Students - Frequently Asked Questions

Doing mathematics at PROMYS Europe
Students and counsellors at PROMYS Europe 2015 (photo courtesy of Wadham College)

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The PROMYS Community

Who will be at PROMYS Europe?

First-year students, returning students, and undergraduate counsellors plus faculty, research mentors, and visiting mathematicians and alumni. 

Who are the counsellors?

Counsellors are undergraduates studying mathematics at leading universities.  

Are counsellors sometimes former PROMYS students?

Yes.  There will be counsellors who first participated as students as well as counsellors who are new to PROMYS and PROMYS Europe. Many alumni return, often multiple times.

Will the PROMYS Europe participants be able to connect before their time together at Oxford? 

Yes. There will be a Facebook group for accepted participants where new students can get to know each other and can ask questions of returning students and counsellors. 

Will PROMYS Europe participants remain in touch after their six weeks together at Oxford?

Absolutely! After the summer session, participants will join the PROMYS Europe alumni network and will be part of the wider PROMYS alumni community, which has developed many strong links over the past decades. There are reunions and online groups.  Many alumni become long-term friends and/or collaborators/mentors. Alumni visit the programme, give and attend guest lectures, and constitute a network of kindred spirits at institutions and companies around the world.

How many PROMYS alumni become mathematicians and scientists?

Lots! For more information, please visit the About Our Alumni page on the PROMYS site.

The Mathematics 

Will I learn "just" Number Theory? 

Absolutely not! Whatever your current level of maths experience, you will be exposed to a wide range of new mathematical knowledge and a deeper level of understanding. There will be seminars, minicourses, lectures, research, and informal discussion on a range of maths-related topics and areas. For example, Sir Roger Penrose gave a guest lecture on Penrose Tiling at one of the Oxford Masterclasses. (However, we cannot guarantee that every lecture topic will be covered by its inventor. Pierre de Fermat, for example, is currently unavailable.)

How many of the people at PROMYS Europe are actively engaged in doing maths over the summer?

Everyone (except the programme administrator who's very busy doing other stuff).

Who's there to help me with my maths?

Everyone. PROMYS Europe is collaborative, not competitive. It's all of us striving together to discover and to understand more deeply. There's also constantly available informal instruction and support: both small group and individual. Everyone struggles with mathematics: that's what we're all at PROMYS Europe for. That's what makes it so hard, so fun, so worthwhile.

When do I get the solutions to the problems on the problem sets?

When you discover them for yourself: on your own or collaborating with other students. Returning students and counsellors and faculty will support and encourage you, but not by giving you the answers (hint: they don't even give hints). What PROMYS Europe does is offer you the tools and structure to enable you to be a creative mathematician. 

Six Weeks!

Why isn’t PROMYS Europe shorter?

Because we need time to immerse ourselves in the mathematics, to address the fundamental issues we seek to address, and to reach a certain depth of mathematical understanding.  The purpose of PROMYS Europe is not the transfer of information or even the transfer of skills, though both take place. The purpose is the evolution of talented students into mathematicians and of individuals into a community. 

What will it feel like to be at PROMYS Europe for six weeks?

We were particularly interested in how participants would feel about the length of PROMYS Europe since most had participated in programmes of only a few days or perhaps a week. A few said they at first wondered if six weeks would feel too long. At the end, they said the programme was either the right length or should be longer.  You can read some of their comments on this subject on the Testimonials page.

How will I feel when PROMYS Europe is over? 

We can’t know how you will feel at the end of the programme. But we do know that every year the students lament the end of PROMYS and the dispersion of their intense and joyful mathematical community. Each year’s Facebook group is filled with mourning and missing (and with reports of catching up on lost sleep). For most students, the mathematics and the friendships begun at PROMYS continue long long after they return home. 

What if the dates of PROMYS Europe overlap with my school’s term time? 

Some participants may need to miss some school time to attend PROMYS Europe. In our experience, this has not been a problem for students or for schools since the educational value of PROMYS participation is so clear. It has never so far been necessary, but we would be happy to speak to a school to help resolve a student’s scheduling conflicts.

What if I'm on my national IMO team and the dates clash? 

Unfortunately we are not always able to avoid a clash.  It is especially important that students attending PROMYS Europe for the first time participate throughout, as missing any part of the programme would have a negative effect on your experience.  You are welcome to email us to discuss your particular circumstances, but please understand that you may have to make what we know is a difficult choice.  There is sometimes more scope for flexibility for returning students; if you have participated before and have a clash with the IMO (or another similar event) then please get in touch and we'll discuss possibilities.

Life at Wadham College

Will I have a roommate?

You will not be sharing a bedroom. You may be sharing a 'double set' with someone of the same gender (two bedrooms and a sitting room). If you do have a roommate, it will be another PROMYS Europe student.

How's the food?

Surprisingly good! (Students have described it as “awesome!”)

I have a food allergy.

That’s not a question. But don’t worry. Wadham is accustomed to accommodating special dietary needs. Participants will be asked to indicate their dietary preferences in advance of their arrival. 

Will I have Wi-fi access at Wadham?

 Yes (and at no additional charge).

Will I be safe at PROMYS Europe?

It is obviously of central importance that everyone in the PROMYS Europe community both be safe and feel safe.  PROMYS Europe is a tight-knit community, and students and counsellors look out for each other. You will be given contact numbers and informed of safety procedures. While the area around Oxford University is generally safe, it is good to be alert and aware of your surroundings.  Visitors to Wadham College must present themselves at the Porter’s Lodge, and the gates to the college are locked at night. There is more information on the  Pastoral Care and Safety page.

How does the UK's decision to leave the EU affect PROMYS Europe?

'Europe' in 'PROMYS Europe' refers to the geographical entity, not to the European Union. For the next few years, there will be no effect.  The UK remains a member of the EU and nothing will change until 2019 at the earliest.  We are still looking forward to welcoming students and counsellors from right across Europe to join the PROMYS Europe community, and our plans for the future are unaltered.  You might like to know that the city of Oxford (and London and several other regions of the UK) voted in favour of remaining in the EU. Oxford is proud of its European and international identity, and continues to offer a warm welcome to students from all over the world.

Is there a curfew for students?

Yes. You will be told about this before you arrive.

Does PROMYS Europe adhere to UK requirements that counsellors pass background checks?

Of course. 

Are there adults around 24 hours a day in case there’s some sort of emergency?

Yes. The adult counsellors have rooms in college near the rooms of their students, Wadham College has 24-hour emergency contacts, and one of the PROMYS Europe faculty is always on call.  Both the programme and the college have emergency protocols in place.

Can I see pictures of the college?

Yes.

Admissions Questions

Are scholarships available?

PROMYS Europe offers need-based financial aid.  It is central to the PROMYS Europe mission that no student should be unable to attend for financial reasons.

Do I need to answer all the problems on the application problem set to have a chance of being accepted?

Our assessment of your mathematical readiness for PROMYS Europe is holistic, is certainly not determined by a count of problems solved, and takes into account multiple elements including your level of mathematical experience. But the application problems form the most significant portion of the application since your responses enable us to see how you reason and articulate mathematically and how creatively, enthusiastically, and tenaciously you tackle challenging problems.  

How good does my English need to be?

All participants need to have good command of written and spoken English. Doing a lot of mathematics means talking a lot about mathematics.

Has everyone at PROMYS Europe been doing really advanced maths for years before they apply?

No. Some have and some haven't. What they all share is the desire and ability to think deeply about fundamental mathematical principles. The study of Number Theory lends itself particularly well to significant exploration by students from a wide range of mathematical backgrounds. 

Will everyone at PROMYS Europe have won national or international mathematics competitions?

No. Some will have. Some will have participated in competitions but not necessarily done exceptionally well. Some won’t have participated in competitions. PROMYS Europe will draw on, and develop, different mathematical skills and character attributes than are typically drawn on and developed by mathematics competitions.  

Might PROMYS Europe be a good match for me even if I’m not sure if I want to study mathematics at university? 

Absolutely, if you would relish a summer of working really hard on fundamental mathematical questions in a community of others who find mathematics exciting. About 25% of PROMYS alumni choose to enter a PhD programme in mathematics. But alumni in careers as varied as physics, law, psychology, entrepreneurship, computer science, and philosophy (to name just a few) tell us they will always deeply value the mathematical habits of mind they developed at PROMYS. 

Have any applicants been accepted one year after not being accepted the previous year?

Absolutely! This happens quite often. Some of our most successful PROMYS participants were not accepted the first time they applied to the programme. Admissions to PROMYS Europe will operate in the same way.

Does my letter of recommendation have to be from my current maths teacher?

No. It can be from a previous maths teacher, or from a maths club coach, maths professor, or maths team leader.

Is there a minimum age for attendance? Are students graduating from secondary school eligible?

Students must be at least 16 by the first day of the programme. This is an Oxford University requirement. Most PROMYS students are in fact older than 16. Yes, students may attend the summer after they graduate from secondary school.

Do some applicants get answers from websites or adults who want them to go to PROMYS?

Unfortunately, they do. Such assistance is usually pretty transparent, and we will reject your application if we detect any unacknowledged assistance. PROMYS and PROMYS Europe are for students who want to spend a summer struggling with problems far more challenging than those on the application. If you don't enjoy the application problems or cannot make progress on them, then this is not the right summer for you to attend PROMYS. It's not impossible to cheat successfully on your application, but if you have the talent to do that, why not use it more productively? 

Will you give me an early answer on admissions so I can arrange my visa to the UK? 

The timetable should allow enough time for a visa application, but it is a good idea to gather the necessary documentation ahead of the decision so that you can submit your application as soon as you are accepted. It is the responsibility of students to check, and to comply with, any visa regulations which may apply to them. If you are likely to have a problem please let us know us know as soon as possible.

PROMYS and PROMYS Europe

Is PROMYS Europe a new programme or an old programme?

PROMYS Europe was run in Oxford for the first time in 2015.  It is a closely modelled on the programme founded by Professor Stevens, which has run in Boston every summer since 1989.  The full story is told at History of PROMYS Europe

In what ways is PROMYS Europe like PROMYS at Boston University?

PROMYS Europe has the same pedagogical approach, tackles the same fundamental mathematical questions, and has the same goals. Like Boston, Oxford is an intellectual hub which draws talent from around the world. Many of the mathematicians at PROMYS Europe have long associations with PROMYS. We envision two richly connecting and overlapping PROMYS mathematical communities.   

In what ways is PROMYS Europe different from PROMYS at Boston University?

At least initially, PROMYS Europe is smaller, though it has all the elements of the larger programme including the rich variety of mathematical experience represented by the first-year students, the returning students, the counsellors, the research mentors, the faculty, and the visitors. Over time, PROMYS Europe will develop its own traditions to augment and adapt those it inherits from its parent programme.  

And they have some fundamentally different views on pronunciation and spelling (see You Say Po-tay-to and I Say Po-tah-to).

Miscellaneous Questions

I’ll be coming to PROMYS Europe by train/bus; can someone meet me? 

You can request to have a counsellor meet you at the station/terminal, and we will try to accommodate your request.

What should I bring to the programme?

The things on the "what should I bring?" list that we'll send you.

Will we get tours of Oxford colleges?

Faculty and counsellors who attend Oxford will probably want to give you tours of their colleges.

Will counsellors who attend other universities give us tours of their institutions? 

Not during PROMYS Europe, but very possibly later if you visit those universities. 

Can I call home during PROMYS Europe? Can my parents call me?

Of course. (Though your phone should obviously be off during lectures.) There's also email and snail mail. And your parents can call the programme if they have a concern. We know that, for some of you, this will be your first extended time away from home. 

What rules are there at PROMYS Europe?

They’re mostly the ones you’d expect: don’t do anything dangerous or illegal, don’t divide by zero, don’t even try to skip Friday Fun, and don’t give anyone solutions to the problem sets (though collaboration is definitely OK). 

What else will I do at PROMYS Europe besides maths? 

While most of your time will be taken up doing maths, people will do other things for fun at PROMYS Europe too. Counsellors organize Friday Fun and some trips. There will be activities such as a talent search and a dance. Participants will have access to a gym and other facilities. Some students like to take a break by running or walking along the Thames towpath or playing a game of cards or chess. And of course there's lots of friend-making, serious discussion, silly discussion, and the occasional dose of (totally well mannered) mayhem. But really, you'll mostly do maths.

You Say Po-tay-to and I Say Po-tah-to

If Professor Stevens and Professor Cohn are from the U.S., will I pick up an American or an English accent at Oxford?

There is currently insufficient data to answer this question. 

Is it a programme or a program?

Taking local orthography into consideration, we think PROMYS Europe is a programme, and PROMYS is a program.  On both sides of the pond, PROMYS stands for “Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists.”

Will there be counselors or counsellors?  

There might be some of both. And vice versa.

This is important: is it maths or math?

It is mathematics. And we’re all in it together.