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I'm on my last semester of a math B.Sc. and about to start studying for a math M.Sc in the same institute. It now seems like a good time to start thinking of a PhD.

I'm interested in both algebra and algorithms. So I read a little in some computational algebra books (comp. group theory to be precise) and it looks like a great choice for me.

My questions: 1. Is this a "hot topic" in mathematics? Are there many serious people researching it? 2. Where are the major places in the world to research comp. algebra and to get a PhD?

Thank you!

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

The first piece of advice I would give you is not to prematurely limit yourself to a narrow area, unless your M.Sc only takes a year. If it takes at least two years, then you will still learn plenty of exciting mathematics before you have to make a reasonably definitive choice. If you are thinking of doing a PhD in the states, then even the PhD itself is so long, that being at a generally strong department might be more beneficial than to have an isolated area of expertise around you.

Having said that, if you are interested in computation mathematics of an algebraic nature (computational group theory, number theory, geometry, more general algebra), then a natural choice would be some place where one of the big computer algebra packages is being developed. The sites I list below also provide a good list of contributors, which will help you in choosing a shortlist of possible advisors. Some examples include

  1. MAGMA in Sydney
  2. GAP in various places; this one is particularly focused on group theory
  3. PARI/GP in Bordeaux
  4. SAGE in Washington, whose site also provides a nice map of where the developers are based. Thanks to Suvrit for fixing this unforgivable omission.

If I can think of more, I will add them here, but these should give you a good place to start. You can also browse through some of the dedicated journals, like the Journal of symbolic computation or the LMS Journal of computation and see who the prolific contributors are. Reading some of those articles might also help you decide whether this is what you want to do.

As for your question whether this is a "hot topic", that's harder to answer. It certainly is in the places mentioned above and in various others, where there are strong computational algebra groups, but I know of some places where this area of mathematics is frowned upon by the more theoretical community. But I suppose that that's probably true of almost any area of mathematics and you shouldn't let that deter you.

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Might I add: William Stein's group at UW? – Suvrit Nov 12 '10 at 11:47
Thank you for this helpful answer. I definitely understand your advice to choose a generally strong department. I was hoping there is a strong department which also has people in comp. algebra. I will check the departments in Sydney, Bordeaux and Washington to try to understand if they qualify by these criteria. I guess this field suffers reputation-wise because it's somewhere on the border of comp. sci and mathematics as they're defined today. – uuu Nov 12 '10 at 12:11
I purposefully didn't discuss the reasons for the disregard the area sometimes receives, to keep the answer objective. But since you are speculating on this, here is my 2 pence: one could say that the ultimate aim of mathematics is to enhance our understanding of the (mathematical) world around us. I guess that some people don't feel that writing algorithms directly contributes to this aim. While even that point of view is not easy to defend, it is unquestionable that computation is often very helpful in formulating conjectures, so is an important step on the way to theoretical understanding. – Alex B. Nov 12 '10 at 12:21
Don't forget Kaiserslautern and Singular. – Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson Nov 12 '10 at 20:16
First, having a special interest is a distinct plus in graduate school (as long as you do not get too "narrow minded"). Second, a list of the places that are producing good software is not necessarily a list of the places where you'll find good supervisors who are leaders in the area of computational algebra. Look at where the graduates are going. – Chris Godsil Feb 6 '11 at 15:51


For computational algebra, I think there are some more places. You may want to look at

Symbolic Computation Group in Waterloo University (Canada).

Research Institute for Symbolic Computations in Linz (Austria)

Computer Algebra in Kaiserlaustern (Germany), where Singular is

Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Computational Algebra (University of St Andrews, UK).

CoCoA Sytem : Computations in Commutative Algebra.(Italy)

Macaulay2 : Computations in Algebraic Geometry and Commutative Algebra. (USA)

Moreover, I think in US, there are also some other places, like UIUC, North Carolina State Univ. . .

I hope those information may be useful.

Good luck.



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Some other suggestions:

The University of Auckland (Eamonn O'Brien and Marston Conder)

The University of Warwick (Derek Holt)

I did my MSc with Eamonn O'Brien and my PhD with Derek Holt, and can recommend them both as supervisors. You are welcome to contact me by email (which you can find on my website) if you have any specific questions about either university.

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This might not directly answer your question, but there are a couple of books in the "Lecture Notes in Computer Science" series which are a collection of papers in Applicable/Applied algebra. I am including google books links for these. This might give you an idea of the kind of work taking place in these areas and the people involved. In recent times, I think, there have been a good number commutative algebraists, algebraic geometers, number theorists and combinatorialists working parallel in these areas.

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