1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Math Advice for a recent math grad who wants to change field

  1. May 8, 2009 #1

    I have recently completed an undergraduate degree in math, I didn't really take any particular focus in my degree so I'm reasonably well experienced in applied, pure and computational math. I also studied a little physics and computer science but not enough to take a minor.

    However after doing some research projects and papers I have realized that pure math (including purely applied math) topics are not for me, at least within an academic context. I was hoping to use my skills to branch into a new field.. but I'm not sure if my interests really relate to math at all. I would also like to avoid spending all day at a computer.

    I like to read blogs about law, economics and science and I have always fancied the idea of doing electronic or robotic engineering but I have no idea how to get into any of these fields without really starting all over again. I have heard that there are plenty of fields open to math graduates such as law but I don't know where to find information on this.

    Any help on how to find this kind of information would be very much appreciated.. or even other career suggestions, I like to keep active so maybe I should be doing completely outside of these fields.

    Thanks a lot everyone.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 8, 2009 #2
    apply to grad schools for engineering. they'll make you take undergrad engineering classes but who cares, you'll be payed for, taken care of, and learning.
  4. May 8, 2009 #3
    Thanks for the advice ice. I'm not from the USA (I'm from NZ) so I don't really know where are the best places to apply for post grad engineering, could you possibly suggest a few resources or schools?
  5. May 9, 2009 #4
    Go into business for yourself! Use this exercise:

    1) make a list of the top 10-20 things you like to do (don't constrain yourself by what sounds practical)

    2) make a list of your top 10-20 talents/core competencies

    3) Devise a method of monetizing either 1) or 2) or both combined. Aristotle once said, "where the needs of the world and your talents meet, there lies your true profession..." - that's a way of figuring out using the numbered approach above.

    Since you are quantitatively oriented, look at starting some sort of internet based businesses as well. This is one of the secret best ways ever to monetize one's intellectual capital. Focus on building a system - something that runs when you aren't there.

    It always boggles my mind when smart people just don't think out of the box (not referring to you, I'm saying there's more than one way to skin a cat, grad school doesn't have to be your only option - I know I have 2 graduate degrees and only learned this stuff AFTERWARD).

    Put it to you this way mate, are you aware that there are approx. 8765 hours in a year? If you sleep on average 8 hours a day, you are talking approx. 5824/year in awake time a year. TIME IS THE ONLY NON-RENEWABLE RESOURCE, SO YOU SHOULD TREAT IT LIKE YOUR MOST VALUABLE ASSET (caps intended...)

    Figure out what kind of lifestyle you wish to live ($250k/year?, $500k/yr?, $5 mil/year, etc) and divide that number by either of the hourly figures mentioned above.

    That will tell you how valuable a service you have to offer the market to live the lifestyle you wish - set about developing those specific skill sets and it will work wonders in your life.

    As an example, let's say you want a $1M/yr lifestyle. $1m/5824 (I use this one in my own goal setting because I love to sleep, lol). That works out to about $172 hr. So, instead of looking around for just any job, or randomly applying to umpteen grad schools, say to yourself, "with my list of core competencies, how can I package my talents such that I can command at least $172hr??"

    You say you're good at math right? Well maybe you can create some financial models that you sell to financial institutions. Or, you say you like reading blogs, start a website. Your website will need to generate approx. $2,740/day to meet your example yearly income goals. That may seem like a lot, but that is very doable if you set about it in the manner listed here....

    These are just some thoughts. Good luck with your search. Remember to think out of the box. IMHO, traditional education falls quite short often times. Education should not just prepare the plebian masses for employment with the landowners or the schools they support; rather it should teach individuals whole-brain integrated learning skills (i.e. left AND right brain) and instruct them how to identify their talents and MONETIZE these talents in a manner that enables them to life the life they so desire (whether it's a traditional 9 to 5 environment, being a solopreneur, running a large start up, or whatever...)
  6. May 12, 2009 #5
    thanks for your comments/suggestions swat4life, you make some interesting points.

    I am aware that grad school is not the only option and I have thought of doing things like working on my own simulations that I can sell to various companies but after looking into it, it always seemed a bit beyond my current level of experience, maybe something for the future.

    I guess the key problem I have with your philosophy is that your key goal is 'monetize' while this is not something I am incredibly concerned with. Of course having a reasonable income is important but an expensive lifestyle is not my primary concern. Of course though, It does play some role as you do have to somehow support yourself and hopefully eventually a family and perhaps parents ect ect.

    What I really want advice on is how to CHANGE FIELDS. I am good at math, but like I've said I'm not enjoying it. I was hoping to hear some options for using skills I have learnt in other areas/fields/jobs.

    Thanks though, I appreciate your input and I completely agree that education should focus on teaching individuals whole-brain integrated learning skills.
  7. May 12, 2009 #6
    ...As you like. But it's a little odd/funny to me that the most salient thing you perceived from what I said was "how to live an expensive lifestyle.....".

    The crucial point of what I was saying was probably more philosophical than *practical* and I'll grant you that. What I'm saying is rather than ponder how to "switch fields" as such, have you actually sat down and said to yourself "what do I really, really, really want to do"?

    This could be devising new mathematical models on virus growth in 3rd world countries....
    This could be teaching poor Maori children algebra....
    This could be developing multivariable equation models for trading exotic interest rate options....
    This could be sailing around the world 6 months out of the year....
    This could be following the All Blacks around each season to see every game they play....

    The list goes on and on. So, instead of contort oneself to fit a "job" in a particular "field", you do what you REALLY WANT TO DO IN LIFE. Instead of making your "lifestyle" fit your job or career, you decide what kind of lifestyle you want **first and create an income source to match your lifestyle goals so that you can focus all your time (your most precious asset) on your life's work/desire....

    I'm assuming because of the question you have just asked, you are like 96% of the people on the planet and you are currently exchanging one of your limited 686,400 life hours (equal to the life expectancy of about 75 years) for money - never understood that paradigm but that's me....

    By separating one's income source from one's life work, it gives one UNLIMITED OPTIONS for professional development and the quality of life of kings....

    At any rate, I'll bid you godspeed and I am sure someone will answer with the more traditional response you desire...

    Best of luck!
  8. May 12, 2009 #7
    I'm sorry reading your response again I do see that I misread is a bit. All the talk of 'monetizing' made me think this was your primary concern but I can see you are just trying to point out that you can figure out what to do AND THEN 'MONETIZE', which is quite different.

    You are ENTIRELY right. I complete agree that once should figure out what they want to do and then build their life and job ect around that instead of fitting what they want to do in their spare time after the 9-5 shift at work.

    The problem I have is, I have no idea what I want to do, I can rule a few things out but that doesn't really get me anywhere. I suppose I always though that going to university ect was a way to learn and try and find my passions while at the same time getting a qualification which will open doors. I was hoping to know what my passion was by now (I'm 21) but I don't.

    I suppose in a way grad school is a way of delaying the question 'what do I really want to do in life?' but I'm not quite sure how to answer it right now.

    Thank you very much for your advice, its very good to have a fresh perspective on the whole issue.
  9. May 13, 2009 #8
    @TheBigCow -try the exercise I first mentioned, i.e. 1) What do you feel most passionate about or what do you do for fun/or as a hobby and 2) What are you really good at?

    The trick is to free yourself for societal restrictions and not think about "what is reasonable", "respectable", "practical", "logical", "rational" or "makes since".

    An example is an accountant who hates his job but loves, loves, loves scrabble and is bloody good at it. Do you know there are people who travel around the world and make a comfortable 6 figure a year salary just playing scrabble?

    Another is "sleeping". Do you know there are people who love sleeping and actually make a living doing this? Forgive me for being presumptuous but almost always, people know what they like doing but they often discount it because they say "oh that doesn't make any sense and it is not practical".

    Don't get me wrong, I am a big advocate of education (as mentioned before I have several advanced degrees). However, I have and do mentor alot of young people who are very bright and time and time again I see western school systems failing students.

    By that I mean most of what I have just written to you here you will NEVER SEE WRITTEN OR DISCUSSED in any of the top tier schools and I have attended many of them and/or have friends, family members, colleagues, etc. who have. I'm not being a braggart here, I'm just telling you this because I have EXPERIENCED THIS and it's something I actually feel quite passionate about (having sat on boards myself, plus done outreach work, etc).

    I think so much of society's intellectual assets are under-utilized because people, through cookie-cutter education systems - are forced to contort themselves into certain career tracks like they are cirque-de-soleil performers.

    So, to get you thinking, I would sit down one day with a nice glass of wine or a beer (loosen yourself up and help engage your right brain - esp. important if you are a mathematician) and activate your creative and intuitive faculties into getting a clearer sense of what you want.

    Don't become a victim of runaway logic and reason. Successful people learn to turn off at times those left-brained intellectual capacities in order to see things that would normally not be so obvious. I have a feeling that if you look deep inside you probably know exactly what you want to do but have probably dismissed that voice because it doesn't sound "logical" or "reasonable".

    Stated different, it is my contention that the "right" answer is within you (no one knows you better than yourself) and you should trust that voice more than you do anything on the outside. Once you have some idea, you can come back and get more "practical" advice - whether it's studying at Cambridge or Cal Tech (the Cantabs are a bit boring but that's another story, lol - j/k).

    Since this is a physics forum I will leave you with a few quotes from Mr. Einstein:

    “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

    “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

    “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

    Also, I would buy any and all books by John Assaraf (his latest book is described here http://www.readtheanswer.com/).

    What I learned from him (a high school drop out at one point) contributed exponentially more to the quality of life I now enjoy than anything I learned at Oxford or other institutions. So, if you have a chance, pick up his book.

    Try to suspend much of what you have probably learned up to this point because his writing is describing the path to the top 1% or .01% of society so naturally it will be vastly different from what the average person (in the 99% bracket thinks).

    If you do happen to read his work and it benefits your life, the only thing I ask is that you "pass it on" to another soul for the benefit of humanity.

    Good luck with it!
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook