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Graduate Student Handbook

Welcome to the Department of Mathematics!

The most important piece of information in this document: if you need any help or advice, or if you just want to talk, we are here:

  • Isabella Novik, our Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) (
  • Sarah Garner, our Director of Student Services (

Our goal as faculty members, staff, and fellow students is to help you succeed in the program.

If you are not comfortable approaching any of us, talk to your faculty advisor, or the instructors of your graduate courses, or (if you are a TA) the instructor for your calculus course, or the graduate student representatives (, or the chair (Max Lieblich), etc. No matter which of us you talk to, we will do our best to help. At your request, we will also keep everything confidential. (Unless state law or university code somehow inhibits confidentiality.)

  • If you have questions or concerns, or just want to talk about issues of diversity (of any sort: race, ethnicity, gender, disabilities, religion, etc.), the people listed above are the natural ones to talk to. (See also the department's Diversity Commitment.)
  • If you want to discuss an uncomfortable interaction (for example harassment, sexual or otherwise) with a student or faculty member, talk to the GPC or Sarah Garner.
  • If you have any concerns about a course or instructor, whether one you are taking, one for which you are a TA, or one you have heard about from someone else, talk to the GPC, Sarah Garner, or the instructor. See also the Official Department Policy on Concerns About Instruction.
  • If you would like advice about wellness or issues of mental health, either for you or for someone else, talk to the GPC or Sarah Garner.
  • In general, all of us are happy to help with any issue, even if it is not part of our official duties.

Table of contents:

Immediate Next Steps

  1. If your email address will change over the summer, please notify us of the correct address at
  2. Check your application status page to complete any tasks listed there, like providing proof of immunizations and submitting official transcripts to the Graduate School (not to the Math Department)
  3. If you are on a student visa, please take action on the steps necessary to obtain your visa:

We would also recommend that you review the pre-arrival check list provided by the UW International Student Services (ISS) office:

  1. Review the information found in the Graduate School’s U501: Graduate School Orientation resource:

When to arrive

You should arrive several weeks before Autumn quarter begins if possible, so that you have time to explore the area and get settled.  For many new students the beginning of the quarter can be a stressful time, so it is helpful if you are not adjusting to a brand-new living situation at the same time. (See below for some housing information.)

All new students must attend our departmental orientation sessions starting on Tuesday, September 17. Many of you will need to arrive earlier because of other events. Here is a summary, with more details below. (Events for international students are described in a separate letter.)

Variety of dates/events

CIRCLE sessions (for new international graduate students on F-1 or J-1 visas)

Complete before Sep. 20

Center for Teaching & Learning: Resources fo International TAs (required for international TAs who are not native English speakers; asynchronous in Canvas)

September 17:

Math Department orientation (required)

September 18:

Center for Teaching & Learning: Teaching Strategies for TAs (recommended for all new TAs)

September 18-24

Math Department TA training (required for those who will be supported as TAs any time during 2024-2025)

September 25:

Classes begin

International Students

After you enter the U.S., you’ll need to follow the post-arrival check list.  This list includes details on how to complete your official "check-in".

The UW’s Center for International Relations and Cultural Leadership Exchange (CIRCLE) is the office that will be providing programming for new international graduate students. While they have been a program on our campus for many years, this fall will be their first time organizing programming for incoming grads.  They are in the process of finalizing dates, so please be sure to check their website.  If we hear of confirmed dates, we can let you know.

The UW International & English Language Programs office offers a Graduate School Preparation Program for incoming International Students.  There are additional costs for the program, but can be a good program to help you navigate UW and graduate school in the U.S.

UW ID Card

Once you arrive in Seattle, you can get your university ID card by going to the Husky Card Account & ID Center in Odegaard Undergraduate Library with a government-issued photo ID. This card will allow you to use libraries and other campus facilities. This card also serves as your bus pass (known as a UPASS).  More information about when and how to get your card is here:

Selecting Autumn Quarter Courses

Autumn registration for new graduate students begins June 17. We strongly encourage you to register at your earliest convenience. You are welcome to join Sarah Garner’s Thursday zoom drop-ins to discuss courses, logistics, etc. The drop-ins are Thursdays from 10:00-11:00 AM (PDT) at  The first one will be Thursday, June 20 and continuing most Thursdays during the summer.

You can register for courses any time through September 25. (You must register for at least one course before September 25 to avoid being charged a late fee.)  Once you have registered, you can add or drop courses without charge until October 2, so you are free to experiment during the first few days to figure out what courses best suit your background and interests. If you would like to start thinking about which courses to take, look at the Graduate Program web site and the course overview for next year:

Note that in your first year you have to complete at least 5 quarters of core courses; see for more details on our core courses, and and for related PhD requirements. In rare cases, if you have already taken graduate courses, you may request exemption from some of our core courses by filling out this form: .

Departmental Orientation & TA Training

All new math grad students must attend departmental orientation on Tuesday, September 17. The exact schedule will be sent to you over the summer. At those sessions, you will be given information about our courses, what a typical first-year program might look like, and departmental guidelines for registration. You will also be given the name of your preliminary academic advisor. Between September 18 and 27, you’ll need to meet with your preliminary advisor and possibly other faculty members to get help in choosing courses or confirming your selection.

TA Training

In addition to the departmental orientation on Tuesday, September 17, those who will be supported as Teaching Assistants at any time during the 2024-2025 academic year or Summer 2025 must attend departmental Teaching Assistant (TA) training sessions on Wednesday–Friday, September 18-20, and Monday, September 23.  Please be available from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm on those days. We will provide details about these sessions at the department orientation.

On September 18 in the morning, the UW Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) will hold a zoom workshop for all new TAs.  More information is available at

Participation in this workshop is optional, but you may find the workshop and some of the asynchronous learning opportunities helpful.

TAs Who Are Not Native English Speakers

International grad students who identify as not native speakers of English are required to participate in the International TA session by the Center for Teaching and Learning.  Note that if you received a Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution, you are welcome but not required to participate. 

The session is one of the asynchronous learning opportunities in Canvas on the CTL website:

TA Assignments

If you are being supported as a Teaching Assistant for Autumn Quarter, you will probably be assigned two sections of a calculus course (Math 124, 125, or 126, Calculus with Analytic Geometry), meeting for a total of five hours per week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Since most graduate courses meet Monday/Wednesday/Friday, your teaching should not conflict with the courses you are taking. Your TA assignment and detailed job description will be given to you on the first day of orientation.


Sometime in late August to early September, Mathematics Administrator and Payroll Coordinator Mike Munz ( will begin entering you into the UW payroll system ("Workday"). Watch for an email from the UW-IT Service Center that will include instructions on how to log into Workday and complete payroll on-boarding. This includes setting up direct deposit for your paychecks, contact information, tax information, etc.

Part of the payroll on-boarding process involves bringing identifying documents to Mike Munz to complete your employment eligibility verification. Mike will email incoming grad students in early September with more details on how this will be done.


If you will be receiving financial support from UW during autumn quarter, your appointment begins on September 16, 2024. You will receive your first paycheck (for the period September 16–30) on October 10, and subsequent paychecks will arrive around the 10th and 25th of each month. Academic-year appointments are for nine months, September 16 through June 15. If you choose to accept a TA job during the summer, you will be paid for two additional months, June 16 through August 15, typically at a monthly rate that is 20% higher than the academic-year rate. (You don't have to decide until next spring whether to accept a summer appointment or not.)


If you haven’t already started to look into housing options, you should do so soon.  The web page

describes university-owned housing, and the following page provided by the International and English Language Program provides useful information about off-campus options:

When you look for housing is important. University-owned graduate student housing usually has a waiting list, so if you are interested in on-campus housing, you should submit an application to Housing and Food Services as soon as possible. You can sign up on-line for university housing using your UW NetID. Most privately-owned rentals, on the other hand, are typically placed on the market about a month before they are available, and it may be difficult to find housing after the middle of September. You should start looking at on-line apartment listings now in order to get an idea of how much things cost and what is available in different neighborhoods.

Mental health and sexual harassment resources at UW

Mental health

  • The University of Washington offers and partners with a variety of services to provide mental health resources to students, faculty and staff.  You can learn more about options here:

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is defined as sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • Submission to such conduct is made either an implicit or explicit condition of an individual's academic, work, living environment or participation in a University community.
  • Submission or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for a decision that affects an individual's academic, work, living environment or participation in a University community.
  • The conduct is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it could reasonably be expected to create an intimidating, hostile or offensive learning or working environment, or has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's academic, work, living environment, or participation in a University community.
  • The UW has a sexual harassment web page. You can also contact the Health and Wellness Advocate for support at They can assist you in arranging for counseling, reporting the harassment, etc. Finally, consider reporting the harassment to the UW or the police. The above website has some information about this.

The first year

The first year in our program will challenge many students.

  • Some students will find the mathematics more difficult than what they’ve done before.
  • Some will find the pace or the workload very heavy, perhaps overwhelmingly so, especially when combined with TA duties.
  • Some are living in a new country for the first time.
  • Some will believe that they are struggling more than everyone else, doing worse than everyone else, that everyone else is sailing along without any difficulties.

Let’s address these.

  • The mathematics may indeed be more difficult than what you’ve seen before. It will only get harder as you go through the program. If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right.
  • The pace may indeed be overwhelming and may require some new time management skills. If TA duties seem to take too much of your time, try to limit the days and hours during which you perform those duties. If one class is taking a disproportional amount of your time, is that the best way to spend that time? If you want to go into field A and you are taking core courses in field A and field B, then spending a huge amount of time on the course in field B may not be the best choice. Consider spending less time on it and instead spend more time on the mathematics that will be more directly related to your PhD research.
  • If you are new to living in the US, this can be exciting but it can also be stressful. Our department’s graduate student population is very welcoming, so try to get to know your colleagues in the department.  Seattle is also a big city and the UW is a big university, so there may be others who moved here from your home town, and you might want to seek them out.  UW CIRCLE is a great place to engage to find support.
  • Need community?  Explore options to connect with your community through a variety of groups on campus.  If you don't find what you need at this list, please ask us!
  • It is okay to struggle. Math is supposed to be hard, as we already said. If you think that you are struggling more than everyone else, talk to your instructor about it. They know the material, they know what students tend to struggle with, they know what students are actually struggling with this quarter, and they can put everything in context. Maybe your struggles are just par for the course, something that almost everyone goes through, but maybe you are missing some background material, and they can suggest where to learn it.

General advice for first-year students:

  • Collaborate on homework assignments. Talk to your classmates. Different ones of you have different mathematical strengths: some know the background material really well, some are very good at making interesting connections, some excel at nailing down all of the details. You can learn something from every one of your fellow students.
  • Talk to your instructors. Go to office hours if you’re confused about something or if you’re excited about something. Chat with them at tea. Our goal as faculty members is to help you succeed in the program.
  • Go to our departmental seminars and colloquia. You may not understand much, but it is still valuable.
  • In Autumn quarter, sign up (for 2 credits) and regularly attend the Current Topics seminar.  It will meet regularly on Thursday, 4:30-5:30.

You should spend the summer after the first year here, engaging with peers and faculty.  It can help to spend some time with core course material over the summer that you think is helpful with research.  We also encourage students to begin exploring independent research with faculty as early as possible.

The second year

The top priority for a second-year student is to find a research direction, working on and completing the writing milestone and  potentially identifying a dissertation advisor.

  • With this in mind, you should take Math 600 every quarter. If there are several faculty members you would like to get to know better, research-wise, then take Math 600 from all of them, either at the same time or sequentially.
  • Let faculty members know early on that you are looking for a thesis advisor. Then if (for example) they are going to be on leave the following year, they can let you know. If they cannot currently accept any more students, they can let you know. The earlier you know about obstacles like these, the earlier you can explore other options.
  • Each faculty member has their own advising style – how often do you meet, how much time do students spend on background before starting a research project, do you need new results before doing your general exam, etc. – and if these are important to you, you should ask about it. (Ask the faculty member directly, and if they have other students, ask them, too.)
  • Go to our departmental seminars and colloquia. You will understand more than you did in your first year.
  • Consider taking another core course, or at least one or two quarters of another core course, to expose yourself to the material.

The research years

By the end of Winter quarter of year 3, you need to sign up with a PhD thesis advisor. After this, you will be working closely with your advisor, learning the relevant background, getting started on a research project, making some progress, writing down the results, applying for jobs, etc.

  • Talk to your fellow students about your work. Some groups of students organize student-only seminars in their areas, others don’t. If your fellow students in area X do not organize a seminar, consider starting one. You could meet for lunch once a week to talk about your work. Or just drop by your colleague’s office to talk about something you’re excited about or somewhere you’re stuck.
  • This may be harder to do, but talk to faculty other than your advisor about your work. First, they may have helpful suggestions. Second, you may want to ask for a letter of recommendation, and the more you’ve talked to them, the more informed the letter can be.
  • Go to our departmental seminars and colloquia. As your research progresses, you will get more and more out of these talks.
  • Travel to conferences. Give talks and present posters about your work. Meet experts in your field.
  • Get internships during summers. These are especially valuable if you are considering non-academic employment after you finish, but anyone can potentially benefit from this.