All posts by harron

Graduate degrees target timelines

This page provides information about when you should accomplish various milestones in your degree and what other events must occur along the way. The target timeline is below. Consult with the Graduate Chair to ensure you have all the information you need.

PhD process

The typical time to degree for a PhD here is 5 to 6 years and the maximum length of support is 6 years. In your first couple of years, you’ll be taking classes and studying to pass your qualifying exams. It’s also a good idea during that time to try to figure out which type of math you might do research in; attending various seminars, talking to more advanced students about what they do, and asking professors about their research are a few ways you can go about accomplishing this.  We encourage you to attempt qualifying as exams as soon as you can.   They can be taken multiple times without penalty.  Study sessions are organized during the summer to help you pass a qual in August.

Even before passing your  qualifying exams, a high priority is finding an advisor. Getting up to speed on the cutting edge of research, and then doing your own, takes a lot of time and is the main reason you are a PhD student! Finding an advisor is an important decision and, while your interest in their research is a very important factor, working style should also be considered.  See the page How to choose an Advisor for more info.

Once you have an advisor you’ll need to pass a comprehensive (or specialty) exam. Your advisor will determine the format of this exam. Usually the comprehensive exam is an oral presentation or a paper which  shows that you have knowledge of the forefront of an area and have a problem you are intending on working on for your thesis.  You should form a committee around the same time as you do the comprehensive exam.

Then, you do math.

Once you’ve done math, it’s time to write it up. Actually it’s a great idea to write as you go.  As you approach completion, make sure to discuss the timing with your advisor and your committee. You should contact the graduate chair at least a month ahead of defending so that they can ensure all the various forms and announcements go out in time.

A target timeline for Phd students is below. These are targets not deadlines.  It is meant to show what, in our experience, the schedule of a Ph.D should look like. It’s designed to make sure that you move through the process smoothly as possible, that you make good use of your time, and that you give yourself the best chance of successfully completing the degree and continuing on to further opportunities. Everyone’s experience with graduate school is different. If you fall being the schedule outlined in the timeline, we will meet with you and try to help you get back on track. If this doesn’t work, other options may be explored.

PhD Target Timeline

  • Pass 3 600 level graduate courses by the end of the second semester.
  • Pass one qualifying exam by the beginning of the second year.
  • Pass second qualifying exam in January of the second year.
  • Find an advisor by beginning of third year.
  • Pass comprehensive (specialty exam) by middle of fourth year.
  • Finish at the end of year 5.



MA process

The typical time to degree for an MA here is 2 to 3 years. We typically only fund MA students on a year by year basis, subject to availability of funds as well as good progress.

In your first year, you’ll be spending a lot of your time taking classes. As suggested above for PhD candidates, it’s also suggested that you try to figure out in what general area, and with whom, you’ll want to write your MA paper. See How to choose an advisor for more info.

By the end of the fall of your second year, you will need to have chosen an advisor. You will work with them to produce a masters paper and prepare an oral presentation. As you near completion, you should discuss timing with your advisor, form a masters committee, and talk with the graduate chair to ensure all the various forms and announcements go out in time.

Prospective graduate students


Here in the Department of Mathematics at UH Mānoa, we offer both MA and PhD degrees in mathematics. We have about 20 faculty members with a wide range of interests who can mentor you in algebra, analysis, applied mathematics, combinatorics, geometry, logic, number theory, and topology. You would join a group of almost 40 graduate students learning math and pushing the boundaries of mathematical research. We offer introductory and advanced graduate courses, as well as regular ‘topics’ courses changing every year based on professors’ research interests and student demand. We have a vibrant faculty and grad student lounge that offers a lot of opportunity for talking with your fellow mathematicians.

For more information about faculty research, you can check out our research page.

Below are more details about the MA degree, the PhD degree, the application process, funding opportunities, and living in Hawai‘i.

Program summaries

PhD requirements

The PhD program in the Mathematics Department has four main components: coursework, qualifying exams, a comprehensive exam, and the writing and oral defense of a PhD thesis.

The goal of this program is to develop your abilities to the point where you can contribute original research in mathematics. To this end, we offer a wide range of basic graduate courses as well as advanced topics courses, and the faculty usually run a few seminars every semester. During your time here, you’ll work towards a broad understanding of graduate mathematics, develop your mathematical abilities and creativity, and reach the cutting edge of research in one of the many fields our faculty studies, all culminating in the writing and oral defense of your PhD thesis. Along the way, you’ll have a few milestones to reach: taking at least 10 courses (with some breadth requirements), passing two qualifying exams (out of four: algebra, analysis, applied mathematics, and topology), and completing a comprehensive exam with a faculty advisor.

For more details, see the full requirements page here.

MA requirements

The MA program in the Mathematics Department has two main components: coursework and the writing and oral presentation of a masters project.

As a student in this program, you’ll take both introductory and more advanced graduate level courses, with some freedom to choose your own path. By about half way through the two to three year program, you should settle down on an advisor who can mentor you to the completion of a project that you’ll get to write up and present.

For more details, see the full requirements page here.

Funding opportunities

Graduate Assistantships are available at stipends which range from approximately \$19,000 for the academic year, with waiver of tuition. All newly admitted PhD students are assured funding for up to 6 years. Masters students may be funded  on a space available basis. At any given time, about three quarters of our graduate students are supported by teaching assistantships. Some faculty members also have grants that have funds to support students with Research Assistantships. Most graduate assistants teach recitation sections for pre-calculus and calculus courses though other options exist: tutoring, grading, teaching a class, or assisting a professor.

Living in Hawai‘i

The university campus is located on the Leeward side of O‘ahu at the mouth of the Mānoa Valley in Honolulu, about two miles from the beaches of Waikiki. The island offers an abundance of opportunity for outdoor activities from hiking to Mānoa Falls or the summit of Diamond Head to snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, and, as you might imagine, surfing. Moreover, Honolulu is a city of a million people with all sorts of cultural and social activities. You can find out about all this and more on the university’s website.

Application process

The typical requirement for admission to the graduate program is the completion of a standard undergraduate program in mathematics. The candidate will generally be expected to know linear algebra, the elements of abstract algebra, and elementary real analysis. A student whose degree has been awarded in some other field may be considered if they have had the appropriate background courses. Students  must submit a personal statement describing their reasons for pursuing a graduate degree in math.

For best consideration for Fall semester, applications should be submitted by February 15, and for the Spring by  October 1. Note that we do not usually have many openings for spring admission.

Details about the  graduate application are on this page.