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Career Change- From Music to Math

  1. Jul 4, 2014 #1
    Hello Physics Forums-

    My name is Tyler Cutts, and I am a student at the University of South Florida.

    After some serious career and college thought, I have decided to change my major to Mathematics Education, which covers almost all of the content a Math major would take, as well as a minor in Physics.

    My first year of school and prior training was in Music, specifically being classically trained in the clarinet and piano. However, I decided I was only recreationally interested in music, but didn't have enough professional interest to carry on in music as a career.

    I have taken college level algebra as well as Euclidian geometry and PreCalculus. I take my first Calculus class in the Fall (AP Calculus was not offered to me in high school). Do any of you have advice on the rigors of majoring in math, and what to expect?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 4, 2014 #2


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    Good Choice!

    Math is hard, but Calculus 1 is learnable for sure. Review Pre-Calculus yourself before the semester begins when you study Calculus 1. If you did very, very well in Pre-Calculus, then try to study the early parts of Calculus 1 before the semester starts.

    You should know that "college level algebra" starts at "College Algebra", and that Pre-Calculus contains most of "College Algebra", intended for the Math, Science, Engineering major field students.
  4. Jul 4, 2014 #3
    I just wanted to clarify that teaching has always been my primary goal in life, and I felt that I was ignoring my innate passions and abilities in mathematics and the sciences, which inspired the switch.

    I'm reviewing Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus right now, and will soon start going over the primary Calculus concepts!
  5. Jul 4, 2014 #4
    I would ask how would you know that you would like teaching?

    For me, I was more interested in the math, but I sort of extrapolated from the fact that I enjoy explaining things to myself that I would enjoy explaining it to other people. However, I found it was very, very far from explaining things to myself. So, it was pretty much a disaster when I tried to teach, although tutoring isn't so bad.

    A lot of people run into trouble when they have to take proof-based stuff, like real analysis. So, that is probably the biggest stumbling block, for a math major, although some people don't find it that hard. You have to have a good understanding and think outside the box a little bit to solve the problems.

    I think I can't hold back my obligatory recommendation for Visual Complex Analysis, once you have a start on learning calculus. It's an expensive book, but you might be able to find it at the library, and there are some sample pages available online. I mention it because I attribute a lot of my undergraduate success to reading it. Just gives you the kind of thinking you need to be good at stuff like analysis. In an analysis class, you have to be rigorous, but the before you can be rigorous, it helps to be able to draw some pictures and see how things work intuitively, which is what the book is all about, in addition to demystifying complex numbers and doing calculus with them.

    Just count yourself lucky you don't need to go to grad school to teach high school. Only do that if you are really a glutton for punishment.
  6. Jul 4, 2014 #5
    I know I love teaching due to practical experience. I have served as a music and primary school tutor in the past, and did multiple professional teaching observations as a Music Education major, which was the Music degree I was pursuing previously with a brief time doing Music Performance. I enjoyed the teaching aspects of these observations, but found my mind wandering towards the sciences and mathematics in my music studies.

    I am kind of stuck between doing Mathematics Education and Physics Education, but I know that my future will be in both.
  7. Jul 5, 2014 #6
    My advice is to get an actual math degree such as pure or applied, and not math for teaching. The math for teachers is frowned upon in the workplace especially at CC level teaching positions.
  8. Jul 5, 2014 #7
    In the US getting a pure or applied math degree is not sufficient to teach at a K-12 public school. One needs to go through an education program.
  9. Jul 5, 2014 #8
    You can go through Teach for America which will take you after a regular math or physics degree, get you certified and teaching quickly and often earn a master's in education along the way. I believe it skirts some of the traditional teaching requirements (to the annoyance of the traditional teachers).
  10. Jul 5, 2014 #9
    The purpose of the education classes to build the necessary pedagogy and classroom management techniques that you really need. Since USF requires a significant amount of upper-level courses, I will utilize this requirement to take more of the pure mathematics classes as well as the advanced Physics courses. I've decided I'm doing Physics Education, and taking as much mathematics as possible in order to get certified in both subjects.
  11. Jul 5, 2014 #10

    In california you have to take the cbest or is it cbast to teach.

    Lets say if two people apply for a teaching job at a local community. One got an actual degree in math (pure or applied) and the other one in math for teaching. Guess who is going to be hired? There is a reason why the apllied/pure degrees are hardwr then the teachibg route.

    As well as getting certified for the subject u are teaching.

    Now if for some reason he cannot get a teaching job. He can fall back on his actual math degree and work in another fiels untill there is an oppening. Try that with a math for teachers degree.

    Now let's go further into what it means to be a teachet.

    The king of texcoco said:he is a wiseman. His are thr red and black inks. He gives people a heart and face.

    Poem is extremely long but it explains the difference between a wiseman and a quak.

    He would be doing his students a disservice if he is teaching with a math for teachers degree.

    How is he going to understand what a limit is. Etc.

    Have you even looked at the course outline for actual math degrees and matj for teachers? It is a joke.

    One doez not go into teaching for money. One goes into teaching because he has polished his craft and wants to share his knowledgr with a new generation.
  12. Jul 5, 2014 #11
    It would be the other way around for teaching in HS and below. You realize for HS and below the people who will be in charge of hiring are people with masters/phds in education (principals/admins). You are diminishing the value of pedagogy outside of college teaching and it doesnt take a huge leap to guess where graduates in education are going to stand in that regards.
  13. Jul 5, 2014 #12
    Math isn't that great for non-teaching jobs. A math major getting a job has more to do with their networking and non-math skills than what they actually studied. The fact that they majored in math is probably almost incidental in many cases. So, I'll stick with my opinion that it's not that great of a major. The people who say it is are overlooking the fact that their success is mainly due to their job-search stunts, rather than their major.

    Hopefully, within a few months, I'll get a job as a programmer or something and then people will able to point at me and say, look what you can do with a math PhD, ignoring the fact that the only relevance of the PhD was to prove that I was smart, and actually, I could have saved all the effort by just learning programming from the beginning, skipping the whole math PhD step, as far as jobs are concerned (this doesn't mean it's crystal clear that that's what I should have done--I gained things from grad school in other ways, although I do think it wasn't quite worth it).

    So, if you want to have a plan B, math vs math ed will be far less important than job-search skills, getting internships, networking, and maybe a few programming classes. I have a PhD in math and it's pretty close to being worthless for finding a job because I didn't have internships, I'm not good at networking, and I don't have a super-specific skill-set that will allow me to start producing right off the bat.
  14. Jul 6, 2014 #13


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    homeomorphic, to a certain degree I agree with what you state above, to the extent that a math major on its own (please note the bold) is not that great a major if you are specific looking for non-academic work (again note the bold). However, as I've posted before, a math education can serve as a solid foundation for career prospects in many different areas if you gain other skills at the same time. For example, many math majors I know double-majored or minored in other degree programs, e.g. computer science, economics, statistics, actuarial studies, accounting, operations research, physics, chemistry, engineering. These people have often found it quite easy to find lucrative careers in various areas. I myself am a math major who pursued a MS in statistics and have been working in that field.

    I do agree with you that networking and non-math skills are very important for math majors to have the best chance at finding employment. That being said, I would argue that this is the case with most university majors, since the vast majority of university majors are not that good at preparing their graduates for non-academic employment.
  15. Jul 6, 2014 #14
    I don't think all of those would be very safe--for example, physics. I have minors in CS and EE. It's better than nothing, but it doesn't make it easy. The EE isn't very helpful because they want the whole major.

    Maybe still important for other majors, just not as much. So, if you aren't good at/dislike that sort of thing, I would recommend engineering, computer science, statistics, maybe something like nursing, and I don't know what else. I don't know what the high school math teacher market is like.
  16. Jul 8, 2014 #15


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    A good friend of mine pursued a double-major in math and physics, with the equivalent of a minor in computer science, eventually finishing a PhD in applied math. He's now working as a bioinformatics researcher for one of the largest teaching hospitals in Canada. Another friend of mine finished her degree in math and pursued post-grad studies in accounting and is working as an accountant.

    I know of many math majors who minored in CS who ended up getting lucrative work in IT/software development (and I'm including recent graduates as well, not just graduates from over a decade ago when I graduated from the MS program). And I don't think my anecdotal examples are at all atypical (unfortunately, I don't have the unemployment rates for graduates of math programs in Canada, where I live).

    As for minoring in engineering, most universities in Canada do not offer engineering minors for non-engineering students. The University of Waterloo does offer a program called "applied mathematics with engineering electives" which is more of a double major of sorts between applied math and engineering (not sure how much graduates of this program are in demand).

  17. Jul 8, 2014 #16

    jim mcnamara

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    Changing majors is not necessarily a bad thing - John Bahcall started out majoring in Philosophy, then went on to Physics and to head up the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton.


    Doing something that has deep interest for you generally results in your doing well. Or at least better than you would have done than if had gotten a BA within some curricula that you chose into for monetary reasons only.
  18. Jul 10, 2014 #17
    I have decided to do the Physics Education track, and will take all of the undergraduate level physics courses that USF offers. Besides finishing the Calculus track to Calculus III, what other math courses (let's go with a maximum of 4) would you deem useful to a Physics major? Just like a top 4 of math courses a Physics major might find useful that aren't offered usually in a BS track.
  19. Jul 10, 2014 #18
    Typically a physics undergraduate needs a differential equations and linear algebra course (beyond the calc sequence). Sometimes these are the required classes, sometimes its a sort of "math methods" class for physics majors that encompasses these subjects. A little bit of partial differential equations/fourier analysis is often included in a math methods course. Beyond that, I think some statistics would be good too.

    If I had to suggest four math classes beyond the calc sequence for a physics undergrad it would be linear algebra, differential equations, partial differential equations/fourier analysis and statistics.
  20. Jul 13, 2014 #19
    But my claim is not that you can't get a job with a math major. Just that it requires a job-search stunt, especially with just a plain math major. Also, your math and physics example includes CS background.
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