Comps for Mathematics or Statistics Majors

Math and Stats Comps are designed to assist students in completing the transition from classroom learning of our discipline to independent learning. There are two varieties of comps: group comps and independent comps. The department will make every effort to accommodate students’ preferences between these two options. Both options include a requirement that majors accumulate a total of eight talk-credits during the junior and senior years, in part, by attending the comps talks of their colleagues.

Majors are expected to do comps during the senior year. Students finishing the sophomore year may petition the department to be allowed to do comps during the junior year, but such petitions are granted only in very unusual circumstances. In particular, a desire to ease the workload of completing a double major is not a sufficient reason to grant such a petition. In the (rare) case that a junior is granted an early comps, senior math or stats majors will be given first priority in the choice of comps project.

Group Comps

The essence of group comps is a substantial, shared experience of doing mathematics or statistics. The faculty takes a very broad view of what, exactly, this means. We intend to offer opportunities for students: to engage in original research; to apply mathematics or statistics in significant, real-world settings, typically with an industrial, governmental, or non-profit partner; to study original historical documents; and to engage in pedagogical research. Specific projects will vary from year to year with topics limited only by the imaginations of our faculty and students. Group comps typically run for at least two terms. The default expectation is that each project culminates in both a public presentation of the results and a paper/poster or some other final product submitted to the faculty.

Students typically work in small groups supervised by a single faculty member. Students should expect regular group meetings with the advisor (once or twice weekly is typical), as well as other regular meetings with the group without the advisor, in addition to time spent working alone. Comps should be a top academic priority; faculty expect to see an intense commitment to the project from every student in the group. An individual may be awarded distinction in group comps for work exhibiting outstanding initiative and effort resulting in an exceptional level of some or all of the following: depth of understanding, creativity, synthesis, and effective communication.

Students completing group comps will register for three credits of comps (Math 400 or Stat 400) in each of the two terms they are completing their comps.

Junior and senior mathematics and statistics majors earn one talk-credit for attendance at an hour-long group comps project presentation.

Group Comps Timetable

Each spring, faculty members present potential group projects to mathematics and statistics majors during their junior year, and the junior majors rank the projects they prefer. Faculty then assign students to projects, taking student preferences into account as much as possible.

Once underway, a typical two-term project will follow the timetable below; three-term projects require adjustments.

  • Term 1: Research, regular meetings, end-of-term evaluation
  • Term 2: Research, regular meetings (weeks 1-4)
  • Talk and paper preparation (weeks 5-7)
  • Public talk (week 7)
  • Final product due (Monday of week 8)


At the end of term one, to ensure adequate progress is being made by all, each student will complete a project evaluation including feedback on the work of all group members. At this point students not making adequate progress may be removed from a project and assigned, instead, an individual comps project.

At the end of the second term, your advisor may elect to conduct individual interviews to assess each comps student. The faculty advisor (and possibly other faculty) will determine a grade of pass or fail, and will make a recommendation on distinction to the department. (Note: Grades, including distinction, are assigned to each student, not each project.)