Brown Division of Applied Mathematics - Directed Reading Program

An independent reading program.
For undergraduates.
By graduate students.

Program Overview

The Directed Reading Program provides undergraduates with the opportunity to work one-on-one with graduate students and post-docs in the Division of Applied Mathematics (APMA) on independent reading projects. It is a fantastic opportunity for motivated undergraduates to learn new mathematical & computational skills, forge connections with graduate students, and explore higher level mathematics outside of the undergraduate curriculum.

At the foundation of the Directed Reading Program is informality. We understand that the classroom environment can be limiting, while formal research projects for credit with APMA faculty might seem daunting, especially for students who have never worked on a research project before. The DRP allows students to explore and discuss new mathematical concepts in a stress-free, casual environment. It is ideally suited for motivated sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are curious about higher level mathematics.

Expectations for Undergraduates

While the DRP provides an informal and individualized experience, it is a serious committment and we expect participants to be committed to the program for the entire semester. If you are currently taking a heavy courseload, please read the following expectations carefully. You will only get out what you put into the DRP!

  • Participants are expected to meet with their graduate student mentor for about one hour per week. These meetings are a valuable way in which students may discuss and clarify their understanding of the material.
  • Participants should expect to spend about four hours per week on their projects, whether this entails reading, implementation/programming, or both.
  • Each participant will submit a project proposal (3-4 pages max) written in consultation with their mentor, to be due approximately a third of the way into the semester, that introduces their chosen project and details their plans for the semester.
  • At the end of the semester, each participant will present their work to the other participants and mentors at a special colloquium. This presentation should cover the main points of the project and is an excellent way for students to practice presenting complex mathematical material.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How will I be paired with my mentor?
A: Applicants apply directly to specific projects, each of which has a designated mentor as listed on the projects page. You have the option of selecting and ranking up to three projects on the application.

Q: Do I have to have experience in the subject I would like to do a project in?
A: Absolutely not! The DRP is intended to be an introduction to higher level mathematics. However, applicants should have some background coursework in the general subject area they wish to work in. Typically, this means taking an introductory course in that project area – for instance, APMA 1650 or 1655 for probability and machine learning projects. You can view a list of potential projects here to see what the suggested prerequisites are in the different project areas.

Q: What resources are available to me as a participant in the APMA DRP?
A: We provide funding up to $90 for each participant to purchase resources for their project. Typically, participants use this funding to purchase a textbook. Participants working on projects with significant high-performance computing components will be permitted to open exploratory accounts with the Center for Computation & Visualization (CCV).

Q: Do I have to be an APMA concentrator to apply?
A: No! The DRP is open to all undergraduates at Brown.

Q: I've taken a lot of advanced coursework already. Does it still make sense for me to apply to the DRP?
A: Yes! The sample projects are generally written at an introductory level, but the DRP is meant to be a highly personalized experience that is tailored to each mentee's skill level. Our mentors will work with you to ensure that you're working on a project that will challenge you.

Q: Can I receive course credit for participating in the DRP?
A: We will not be offering course credit for participating in the DRP in the Fall 2019 semester. We will continue to evaluate the possibility of granting course credit for the DRP on an optional basis in future semesters.

Q: How will my performance be assessed in the DRP?
A: There are no grades or formal assessments in the DRP. At its core, the DRP is an independent reading project that is driven first and foremost by the student. In other words, participants will only get out of the DRP what they put into it. While we do expect a certain level of time commitment from participants, it is up to the student to set semester goals with their mentor. The end-of-semester presentation is primarily an opportunity for students to teach their peers what they have learned over the course of the semester.

Q: How are applications assessed? What can I do to increase my chances of being accepted to the DRP?
A: There are two main components to the DRP application: (i) prior coursework and (ii) the statement of interest. We are mainly looking to see that applicants have completed enough coursework to succeed in the project areas they have listed on the application. We do not care about grades and do not ask for them.

The statement of interest is arguably the most important component of the application. We are genuinely interested in your motivations as an aspiring mathematician(/engineer/physicist/...) and what you would like to learn from the DRP. Our experience has been that the most successful participants in the Directed Reading Program have been highly motivated and willing to put in the time to do their own reading and research.

Q: I was not offered a position in the DRP last semester. Can I apply again this semester?
A: Absolutely! Due to the highly personalized nature of the DRP, we receive many times more qualified applicants than we can accomodate. We recognize that there is large interest in the DRP and therefore offer the program every fall and spring semester. We give preference to applicants who have never participated in the DRP before.

Q: I am a Ph.D. student or post-doc and am interested in becoming a mentor. How can I sign up?
A: Ph.D. students and post-docs in applied math, computer science, or data science who are interested in becoming mentors should email APMA-DRP (at) brown.edu directly.

Q: What if I have suggestions for improving the DRP?
A: That's great! You can either email the organizers directly at APMA-DRP (at) brown.edu or, if you prefer to submit suggestions anonymously, you can use the Google Form for suggestions.

If you have any questions that are not answered here, please email us at APMA-DRP (at) brown.edu.

Spring 2020 Application

Applications for the Spring 2020 semester are now open and are due no later than 11:59PM on Thursday, January 30. (Note: the application deadline was previously listed incorrectly as Sunday, February 2. The correct deadline is 11:59PM on Thursday, January 30.) Before applying, please carefully read over the expectations for participants as well as the frequently asked questions. A list of projects for the Spring 2020 semester can be found here.

Application Components

  • We ask for a list of all MATH, APMA, and CSCI courses each applicant has taken at Brown as well as the semester in which the course was taken. Applicants are free to list similar coursework done at other institutions. We do not care about grades.

  • Applicants are asked to list up to three projects that are of interest to them. You can view the full projects here as well as sample materials and suggested prerequisites for each project.

  • The statement of interest: why are you interested in participating in the Directed Reading Program? You may wish to address any or all of the following: What are your motivations as an aspiring mathematician(/engineer/scientist/...)? What do you hope to learn from the DRP? You may also wish to explain your interest in a particular project(s).