Doctor of Philosophy

Are you considering doing a PhD in the Mathematical Sciences? We have many interesting projects for talented postgraduate researchers.  This page provides useful information and links for finding out more about the PhD Program and for applying for entry.

Why do a PhD in Mathematical Sciences?

PhD graduates in the Mathematical Sciences are valued by a range of employers for their demonstrated creativity, innovation, independence, research and problem-solving abilities, and organisational skills. A PhD in Mathematical Sciences can lead to a whole new world of opportunities. For example, you may:

  • become an educator or science communicator;
  • become a researcher in a university, industry or government research organisation;
  • work in areas requiring quantitative skills such as finance or computation;
  • gain access to a wide range of careers, not just in academic research. 

Why do a PhD in Mathematical Sciences at MSI?

ANU Mathematical Sciences Institute is internationally recognised for its vibrant and innovative research and teaching in the Mathematical Sciences.  Details of recent achievements of staff at ANU can be found on the MSI news page.

Structure of a PhD

At ANU the examinable component of a PhD in Mathematical Sciences consists solely of research, which is presented in the form of a substantial thesis, usually after three to four years for full-time students, or about double this for part-timer students. The length of a PhD course is nominally three years, and most PhD scholarships reflect this by running out after this time.

Every PhD student has a supervisory panel, which consists of a primary supervisor and at least two other staff members. The role of the supervisor and the panel is to help you find a suitable research project, direct you to relevant background mathematics, and provide a formal ‘sounding board’ for you while you pursue your research.

Students are required to submit annual reports of their progress to the University's central administration, and after 18 months each student must present a mid-term review. This normally takes the form of a seminar presentation of the research area, followed by a discussion with the supervisory panel. This a convenient time to meet with the entire panel and discuss the progress of your research project. Students must present a final seminar on their PhD research before submitting their thesis for examination.

Daily life as a PhD student

How you spend your time as a PhD student will change rather dramatically over the course of the three years. Initially you will probably identify the broad area of mathematics that you are interested in, and spend quite a while ‘getting up to speed’ with that subject, by attending courses and reading textbooks or research papers. Guidance from your supervisor will help make this process as efficient as possible.

After 3-6 months or so you will begin to formulate a research project to pursue for the remainder of the course. Probably it will take another few months of reading in more detail about the specific area of mathematics concerned before you are ready to embark on genuine research.

The bulk of the time spent at a PhD is taken up by researching your chosen problem. The intention is that you make a 'substantial and original contribution' to the subject. This sounds daunting at first, but in practice your supervisor and panel will help you find an area where this is a practical proposition.

During this time you will be free to attend any courses and seminars offered that interest you, and to generally pursue any ideas which seem valuable. To help keep in line during this time, most students arrange a regular meeting with their primary supervisor, where progress can be discussed and any difficulties sorted out before they become too great.

Apart from your supervisor and panel, there are many members of staff with a wide range of expertise, as well as a vigorous visitors program. This means that there are many opportunities to discuss mathematics with people from many disciplines.

There is no formal teaching requirement for PhD candidates. However, it is often possible for students to obtain part-time work as tutors for Mathematical Sciences Institute undergraduate courses. This can provide valuable teaching experience, and provides extra money to ease the burden of living on a PhD scholarship. It also offers a welcome change of pace from life as a research student.

Sometime in the third year of your studies you will start writing up the results of your research into a thesis. This process usually takes longer than you expect. Six months is not an unreasonable amount of time to dedicate to writing up. Once this is done, the thesis is submitted and the process is in the hands of the examiners!


ANU has a range of scholarships available to both local and international PhD students.  For more information please visit the links below or click on the scholarships page.

Research Topics

To get an idea of the kind of research currently being pursued in MSI and to find projects you may be interested in, please visit the research groups page and explore the links to the individual research groups.  

Your actual PhD project will be determined in discussion between you and your prospective supervisor.

Before you apply

  • Contact potential supervisors and obtain their agreement to supervise you.  Note that this will be conditional on the outcome of your application as well as those of other students who may also want to work with the same supervisor. Your email should include information on the courses you have taken and the results you obtained (as in a transcript), your English proficiency and an indication of your interests in the Mathematical Sciences.
  • In consultation with your potential supervisor, prepare a one-page research proposal.
  • Prepare your curriculum vitae (CV), certified copies (including English translations) of your academic transcripts and, if applicable (see English Language Requirements for Students Policy), your English language test (TOEFL/IELTS) results.
  • Arrange with three referees to provide reports on you. You will need to include their names and contact details in your application. Note that you are required to arrange for your referees to submit their reports directly to the ANU on the referees report form (PDF, 129 KB).

How to apply?

See here for information on how to apply or here for application forms.


If you have an enquiry regarding postgraduate study at MSI please click on the Enquire Now button at the top of the screen and select the relevant link for domestic or international students. If you are seeking advice on a potential application or on finding a supervisor, then you should include the same information you would include when contacting a potential supervisor directly.