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Academic v Corporate Life

  1. Jul 6, 2008 #1
    I've just finished my first year in engineering (Electronics and Electrical), and when I started out, I eventually wanted to do a Phd in mathematics because I soon realized that I loved mathematics and that I can grasp the intricacies without busting my head. I had dreamed of focusing on geometry and the number theory, but after the first year in college, which has not been so great, and several set backs, I'm not so sure anymore.

    On the other hand, my father has been a corporate man for the last 30 years, and is extremely successful (he was the CEO of Sanex in Romania, and now runs his own company), and the way he talks about the corporate life, it seems to be very alluring. The one major difference (I think) between the two lives is, that If I choose the life of an academician, Ill love the work, Ill be content, Ill be at peace (do I sounds as if Im completely out of my mind?), but that it wont be as dynamic as the corporate life.

    Im quite confused, and Im sure I'm misinformed with respect to at least the life of an academician, and anything at all would be helpful at this point.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2008 #2
    I dont know what you were basing your "math talent" on, but in university, more or less every one is on equal footing (minus the few prodigies) because everyone has some talent in it. As an engineer, I should let you know that you have not studied real mathematics. Engineers are applied scientists, so although you may have had fun using integrals to find the center of gravity be warned that this is not mathematics. Real mathematics revolves around proofs and theorems, and arbitrary objects.

    The corporate life is definately more rewarding financially. One major drawback is the long hours, ie. 60+ per week and at times travel. Job security isn't that great either. Academia is a lot longer and more tedius before you actually begin working at a real job. Jobs are very scarce, and so competition is fierce. Not to mention you are not taken seriously unless you have some sort of advanced degree, and even then you have to convince your employer how useful you are.

    Finance is definately more secure, and if you have a father in it connections are key. You can always pursue a business degree with a lot of mathematics. If you don't mind living at home until you are almost 30 then the academia is for you.
  4. Jul 6, 2008 #3


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    I'm note sure what you mean by "dynamic" here. Sure there are professors who lock themselves away from the world and come out only to give lectures and publish a paper or two, but life in academia is essentially what you make it. In engineering especially, you have the opportunity to get involved with industrial partnerships and even form spin-off companies based on the innovations you develop within academic settings.

    If, at the end of undergrad, you're still considering life in academia, I'd say go for it. Apply to grad school, test the water and see how it feels. It's a long road to a tenured position. And the corporate world will still be there in the end if you don't like it.
  5. Jul 6, 2008 #4
    Yes, I want to reiterate, wait until you have taken an upper division course in algebra, differential geometry and or number theory. None of engineering math is real math and it's at most plug and chug applications of differential equations.

    Why not take a linear algebra course with proofs? That's a good course to take to see if you like "real math."
  6. Jul 6, 2008 #5
    I would say that yu don't have to choose, start a company for 50% of your worktime and be in academia the rest.
  7. Jul 6, 2008 #6
    I don't know how realistic that is, especially when being in academia might mean publishing 4-5 papers a year. Especially in math academia. Unless you plan on going to a school more suited towards teaching, but for research uni's, I don't think a lot of professors can run a company.
  8. Jul 6, 2008 #7
    The whole "feel" of math does a 180 when you get out of the required series for engineers. Don't make any rash decisions without knowing what you're getting into
  9. Jul 6, 2008 #8
    Jasonjo: I study at a research University, the teachers are encouraged to "consult" and having contact with the outside world that pays the taxes and sponsor some departments. I actually think you're wrong on this one. Although it depends on departments, some more theoretical departments maybe are more into the theory than bridging the gap between academia and corporations.
  10. Jul 6, 2008 #9
    Where I did my undergrad, the math department seemed completely shut off from the world, the physics department had a whole lot of industrial ties, and the engineering program was, itself, indistinguishable from a corporation.

    I think there's little calling for fundamental math research in industry, though, which makes this kind of sensible.
  11. Jul 6, 2008 #10

    Andy Resnick

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    I've worked both for business and academia. The businesses I was in were contracting, which is a little different than straight corporate, but it's not clear the distinction is that great.

    Here's some positive aspects of corporate work:
    1) You know what you are supposed to be doing
    2) You have a steady paycheck

    Here's some positive aspects of academia:
    1) You get to decide what you want to do
    2) You are immersed in a learning environment

    Here's some negatives of corporate work:
    1) You do what someone tells you to do.
    2) Career advancement not solely based on merit

    Here's some negatives of academia:
    1) You do not have a garunteed paycheck
    2) academic beauracriacies are positively Kafka-esque.
  12. Jul 7, 2008 #11
    Isnt there some way to work in a corporate environment but still be heavily involved in math? My teachers are the ones who've been telling me that I should go for higher math. Ive been told Im good at math for as long as I can remember, and I understand whatever we're studying almost immediately where my classmates have to struggle to understand the same thing. I dont know if that's enough, but generally speaking, whatever class I go to, I do stand out.

    I actually cannot envision giving it up for anything. It also seems to be very unpractical to take it up as a profession, where as in a corporate environment I would at least make a lot more money and have everything that comes with it. My uncle is something like the country manager for Cairn's operations in India, so I have some idea what engineering is about, and in fact, I'd love to do something like that where I get to manage projects like that and use whatever I'm learning at college here, though I know that may take some time.
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