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Math Careers for a Math Ph. D. grad

  1. Sep 14, 2008 #1


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    I am currently a high school sophomore and am pretty good in mathematics and I have a great passion for it. I'm considering studying pure mathematics in college and probably study until I get a Ph.D. in mathematics.

    I'm just wondering, what kinds of jobs out there are available for math phds? And I'm hearing that the salaries can reach up to a six-digit figure dollars a year!!! Is there any truth to that statement?

    umm I also want to know which universities here in the U.S. (preferably California) are good mathematics schools...I already dreamed enough of going to MIT (Mass.) but I highly doubt that I would be able to get in.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 14, 2008 #2
    Well, it is possible for someone with a PhD in mathematics to reach a six figure salary, but the question is: How much mathematics are they really using? Also this one: Could they have reached the same salary without a PhD? Answers vary from person to person. But in my experience, the answers typically are:If they are using math, it isn't extremely high level math and they probably could've reached the same salary with only a masters. So yes, there is truth in that statement.

    You'll find plenty of good math schools around. I'm not to familiar with California schools, but I know PF has plenty of students from California that can gives you a heads up. However, I would like to mention that you shouldn't focus on the big name schools. Small lesser known schools can be good, especially if you like/need one on one attention and the prospect of working with professors appeal to you. It isn't impossible to get that stuff at larger schools, just harder.
  4. Sep 14, 2008 #3


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    The reason I mentioned of getting a Ph. D. is because I was searching for career opportunities for mathematics graduates, and most of the stuff I came across required a Ph. D. degree. So I guess that would be the standard of math graduates.

    I'm thinking of going to UC Berkeley since I heard it is a good school, but I'm very open to suggestions.

    Also, I would like to know the difference of a degree in pure mathematics and applied mathematics. Is there a major difference between the two? And which one is more common nowadays?

    Do they have less competent professors? My high school teachers don't know squat about math and science, and I'm just self-studying to prepare myself for college.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2008
  5. Sep 14, 2008 #4
    You'll find many people with degrees in math do not end up getting jobs that deals with math. Many people move off to law school, med school, business, economics, etc. If you want to work in mathematics, then yes, generally you'll need a PhD.

    The difference between Pure and Applied varies. They are not complete polar opposites but at the same time they cannot be considered the same. You'll end up doing some of the same work regardless of pure or applied. You'll still take many of the same intro courses, still write proofs, and probably have to take one or two classes from the other track. Plus many pure classes can transform into applied classes with some tweaking, for example graph theory and combinatorial.

    The difference tends to come in what the person is looking for. An applied mathematician may search for numerical solutions, do analysis on some mathematics used in engineering and find ways to improve on existing techniques. While a pure mathematician, may look for times when solutions exist, if a certain engineer technique is applied to nth dimensions, etc. However, you'll find that the line blurs pretty often.

    Update: Forgot to answer the last question. Lesser known schools don't have to have less competent professors. There are many reasons why people enjoy working at small less known schools such as, less focus on research, or even more time to research, enjoy the city, enjoy the people, prefers teaching, family ties, etc. You'll find many qualified professors at smaller schools. Just look up their math page and look at where they achieved their PhD and their cv.
  6. Sep 14, 2008 #5


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    Can I do research as my job after getting the doctorate degree in mathematics? If so in what fields can do I research on?
  7. Sep 15, 2008 #6


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    another question:

    Do people here in the U.S. have to have a degree on education before they could teach (secondary schools)?? Because I'm planning to teach math on a secondary school while pursuing the doctorate degree. Is a degree on education required or would a mathematics degree suffice??

    IMO people who finish with a math degree know more than somebody who graduated with a Secondary Mathematics Teaching degree.
  8. Sep 16, 2008 #7
    To answer your first question. Yes, and yes. You CAN get a research job after your doctorate but it isn't exactly easy. You can get these jobs in many fields, but the likelihood of success increases when you look at more practical fields where funding is available.

    You don't necessarily need a degree in education to become a teacher, but you do need to be certified and this is usually a 9 month program. Sure, a graduate with a Bs in math may know more than a math education major, but knowing more isn't exactly advantage. Teaching high school, the extra knowledge you acquire isn't exactly an advantage. What is important is learning techniques on teaching and ways to explain ideas. Knowing Real Analysis doesn't help in this regard.
  9. Sep 17, 2008 #8
    No. a degree in education is not required. However, since you are interested in Berkeley, let me tell you that getting credentialled in California is a pain and typically *does* require a year of education coursework. Schools could hire you as a substitute with just a bachelors' degree and passing the appropriate test. A district can also apply for an "emergency" credential for you, but they are generally reluctant to do that, since NCLB requires that they report you as an "unqualified" teacher.

    Other states are probably quite different. And I wouldn't be surprised if some districts were much more willing to go the "emergency" route than others.
  10. Sep 17, 2008 #9
    That is absolutely true. However, what makes you think that teaching secondary school has anything to do with knowing math? :smile:

    Also, I should have mentioned... the credentialling I mentioned applies to public high schools. Private schools can hire whomever they want, as can community colleges and universities. (Of course community colleges and universities are really looking for more than a bachelors' degree, but it's not completely unheard of to be teaching without more than that.)
  11. Sep 17, 2008 #10


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    ...cause they're teaching math?? lol

    Of course having a teacher that could relate to the students is good, but given the choice to pick between someone who is not that funny but knows his stuff, or some funny teacher who can't even explain why the inequality sign changes when dividing/multiplying by a negative, I'd rather have someone who knows his stuff.
  12. Sep 17, 2008 #11
    A Ph.D in math?

    You need to slow down and consider that you're only in highschool! When you see real math you might have a change of heart, as many do. Focus on your bachelor studies, and then decide where you want to be.

    Having said that, an interest in math at a young age is usually a very good sign. So thats a bonus. I reccommend you read up some Euclid, Archimedes, and Apollonius via the author Heath. And Courtan's "What is Mathematics?" is probably the best math book ever written, and gives a very good overview of pure math.

    6-digits among math graduates is rare, although not as uncommon as one may think. If money is your motivator, you can get that much with less work and less schooling. There are many factors at play for such a salary, including connections, aptitude, and quality of work. In general, I think its safe to say as a math grad you won't likely taste 6 digits until you die. You can switch into business who will hire one with math skills and probably provide better compensation than academia. You can still get into MIT if you get good grades and work your @ss off for the standard tests.
  13. Sep 18, 2008 #12
    6 digits is only $100,000, right? Everyone with a graduate degree makes that much where I work, even the math majors (ha! ha!).
  14. Sep 18, 2008 #13
    My wife is a math teacher. She has a masters' degree in mathematics, and when she went on job interviews, she fully expected to be asked about her mathematical knowledge.

    No one ever asked her anything about math. Ever.

    Getting a teaching credential requires you to pass subject tests in mathematics. They pretty much *assume* you know enough math to teach the kids if you pass these. They are much more interested in whether or not you can keep control of your classroom than if you know how to prove a few theorems.
  15. Sep 18, 2008 #14


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    I've always liked math and science even back when I was a little kid. I'm still exploring other options. Right now, I'm considering being a math major, a physicist, an engineer, or heck, even being a doctor.

    That's the problem. The reason why kids think math (or other subjects, for that matter) is boring, or is hard, is because their teachers don't know how to explain the concept. They just feed some problems to them, and those problems are pretty much the easiest ones. The students then think that it's easy, but when they get home and do their homework, they have no clue what to do first.

    Especially for those who are considering to be a math/science major. They need a pretty good understanding of the fundamentals of math, which should be taught in high school.
  16. Sep 18, 2008 #15
    You're still missing the point. While math knowledge is a prerequisite for being a good math teacher, by itself, it isn't enough. It isn't even the most important thing. It's all about classroom management.
  17. Sep 18, 2008 #16
    Seconding this. You're what, 16, and you're planning an educational path that will take 12+ years? That's three quarters of your life so far. It's great that you're interested in this and and you may well end up with a Ph.D. in mathematics, but there are an awful lot of variables to lock down before then. As a sophomore, you probably haven't seen any math beyond basic algebra, geometry, and the quadratic equation. There's a lot more to math than that, and you may not like it or not find yourself very good at it. I'm not saying you're not necessarily cut out for it, just that it seems a little crazy to try to form a list of graduate programs and potential jobs. It's good to start early, but really there's no reason you need to start getting that specific for another four years at least.

    Right now, I'd say take as many high level math classes as you can, AP Calc and AP Stats, and computer science courses if your school offers them. If you do well with those and enjoy them, I'd say to try to get into a school with a strong math program when you look at colleges. If you stick with a math major in college, then it'll be time to start thinking about advanced degrees, but for now I think you're getting a little ahead of yourself.
  18. Sep 18, 2008 #17
    One of my cousins is a Math PhD who left academia (after only two years) for the business world. Last I heard, his salary was pretty close to 250k. Of course, he doesn't actually use any of the Math he learned.
  19. Sep 18, 2008 #18
    Not impossible, but it depends on (a) when he left (6M ago? 10 Y ago?) and (b) what currency...

    I doubt that.
  20. Sep 18, 2008 #19

    He started working about 6 years ago, works as a consultant. Makes 250K in USD.

    He was hired for being intelligent, logical, and good at problem solving (proven by the Math Phd), not for his mastery of algebraic topology and functional analysis.
  21. Oct 6, 2008 #20


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    Oh please, come on now. I wouldn't be registering in this forum boards, and asking about mathematics careers if that's all I knew.
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