Your initial academic advisor is often your first link to the Mathematical Sciences Department. Advisors are usually assigned to incoming students based on the interests they express in their applications. Your advisor has a wealth of knowledge that you should tap into early! Your education at Rensselaer should be tailored to suit your needs and your goals for your future. To do this your advisor must be aware of these needs and goals. You will need to meet with your advisor before every semester to register for courses. Do not simply pop in to get the signature; instead, make an appointment and hold a discussion so you are both clear on your goals and can be sure that you are reaching them in a timely fashion.
Below is a list of suggested topics/questions you should consider discussing with your academic advisor. Some are questions for which the answers should be shared with your advisor. Some are questions you may want to ask your advisor. If you are a new student, you should be sure to get through this list and add any other ideas of your own. Current students may find this list helpful as well, as it may point out topics you have overlooked.
Many of these same topics should be discussed with your thesis advisor (when you get one). It is crucial that everyone important to your success is aware of your needs and goals so that you can obtain the best education possible!
Your education goals
Are you headed for a Masters degree? Is there any potential that you will want to pursue a Ph.D. at some point? Or vice versa? How easily can you obtain a Masters degree along the way? (Generally, this is a good thing to do.)
Your career goals
Are you hoping to get a job in academia (teaching/research)? At what type of institution (High school, small college, university)? What percentage of the time do you want to spend doing research? What percentage of the time do you want to spend teaching? Are you looking for a job in industry? Do you have any idea what you would like to do in industry? Are you looking to work in a research lab? Are you aware of the average salary ranges for your choice of career? What other skills outside of mathematics will help you in such a job? (Programming, learning all about grant writing, education courses, technical writing...) Are your exact career goals undecided at the moment? What should you do to prepare for all of the above? Is that possible? What are the differences in preparation?
Are you planning on being at Rensselaer during the summers? What time line do you see for yourself? When do you want to graduate? Is your plan reasonable? Are there any outside concerns (family, job, etc.) that should be taken into consideration when planning your time line? Are you a TA? Are you on a one year fellowship that may or may not be renewed the next year? Are you self-funded? These issues should be discussed before filling out a plan of study.
Continued Department Support
You should be sure to consider that the Math Sciences Department has guidelines for continuation of support for doctoral students. Graduate students who receive full support from the Department should plan to complete their doctoral programs within four or five years. Students can expect that their support will continue through this period, provided that they continue to make satisfactory progress toward their degree and they continue to perform well in their teaching assignments. "Satisfactory progress" means completing courses, required examinations (preliminary, qualifying, and candidacy), selecting a research area, and making progress toward completing a thesis. If a student requires support beyond the fifth year, each situation will be considered individually.
What mathematics have you taken? What is critical knowledge for the career goals you seek? What are the base classes that would round out your education? Where are you lacking? Are there reasons you are lacking in certain areas? Maybe you just didn't like that subject, or never saw a need for it, or past schools did not offer it. Are you prepared to jump right into all graduate classes? What preparation should you be doing on your own to better succeed in the classes for which you are registering? Are there any lower level classes that you should take that would help round out your education or help you prepare you for graduate classes? What books should you be familiar with? Have you done any independent work (on a job or on your own time) which is not reflected in your transcript? Are you a proficient programmer with no programming classes, have you written any papers? Have you done any previous research? Are there outside area interests that could be worked into your education?
What classes should you take?
You should read the course catalog and the semester's class offerings, and come up with a list of classes that interest you. With your advisor you should determine if these classes also help you in reaching your education and career goals, help you in preparing for your exams (for Ph.D. students), help you meet the department requirements, etc. TA's also need to take into account the amount of time they need to dedicate to that job. Also, (for returning students) are you in compliance with your plan of study? If not, be sure to update it.
Determine scheduling to meet the degree requirements (Ph.D candidates)
Doctoral students must adhere to the time line set out by the exam requirements. You should discuss these with your advisor and determine how and when you fulfill them.
Other than classes, what should be done to prepare you for your eventual job search?
Who in the department has had other academic positions? Who has worked in industry? Where are recent graduates working? How did they do it? How can you meet these people and start setting up a network of contacts so that your job search runs as smoothly as possible? How about a summer internship? The Career Development Center has some information on employers but is not a good enough resource for the whole job search process. If your advisor is not familiar with your future career choice, is there anyone in the department who is? Consider current graduate students and graduates too. If your advisor does not know, who may know? Most importantly, prepare early.