Program Overview

The Directed Reading Program provides undergraduates with the opportunity to work closely with UC Berkeley mathematics graduate students in an independent reading project.

Our goal is to enable motivated undergraduates to engage with mathematics in more depth and breadth than is typically possible in a classroom. Projects will be chosen by the undergraduates in consultation with graduate student mentors. During the semester, the student will work through a mathematical text independently and meet weekly to discuss it with their mentor. The DRP culminates at the end of the term in brief presentations from all of the students on their projects.

The aim of the program is to equip students with the tools necessary to delve into sophisticated mathematics, to foster relationships between undergraduates and graduate students, and to provide students with a valuable opportunity to practice presenting mathematical ideas, both in conversation and public presentations.

Expectations for undergraduates

While the DRP is a program intentionally designed to provide a personalized experience for every undergraduate, we have some general expectations for students. Since we have a limited number of spots, we take these expectations seriously.

Mentors and undergraduates have weekly meetings discussing their progress, with graduate students providing feedback and advice on the material covered. The specifics of these meetings is left up to the individual preferences of a mentor/mentee pair. Each pair should meet for at least one hour each week, but mentees and mentors are welcome to meet for more than an hour per week if desired.

Students should expect to commit at least 4 hours a week working on their DRP individually. This time can be spent reading, solving problems, or preparing for weekly meetings. Each mentor/mentee pair will decide on specific expectations for weekly preparation and study at the beginning of the semester.

Giving a mathematical presentation is a vital skill in academic mathematics, and the act of presenting also solidifies the presenter’s knowledge of the math presented. Consequently, a key responsibility of DRP participants is to prepare, practice, and deliver a 10-12 minute presentation at the end of the term in front of the other mentor/mentee pairs. The presentation should cover some main point or concept related to the mentee’s DRP project. Mentors will help their respective mentees plan and practice this presentation near the end of the semester.

Note that all of the above expectations are only the minimum expected of all participants. Anything more than this is determined on an individual basis by a mentee and their mentor. For instance, we anticipate that there will be a number of very enthusiastic students that wish to do individual study for more than four hours per week.

To summarize, the main expectations are:

  • At least one hour per week spent in a mentor/mentee meeting.
  • At least four hours a week spent on individual study, outside of mentor/mentee meetings.
  • Giving a 10-12 minute project specific presentation at the end of term.

What do we look for in applicants?

Because we have a limited pool of graduate student mentors, the DRP is not able to accommodate every interested student. Here are some of the criteria for acceptance into the Directed Reading Program.

First, It is highly suggested that any DRP applicant has completed at least the equivalent of Math 53 (multivariable calculus) or Math 54 (linear algebra). While these classes may not be directly related to a proposed DRP project, having completed these courses demonstrates a baseline of mathematical maturity needed to successfully participate in the DRP. In a similar vein, we strongly prefer DRP applicants to be in their sophomore year or later. Because of the significant adjustments associated with the beginning of college life, and because seniority will be given some weight in the committee’s decision about which students will be paired with mentors, it is unlikely that a freshman applicant will be accepted except in very special circumstances.

One of the main deciding factors for a DRP applicant’s admission will be a list of their past math (and relevant physics) courses, along with their final grades in these classes. This will help the DRP committee understand not only the level of mathematical maturity that an applicant has also but their willingness to work hard to achieve their academic goals.

Even more importantly, successful applicants tend to demonstrate an understanding of the program and a clear motivation.  The more personal-statement-like parts of the application do not have to be long, but they should make it clear why you want to study your chosen topics, and why you want to study them as part of the DRP in particular rather than by taking courses or reading on your own.  We are looking for the students who will get the most out of the DRP, and in general we have found those to be people who know from the start why they’re interested in it.

The last relevant part of an applicant’s admission is a letter of recommendation. While not required, a letter of recommendation from a previous instructor will help give the DRP insight into an applicant’s mathematical aptitude as well as their academic enthusiasm. This letter of recommendation need not come from a professor but can equally well come from a GSI or other instructor.

Although the above criteria will certainly inform the decision of the DRP committee, all applications will be considered on an individual basis. As such, special cases that don’t meet all of the above criteria but have sufficient merit are certainly good candidates for admission.