvisation. We’re looking for enthusiasm and potential, not the finished article.
We like to see that you’ve demonstrated an active interest in the topics you’ve studied – thinking beyond the syllabus, about links to other areas for instance. That you’ve taken some responsibility for your learning. Of course there are also more prosaic criteria, like your academic fit to the programme (do we have a potential advisor with similar interests to yours?) as well as your fit to the ethos of LSGNT (would you like working in a communal mathematical environment?)
We are also interested in what you expect from a PhD and a supervisor. You may want a 3-year plan with milestones and a pre-determined outcome, but our vision of a successful PhD is more free-flowing. It is the result of a relationship between student and supervisor which does not follow a script. It is more of a shared improvisation, discussing promising ideas and working together at the board. A spirit of adventure and curiosity certainly help.