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Advice for a freshman math major?

  1. Jul 25, 2015 #1
    Hey guys!

    I'm going to be a freshman at Stony Brook next month, and I was wondering if anybody could give me some advice.

    1. What are some things I should start doing as soon as possible to ensure that I get into a decent graduate school?

    2. As of now, I am interested in mathematical logic (in particular reverse mathematics) and, it would be a dream if I could get a job in academia to follow my interests. However, I think its better to accept reality and play it safe. That being said, are there any specializations in pure math that are useful in the industry? (Preferably not anything with number theory)

    3. Should I double major in something marketable like computer science or would a minor suffice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 25, 2015 #2
    Stony Brook is a good school. Work hard, get As in all your math classes.
  4. Jul 25, 2015 #3


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    Hey, welcome to the forums.

    I would talk to the counselors at Stony Brook and seek their advice, making it clear that you intend to pursue post graduate education in mathematics.

    A cursory look at their websites indicates their math program includes some degree of computer literacy. So a double major/minor in computer science might be beneficial/easier. They also apparently offer a honors program for junior and seniors. Have you taken the math placement exam that's offered?

    Math degrees are employable, but it depends on how you sell yourself. You can attempt to intern during the summers to gain work experience, many federal agencies offer summer internships for STEM students. There use to be an ARMDEC facility somewhat near there I believe, not sure if it's still there or not but... http://www.amrdec.army.mil/AMRDEC/CareersOutreach/StudentEmployment.aspx

    Again, go talk to your counselors for more directed advice, they get paid for that and know the programs better. :)
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2015
  5. Jul 26, 2015 #4
    If you do a little search for job openings on Monster or elsewhere on the web, you'll see that the job situation is pretty bleak for anyone expecting to be able to use much graduate level math in industry, aside from places like Microsoft research and so on, which are probably more competitive than academia. Expect not to use much if any graduate level math. Probability might be a good choice, though, if you had to stay pure, which I can't exactly say I would recommend. You might at least consider studying computer science or engineering instead because there are fairly mathematical areas you can specialize in.

    Look into information theory, coding theory, machine learning, image processing/computer vision, signal processing, control theory, or financial math if you want to find useful, yet deep math (another big one here is cryptography, but you aren't interested in number theory).

    I think a computer science double major would be a definite advantage, but I guess you might have to weigh extra time and classes and money vs better job prospects.

    Judging from the stats I have seen, there might be a little over a 50% chance of being able to continue after a PhD, but you run the risk of getting stuck in postdocland, which is the biggest bottleneck. Not sure what the stats are there, but you are right that you can't count on becoming a professor at a research department. I'm not sure it's THAT hard to become a math professor if you are open to any old department, if you can make a good case for your teaching ability.
  6. Jul 26, 2015 #5


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    You have a wonderful opportunity there at Stony Brook, judging from the faculty directory.. There are Fields medalists there and on down the line. Talk to your advisor by all means. And maybe try to meet some other people, both younger and older, like Sam Grushevsky or Rob Lazarsfeld or Irwin Kra or John Milnor or Simon Donaldson. Even if they are busy, if you make an appointment and just say you would appreciate some advice, and what your goals are, it could be very useful. Good luck, and enjoy! What a marvellous place.
  7. Jul 27, 2015 #6


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    To the OP:

    Since you're only a freshman, I would advise you not to be too focused on any one area of math, but instead try to take as wide a variety of courses as possible in different areas of both pure and applied math (btw, any particular reason against number theory?)

    My general advice for any math major is to also include at least some computer science courses (so that you can develop capabilities in programming, since almost any type of quantitative or math-related job will involve some programming), some probability and statistics courses, at least a first year introductory physics course (since much of modern mathematics ultimately have its roots in the physical world), and an introductory economics course (since much of economics research is based out of math). I'm not sure that you necessarily need to double major in computer science to be employable (a minor should be sufficient), but I will say that a computer science degree and a math degree do complement each other rather well, so don't be dissuaded from considering this.
  8. Jul 27, 2015 #7
    Thanks for taking the time to give me advice guys ^^ I guess I will talk with my advisor as well and see if I can connect with the people that mathwonk mentioned.

    Yeah, that is what I plan to do, especially considering that I'm still relatively naive and that my interests will probably change heavily over four years. I am probably a bit biased as the person who first introduced me to pure math specialized in modal logic. As for why I don't like number theory, I'm guessing its probably because number theoretical problems on math contests have always given me trouble and dissuaded me from discrete math. That, and I find the non-discrete world to be much more interesting. (Logic being the only exception)
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