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Becoming a Math Professor?

  1. Aug 3, 2014 #1
    Hey PF. I was wondering if anyone could talk about become a Math Professor for me. My physics professors saying physics professorships are very competitive, is Math the same way?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 3, 2014 #2


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    In the US at least, many or most colleges and universities require all their students to take some math, but not physics, so there is more need for instructors for lower-level math courses than for physics courses. Of course, these can be adjunct or instructor-level positions rather then tenure-track professor-level positions, so I don't know how it works out in practice as far as the demand for professors is concerned.
  4. Aug 4, 2014 #3
    I want to start my long quest to become a Math Professor at age 24

    I want to start my long quest to become a Math Professor at age 24. Is it too late?
  5. Aug 4, 2014 #4


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    I won't say it's an easy or likely outcome, but Edward Witten started math/physics only when he was 23 (at 20, he had finished a history degree, and worked in politics for a while).
  6. Aug 4, 2014 #5


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    Two threads have been merged since they are on the same topic.
  7. Aug 4, 2014 #6
    Not quite true. Witten's father was a physicist and apparently talked physics with him.

    My sense is that there's generally more demand for math professors than physics, but there's still a big over-supply and it's very competitive, just not as much as physics.

    What do you "start"? That could mean anything. It's not too late per se, but you have to be really hardcore about math for it to be a good idea. I like to use the pizza analogy. Saying that you like math enough to get a PhD in it is like saying you like pizza so much that you want someone to lock you in a room with 20 extra large pizzas and to not let you out until you have eaten them in one sitting.
  8. Aug 5, 2014 #7
    I'd extend the metaphor for accuracy- "I like math enough to get a phd" = "I like pizza so much that the only thing I want to do for the next decade is make, and then immediately consume pizzas one after another as I hone my craft. "
  9. Aug 5, 2014 #8


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    homeomorphic and ParticleGrl, while there is certainly a large element of truth on your metaphor about "liking math to get a PhD", how exactly is this any different than pursuing a PhD in any other field?

    To the OP: I think homeomorphic is quite correct about the overall supply-vs-demand for math professors. I would add that the demand for mathematicians in academia may differ between different branches of math. For example, I would suspect (although I don't have the data on hand to back this up) that there is a greater demand in academia for those with a background in applied math than those who specialized in pure math (particularly those with a background in computational math, optimization or probability).

    Related to this is the overall greater demand for economists, statisticians, industrial engineers/operations researchers and computer scientists in academia (since all four fields are heavy users of math, and it is not unheard of for applied math PhDs to find themselves pursuing research in any of these fields).
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2014
  10. Aug 5, 2014 #9
    Let me restate my question properly: I'm 24 years old and have only taken my calculus courses and one semester of differential equations. Let's say that hypothetically I'm not delusional and have the intelligence necessary to complete advanced graduate school courses. I guess my question is how turned off would universities be by the fact that I was so far beyond in terms of experience/research/everything age-wise, comparing myself to an 18 year old who starts graduate school at 22.

    Is age a big deal?

    Also, how much does the fact that i'm social and likable (well geez I am) factor into the ability to get a job?
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2014
  11. Aug 5, 2014 #10


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    Your age wouldn't matter at all. Just about everyone will be in their early to mid 30s by the time they apply for their first permanent position, and at that age a few years more or less is insignificant.

    Good social skills is obviously a plus, but is perhaps not as important as in many other professions. Being a good teacher can help quite a lot but having good social skills does not automatically mean that you are a good teacher (and sometimes the opposite is true)
  12. Aug 5, 2014 #11
    Yeah, you could apply it to any other field. You have to be pretty hardcore to do a PhD in anything.

    That seems to be true for at least some of those fields. The reason why is that industry take a lot of those guys away, I think. There was some conversation I overheard at a math conference about how statisticians were harder to keep around than pure math guys because they were more in demand.
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