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Math Having to leave grad school in Math- where to go from here?

  1. Oct 31, 2011 #1
    Hi. In a couple of other topics on this site, I have described my hard situation where I am failing graduate school despite spending ridiculous amounts of time studying and working on problems/ proofs. To put it short, I have a serious mental illness that requires I take medication which completely blunts my cognitive abilities (antipsychotics). But I need to be on them so that I don't relapse (which I learned the hard way over many years).

    So I learned today that I am essentially being 'fired' at the end of the Semester, even though they know about my disabilities. However, I guess there is nothing else they can do to help me. If I can't learn the material, I can't learn the material. I have been crying and angry all day, but now I am starting to think clearer and I am at my next challenge: What to do next?

    As we all know, having 'only' a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics doesn't offer up many 'good' jobs. There are countless threads on this subject, but I would kindly ask that you read this one and contribute some advice, as I am so lost and feel so isolated right now.

    Here are the career paths I know of that I can do without any graduate education:

    1. High School Math Teacher
    2. Government Work
    3. Programmer

    For (1), I would not enjoy this job at all. It would be more about 'babysitting' than teaching, and the material I would be forced to cover is so elementary that I would be bored, bitter, and angry the whole time. Plus, the pay is so low and there is no potential to 'move up the ladder' without graduate education. So I really don't want to be a HS teacher. It would make me sick to my stomach every day.

    For (2), I cannot work for the government, because it is required for the jobs that hire mathematics majors, that one passes a security clearance. I won't go into the details of why I could not obtain a security clearance, but I will make it VERY clear: I could NOT obtain one in any way shape or form. So that career opportunity is out the window.

    For (3), I both dislike programming, and I am no good at it. One of my worst undergraduate grades was in basic Computer Programming. I could not think in the ways required to do coding and I also disliked staring at a screen for hours on end.

    Now what? What else is there where I can actually USE my Bachelor's degree. I do not want to be underemployed, doing menial work because I failed at my dream. That would be a most horrifying end to the story of my life. I would be so bitter and angry that I would probably get fired from starting arguments with the boss over things.

    But, honestly, I searched this "Career Guidance" subforum (about pages 1-40) and could not find ANY other respectable job that I could obtain. I just will NOT settle to having a horrible job just because it was my bad genetic luck that I got plagued by a treatment-resistant mental illness. That is just not an option to me. I will fight to the end. But I DO need some guidance, and I want to know what else is out there.

    So, PLEASE, if you have a minute to type a response, please give me some hope or some concrete example of a job that I can get that I won't detest. But remember, it must only require a BS in Mathematics.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 31, 2011 #2
    If you have a BS in math then you are probably pretty decent with statistics...maybe you could try something like that?

    I don't know what kind of answers you are hoping to find on this forum. I'm not sure how anyone is supposed to know what jobs you will like, and you probably know better than most that a BS in Math isn't the most "industry ready" degree out there, especially if you hate programming/computer related work.

    You seem to be running out of ideas, maybe its time to create your own career path instead of hoping to bump into one.
  4. Oct 31, 2011 #3
    just because you are underemployed for a period of time, does not mean you will be underemployed forever if you never give it and dont stop trying to get a better job. you can look into becoming an actuary. all you need is a math degree, proficiency in statistics, and to take a series of tests. also, just because you cant find what you want here, doesnt mean that you cant find information that would help you somewhere. there are more forums, websites and people that can help you. also, you should try the career center at your school or talk to your professors for information on what you can do. you can do a lot more than being a programmer or teacher, you just got to look for it.

    http://www.soa.org/about/about-what-is-an-actuary.aspx [Broken]
    here is some information on being an actuary.
    becoming an actuary is based on test taking ability, so even if you werent a math major (which you are, so that helps immensly) you could still become one, even though it would be difficult.

    edit: also you dont actually need to take the tests initially, however taking them allows to "rank up" and can give you access to better paying jobs or promotions in the field. also actuaries are paid well
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  5. Oct 31, 2011 #4
    The problem is that I am very bad with statistics. After Computer Programming, my worst undergraduate grade was in Mathematical Statistics, which was essentially a 'prep' class for the Actuary Exams.

    I am not asking you to tell me what job to do. I am simply in an incredibly precarious situation and I am just asking for some support. That is all. I just want hope that my life isn't going to be consisting of being in a horrible job where I have zero career satisfaction.

    However, based on what I am reading in this forum, I am starting to be frightened that, indeed, my life may in effect be 'ruined.'
  6. Oct 31, 2011 #5
    I know some of my friends ended up teaching high school math and physics. Some love it, some hate it. The overall consensus is that it depends on the school district, so I wouldn't toss that out the window yet. Something I wish I had in high school was a math/physics club. There were many kids that went to my undergrad college that had these and they said that's where they learned a ton. If you started one of these at a high school, I believe it would give you a nice outlet to teach higher level math. I do agree though, that the glass ceiling in earnings is very low for teaching, which is annoying.

    I wouldn't count out programming thus far either. I know many, many math friends that have ended up doing programming and love it. I highly doubt that you could not think like a programmer, it's logic mixed with syntax.

    The main advice I will give is to not think that certain jobs are menial, underemployment, etc. The job is what you make it. What I would do is generalize the type of job (qualities, skills, etc.) you want then find jobs that have those qualities. I wouldn't say "I want a job that uses my math degree." With that kinda thinking I can argue that any job would use some part of that degree in a generalized sense. Keep it real.
  7. Oct 31, 2011 #6
    To make ends meet, try freelance work on craigslist -- it sounds dumb, but I know of people who live this way in cities like Los Angeles, and it might help you pay the bills while preventing you from flipping burgers or running a cash register.

    Aside from this, maybe apply for some engineering positions, or looking into accounting / financial positions.
  8. Oct 31, 2011 #7
    My roommate has survived for years now, just by tutoring math. Granted, he barely scraped by, but at least he wasn't flipping burgers.
  9. Oct 31, 2011 #8


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    @OP, have you actually done any kind of teaching? It can be a rewarding job, and some people find that they have an aptitude for it that they didn't expect. You won't get rich teaching, but you can enjoy job security, health insurance, and the knowledge that you are sending kids out into the world a little better prepared to tackle their future jobs, further education, etc.

    I have a distant cousin who is a real-estate appraiser, and even though real-estate values have tanked, that certainly hasn't reduced the need for his services. If anything, the banks are sending him more work to keep up with the the swings in values. They can't afford to hold risky mortgages or make inappropriate loans. His father is a retired police chief who now works as an insurance adjuster. He works a lot of hours and puts on a lot of miles on his vehicle. The better you get at a job like that, the more work the insurance companies send you. You have a lot more options than you see right now. Things are not as bleak as you may think. Good luck, and keep your head up.
  10. Oct 31, 2011 #9
    I'm sorry to hear of your situation. It's good that you're trying to take the next step, though.

    Maybe you could list for us some things you like doing and/or things you are good at? You've listed quite a few that you don't like/don't have the aptitude for, but I (for one) could help out more if you listed a few strengths. You have a bachelors degree in math, so it's not like you just went through beauty school (i.e., you must be pretty darn good a few things here and there).
  11. Oct 31, 2011 #10
    I intend on pursuing Math (and/or perhaps, Physics) and my escape plan, if I find out that I dislike upper-level math or am not cut out for it or just didn't want a PhD, was to get into Finance Master's program or do anything that "is not too consuming and gives me enough to live on". If it's the latter, I'd start working on plans to make more $$ - start up. It's risky but as long as I'd have a day job, things couldn't get much worse.
  12. Oct 31, 2011 #11
    My high school offers math from basic arithmetic all the way through calculus three, ODEs, abstract algebra and linear algebra.
    If you want to teach, you should look for school districts similar to mine.

    Granted, you'd probably have to teach algebra two, trigonometry, algebra 1, etc before getting the opportunity of teaching a higher level class, but that's part of being new to a job.
  13. Nov 1, 2011 #12
    Have you considered being an actuary-

    Oh, well, nevermind. You might reconsider the career, as it's good work and more willing to entertain career changers than many others. Actuarial work is a difficult field to break into now, but the cost to try is pretty low. A few hundred dollars to pass a few exams. Compare that with getting more traditional education. . .
  14. Nov 1, 2011 #13
    After spending all day searching for 'career options' that will actually satisfy me and make me feel like I am not 'wasting' my intelligence, one thing that stands out is working for the financial sector is some way. I see the term "Quantitative Analyst" thrown around here and there. Can some one fill me in on this career. I really enjoy finances and the Economy, so this might be something I would actually LIKE to pursue rather than simply something to do for money that I would hate.
  15. Nov 1, 2011 #14
    There's a lot written on quant work in this forum. I see a couple of large, helpful threads on the front page. Twofish-quant has many helpful posts on the topic; consider clicking on his name and having it list his posts. The forum at Wilmott.com could be very helpful, though I've always found it hard on the eyes.
  16. Nov 1, 2011 #15

    Stephen Tashi

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    If you're talking about the US Government, that isn't true. Some math jobs do and some math jobs don't. ( If you're only looking at jobs working for the Defense Department, you could get the impression that all math jobs require a clearance. Most of those jobs would.) And don't forget state and local governments.

    One thing to keep in mind about US Government jobs is that the titles of jobs may exaggerate the qualifications that are required. For example, a person who did not major in statistics or physics may still met the qualifications for being a statistician or physicist. It's a matter of how many semester hours of courses you had in various subjects, not your declared major or degree.

    In the current economic climate, it is mistake to limit yourself to applying to one particular type of job. You'd better look at anthing that comes along, math related or not. If you spend time deciding should I pursue job type A,B,or C, you may be making a choice that you don't really have. You can have A,B or C as a long term goal, but you probably can't pick your next job to be a particualr one of them.
  17. Nov 1, 2011 #16
    Thanks for the advice. Perhaps I will private message the member you speak of.

    And as for non-defense government work, I'll have to peruse the listings again. It just seems like 90 percent of the jobs are security/ defense related. What type of government jobs would not require a clearance? Like what "umbrella terms" should i look for (e.g. Environmental? Agricultural? Maybe).
  18. Nov 1, 2011 #17

    Stephen Tashi

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    Yes. Also National Park Service, Census bureau, Fish and Game, Department of Transportation and probably many more. There are analogous agencies in state governments and probably in large city governments. Within a given agency there may be some jobs that require a clearance and some that don't. These agencies may use outside contractors as consultants to do their technical work. Some of those jobs with contractors may not require a clearance.
  19. Nov 2, 2011 #18
    Hi, again, everyone.

    Thank you for the many ideas. I am starting to focus in on the following ideas:

    1. Non-security local or state government work.
    2. Quantitative Analyst or other financial job.

    My uncle is a prominent insurance underwriter in Jackson, Mississippi, so I am going to try to call him to see what type of things I can do (like internships and such) in order to get my foot into the door in the Financial Sector.

    There is also a pharmaceutical company coming to the Math Dept. tomorrow giving a talk to recruit students, and I have a keen interest in psychopharmacology (how psychiatric medications work...) so I plan on attending and talking to the host.

    The harsh medications I take must work well, though, because despite the awful truth of the situation, I haven't sunk into an abyss of depression like I would have in the past.

    Keep on suggesting things if you wish. It means a lot to me.
  20. Nov 2, 2011 #19
    As long as you're looking into insurance, consider underwriting as well. If they have a risk management department you might check there, too.

    Underwriting departments typically require fewer technical and mathematical skills for their daily work, but I've noticed where I work that those underwriters who have those skills end up finding useful ways of using them and are rewarded for doing so. I do not know if this extends beyond my company.
  21. Nov 2, 2011 #20
    Yeah. I am glad that I have an uncle that will be able to help me understand the different positions out there. He is a good friend of mine. I am interested in any aspect of mathematics application to finance, be it risk management and risk assessment to working with the market and making predictions. It is a field I would genuinely be interested in getting involved with, even though it isn't technically mathematics.

    But then again, that is what I am essentially searching for: Some satisfying career in which I can put my Mathematics Bachelor's to good use. It need not be actual mathematics. But something where a critical and skeptical mind is useful would be good, as I love a good challenge.
  22. Nov 2, 2011 #21


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    As I suggested earlier, I have a distant cousin who evaluates real-estate. His father is a retired police chief who is making a very comfortable living as an insurance adjuster. You don't need to be a whiz at math to do either of those jobs. You need to be disciplined and organized with basic math skills. If you can pick up the basic valuation standards and loss-minimizing standards involved in these evaluations, you only need to be able to write up reports and issue documentation that guides the lending institutions or banks in their determinations. You don't need to be a maven to do this kind of work. You need to have basic mathematical skills, and be trustworthy and consistent. That's about it.
  23. Nov 3, 2011 #22
    I'm not sure if it would at all be interesting for you, but you may want to look into trying a headhunter and seeing if they could find you something along the lines of "efficiency engineer" or something. Granted, that may be working in a factory and doing stats / QA stuff most of the time, but it may also enable you to eventually (after familiarizing yourself with the way the company works and how products X, Y, and Z are made) run your own tests and or look at what's happening on the floor, and use some applied math to maximize efficiency of something that the industry is doing horribly wrong.

    Getting on the management side of some industry may not always be using math, but it would definitely make use of the logic and reasoning skills you've developed while occasionally having the chance to actually put some of the education to work.

    p.s. is there any way you can stay on (although it might involve paying for classes if you're no longer on a fellowship / teaching stipend) to at least finish the requirements for a masters at wherever you're at?

    If you were able to finish a masters, that may open up more job opportunities, even back into teaching at a community college or something. Granted, that may be as dismal for you as teaching high school, but at least you'd have a better chance at being able to teach at least engineering math (calculus, linear algebra, differential equations).
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2011
  24. Nov 4, 2011 #23
    I am starting to really gravitate towards the investment banking scene. The more I read, the more interest I have in it. Now, every time they mention Wall Street or an investment bank on the news, I listen up and find it fascinating.

    I agree that it is not technically a 'math' field, but I think that if I were to do some internships while I live back with my parents, I would give it a shot. Of course, I would have to move to Chicago, New York, or another similar city, but again, that wouldn't be for another year or so.

    There is one minor investment bank in the city near my parents' house (called Susquehanna Bank), and I went on their site and there are lots of internships available. So, after the Semester is up, and I part ways with the Math Department, and I move back to my parents' house, I will start to study (on my own) financial models and risk-management techniques, and then look into an internship.

    Thank you, physics forums, for helping me stay above water in such a tough time and helping me consider other options.
  25. Nov 5, 2011 #24
    Join the army/navy/air force. You're garunteed a job after your basic training or whatever. Atleast that's what i heard. And you're not in the battlefield. Sign up for a job like aerospace contorl officer.
  26. Nov 5, 2011 #25
    Because you don't need a security clearance to do any of that right? LOL.


    It's great to hear you found of some stuff that you would like doing! If you want something interesting to look up that has the do with the financial sector and complex math check out "Derivatives", not differentation, but http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derivative_(finance). I'm sure you read that article, took a look through all of the related links you'd find some very specific math-related topics that apply to finance!
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