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Math Applied Math PhD Industry Job Prospects

  1. Nov 19, 2012 #1
    Hi guys,

    I'm about to finish my Bachelor's in Mathematics and Statistics and am currently applying to PhD programs in Applied Math/Scientific Computing. My research interests are in PDEs, Numerical Analysis, and Fluid Dynamics.

    However, I am a little hesitant about proceeding because I'm worried about my competitiveness in the job market after obtaining my doctorate. I know how tough it is to get an academic position, so I'm afraid that I won't be able to find an industry job if I study Applied Math.

    So what kind of industry positions do Applied Mathematics PhDs get after they graduate? I plan on focusing on computational problems in my field, so I hope that my computing knowledge will be useful. I also will have my Stats undergrad degree, but I don't know if that will be relevant in 5 years when I've completed grad school.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 3, 2012 #2
    I don't really have anything to add. I'm in a similar position - I now have my MS in applied math and am trying to decide if I want to stay on for my PhD
  4. Dec 4, 2012 #3
    I'd also like to see some replies from people that have experience with this matter.

    tjackson3, have you already spoken to any faculty members about this? I know that's not always the best advice, as professors may not have much knowledge or experience outside of academia; that isn't always the case, though, and one might hope that it's a bit less true in applied mathematics.
  5. Dec 4, 2012 #4
    I've talked to a few professors about this, but none of them know anything outside academia. That was part of what made me want to leave - that academic disconnect with the outside world
  6. Dec 5, 2012 #5
    That is the best advice possible in general. You need to see if professors do have industry connections because if they don't then obviously your chances of getting an industry job goes down. I searched hard to find a professor that had legit industry connections and now that I've found one, I'm confident that when I graduate (physics phd) I'll have some serious job prospects.

    Ask your potential advisers straight up what their alumni are doing now, the professors of the alumni that are doing great things will rave about it, whether in industry or academia. A real adviser would want the best for their students and would be proud to tell others about their previous minions doings. Most professors are horrible liars and if a direct question is asked to them, you'll immediately see if things are bad, then you know to stay away. After you find some potential advisers, contact their previous students and then ask them the role their adviser played in them getting a job.

    Let's be straight here, everyone wants to study what they want for a PhD but if there's little chance of a pay off then that's going to be discouraging in the end. That's why I'm treating the PhD as an opportunity cost problem. Just to give you an idea, I originally wanted to do "beyond the standard model" type stuff in grad school, but after emailing several professors across a handful of schools, I quickly found out that that was a dead end in terms of jobs. So I opened my choices and found something different (theoretical AMO) with a very good adviser. Still theory but with a chance of a technical career at the end, not insurance, IT, or the like.
  7. Dec 5, 2012 #6
    Hmm, that's interesting. The professors I spoke to, I asked them more generally what applied math PhDs are doing in industry, not theirs in particular, but I imagine that their own students would be the first examples to come to mind. Maybe that's a good reason to get out of the program unless I can find other would-be advisers who have some proven industry success with their students. The trouble is that money is hard to come by around here, so it feels like I may have to settle for someone less than stellar. That seems like a waste of time for me.

    Your experience is useful for me to know, and I'm glad you found a good adviser! I wish I had good resources like that to find out about technical careers in my field
  8. Dec 5, 2012 #7
    I have a PhD in physics and I now work in an R&D department of a big company (numerical analysis, fluid dynamics, CFD basically). We have a lot of academic partnerships: we have some interns, some master students and some PhD students. It's quite uncommon here actually to stop after your Bachelor degree, most students pursue a masters and then go to industry or whatever. This culture might differ from country to country, but I have the impression that this is the case at least in most of western Europe. We regularly hire people from this pool of students by the way. Also, both of my supervisors and most of my direct colleagues have PhD's. So I definitely see career opportunities for PhD's outside of academia. For some jobs, it's even required (it was required for my previous job).

    That said, it's good to check what the needs in industry are. Taking fluid dynamics as an example: industry does not want somebody that knows how to perform a renormalization group analysis. They want somebody who knows fluent, cfx or openfoam. But having experience with CFD packages are just 'door-openers' - you have experience with something they want you to use, so you get hired (or at least invited). The more important thing is that as a PhD you have a good understanding of the subject. You don't just perform some calculations, you also know why you have to perform them, you know how to interpret the results, you can propose clever design changes, etc.
    And you're smart, you so can do it all in 2 days. There are many non-academic positions for fluid dynamics experts that require a 'deep understanding' of the subject - just look at cfd-online.com to get a small sample of what's out there. And I think a PhD degree is like a testimony saying you either already have a deep understanding (at least on some subject), or you are quite capable of creating it on-the-job.

    If you really want to stay in academia, then that's possible too, but you should be prepared to do 2-3 postdocs, preferably in Europe, Australia AND the US, with well-known professors in well-known groups (Berkeley, Sydney, Imperial college,..) and publish ... or perish.

    hope this helps a bit...
  9. Dec 5, 2012 #8
    By the way, I worked as a postdoc in an applied mathematics department (numerical fluid dynamics). I don't think the situation in applied mathematics is much different from say applied physics or mechanical engineering. People that are 'good' and have a substantial professional social network, a subset of which consists of potential employers, will know less unemployment. Note that just being 'good' is not enough.
  10. Dec 5, 2012 #9
    Hmm, that's really interesting and a lot to think about. Do you think MS grads are at any substantial disadvantage in terms of salary and employment compared to PhD grads? I have no desire whatsoever to stay in academia, even to get a PhD unless it seems like it would help me down the road. One area that it would help me to have a PhD, which speaks to your last post, is that I really failed to do professional networking as an undergrad. Staying on as a PhD, as undesirable as it is to me, would give me a chance to do more networking I suppose.

    Thanks for your input! :)
  11. Dec 6, 2012 #10
    The advantage in industry of doing a PhD is comparable to the advantage of following a management traineeship at a company. It will give you certain skills and perhaps some starting advantage. But if you don't use it, this advantage will disappear over time.
    Also, in some countries/cultures/companies, having a PhD will not give you any advantage whatsoever.

    You can easily check if a PhD in applied mathematics is for you by answering the following 3 questions:

    1. Do you sometimes wake up at 4 pm on Sunday afternoon with 'PYFGCRT' imprinted on your forehead because you fell asleep on your keyboard while debugging a 10,000 line lisp program?
    2. Are your hobbies 'mathematics', 'chess', and 'reading'?
    3. Do you feel annoyed because I have written lisp instead of Lisp or LISP, and did you mutter 'idiot' because one of the letters in 'PYFGCRT' is wrong?

    if you answered these questions in binary, then please consider doing a PhD. You will feel quite at home.
  12. Dec 6, 2012 #11
    Hahaha somehow, I didn't answer those questions in binary, though I would have done before grad school. That's the thing - I feel like grad school has crushed a lot of my spirit, but I'm willing to go through it if it'll substantially help me
  13. Dec 9, 2012 #12
    I lol'd. I'm finishing a PhD in theoretical physics, which is not the same thing, except it really is, sort of, if one assigns a sufficiently coarse topology. My answers:

    1. No. But I do sometimes wake up at 4pm on Sunday afternoon, slap my forehead, and say things like "Duh! I don't need to exponentiate by diagonalization if ##\max_{t \in [0,T]}\big[ h ||\hat{G}(t)||^2 \big] \leq 1##."

    10. ##\mathcal{H} =## { math, chess, reading } ##\cup## { game theory, digital signal processing }

    11. I was a bit confused; I thought it should be M,JKLUIO, so I was trying to remember if PYFGCRT is a NumPy function. Apparently we fall asleep on keyboards with opposite chirality.
  14. Dec 14, 2012 #13
    Grad school can do that and that's why I think it's your vital task to find out if the PhD will be worth it or not. I got into grad school after working about 4 years after my undergrad so I got (get) to see some of my friends that went straight into grad school and what the outcome was. For some, things are great (professorships, post-docs, technical industry jobs), for others.. not so good. A lot of the ones that didn't get a good job or post doc had to go back and get some type of certification mostly in accounting or IT. I don't know anyone that's doing bad but I don't think they envisioned themselves working in their current jobs.

    The reason I'm getting a PhD is to get a technical job that requires me to be challenged every single day. I also want to enjoy what I'm studying but I became flexible once I understood what was happening with jobs afterwards. If you want to know the pay off at the end you need to ask specifics about these professors alumni. If these professors are avoiding giving you specifics of their previous students then things probably aren't going so well. Anyone can give a list of the jobs that applied math people get because it is a versatile degree but you're kidding yourself if you think *all* those options are available upon graduation.
  15. Dec 15, 2012 #14
    That is certainly worrying. Your experience in particular makes me think that at the very least, it might be a good idea to leave for awhile but not to swear off grad school completely
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