Do you need to be a math genius to be a math professor?

  • #1
I wrote in a previous thread that i would like to get a math phd, but after that become a quant or something. The reason i was set on that projected path was twofold. One i was unsure about the job prospects i.e. numbers involved in getting a full time job as a teacher. The other thing is that i doubt my ability to shape mathematics over my entire career, lets just say i don't see myself winning any prizes like the fields medal or abel. That being said i would still enjoy learning as much mathematics as my ability allows and i wouldn't mind teaching either. So i still see becoming a math professor as a viable option. I have entered various math competitions over the years but have never done very well in them, yet that does not phase me (is this an issue, should i be expecting to score in the top 5% to be considering a career in mathematics?)

So here is my plan. My system is a little different as i am Australian but any advice would be useful.

1. Attend university and major in mathematics from ANU (hopefully graduate with first class honours)
2. Go do my phd at Sydney, Anu, Adelaide, Melbourne
3. Get a postdoc job in USA/ Britain/ New Zealand/ Australia
4. Get a lecturship somewhere, even if it is at a second rate university.
5. Live happily ever after!
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
149
3
I think you need to realize that very, very few successful mathematicians had for an idea whether they were going to win any medals or not. Here, let's use Edward Witten as an example: he went through his undergraduate and some time after not even knowing what he wanted to do, then he was introduced to math/physics and started loving it. He now is the undeniable leader of string theory.

My point being, don't let your inaccurate prediction of the future govern your current choices. Surely very few people can predict winning a nobel prize, or a field's medal. Don't let this control you.
 
  • #3
mathwonk
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I am a (recently retired) university mathematics professor. (Therefore one does not have to be a genius to be a professor.) Some of my students who are obviously smarter than I am, did not become professors because they did not love math as much as I did. Because I loved it and wanted to follow that career, I never gave up, in spite of my many struggles.

People with fields or abel medals are really rare. I have met a half dozen or so of them, and they are indeed brilliant. But they are not at all typical professors. They seem to combine natural giftedness in the extreme, the best teachers, and hard work.

If you enjoy doing and teaching mathematics, I hope and believe you will find satisfaction in that career, wherever it takes you. Satisfaction is usually not about riches and fame, although it helps if you earn enough to live on.
 
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  • #4
42
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I guess that won't be necessary. As long as one is working hard and get proper guide, he has the chance to make it. My suggestion is that you should work hard to get into a world top university for phd study, and find an excellent supervisor, then you have a greater chance to get a tenure in the future.
 

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