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I need advice.

  1. Aug 16, 2005 #1
    I really need some help on deciding what I am going to do as far as a career is concerned. The problem is I am 27 years old, and I'm in a bit of a panic that I'm running out of time. For anyone that is interested and would be willing to give me some pointers, I would really be grateful. I will start by giving some background.

    [some of the things I say may sound like bragging. I do not mean to brag! I mean, I'm 27 frickn' years old--I've wasted a whole lot of time--so I know my place]
    First off, I dropped out of highschool when I was 16. The reasons are complicated, but they had absolutely nothing to do with academic ability. When I was 22 I decided that I needed to use my brains in whatever career I choose, so I taught myself algebra, trig, and some calculus. In 2004 I took the SAT and scored 1500; 720 on math 780 verbal (My verbal ability comes naturally, my math came through work). I went to a local community college where I took Calc I, Calc II, Physics I (basic mechanics) , and Linear Algebra. I have scored A's in every class I have taken (including non-science/math classes).

    I have developed something of a passion for pure mathematics. While most students in my calculus classes were just concerned with their grades, I was supplementing my learning by reading books on real analysis, history of mathematics, and mathematical proof. I also really enjoyed the Physics course and supplemented it by reading some of Feynman's lectures on physics. But there is something about pure mathematics that draws me. The letters QED have, at times, given me goose-pimples.


    O.K. With that out of the way, I would like to ask for some help.

    To whom, or to what resources, could I turn to for advice in my rather peculiar situation? The counselors at my community college are friendly, but I don't feel that I am getting advice that is best suited to my circumstances.

    Above all I want to choose a career path that is imaginative. But at the same time I don't want to make the mistake of being impractical. The idea of getting a PhD in pure mathematics, although enticing, seems ridiculously impractical at my age (If I was rich, I'd do it anyway... But I'm not rich! :cry: )

    Arghh... To be honest I'm so confused and panicked about my age, that it's hard to think of the right questions! What can I do to get some focus?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 16, 2005 #2
    well, for what it's worth, there was a guy in one of my summer math classes who was nearly twice your age--and based on his...ability...for critical thinking, i would guess he got a substantially lower sat score. :tongue2:
  4. Aug 16, 2005 #3


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    work hard, get lots of sleep and eat a balanced diet.

    and follow the htree basic rules:

    1) never give up

    20 never give up

    3) never give up,
  5. Aug 16, 2005 #4
    Thanks for the encouragement mathwonk, my thinking is already starting to clear!


    If I had to stop short of a masters or PhD, is a bachelor's in pure mathematics any good for finding a job?

    If I really wanted to study math, is there something good to pair with it as a double major, or a minor that would increase my hireability?

  6. Aug 17, 2005 #5
    I'm in a similar position as you are in that I didn't really get turned on to physics/math until later in life (I have degrees in International Affairs; that's about as "non-science" as one can get). While I have a good job and a bright future in my current track, I don't really feel challenged or that interested in it anymore. I have been tinkering with the idea of going back to school for physics, but at 27, that just seems impractical. I haven't given up on the idea, I'm taking night classes at a CC to beef up on my math, but, whether or not I will actually quit my job and go back to school remains to be seen.

    I wouldn't necessarily rule out the idea of a PhD. I recently met a guy who was in the Army and didn't start college until he was 25. He recently graduated from the U. of Michigan (which I hear has a good physics program) with a PhD in Applied Physics and picked up a Master's in EE along the way. He is currently working at a large National Lab. It is definitely do-able even at your (our) age.
  7. Aug 17, 2005 #6
    Look at this way. You are going to be 30-something years old no matter what happens. So you can be 30-something and have a degree, or be 30-something and not have a degree. The choice is yours.

    Oh and since you are studying mathematics I would recommend going to graduate school. There are much more job opportunities for people with graduate degrees. You should consider the idea of teaching at a university or a community college. If you teach at a university you will have to do research but if you teach at a community college you just focus on teaching. I don't think the pay is really good when you first start but it's enough to live off and if you enjoy what you are doing then you will be happy.

    Oh and I am also a high school drop out. I didn't go back to school until I was 24! And coincidently I am also studying mathematics and plan to continue to graduate school for a phd. As another example I had a biology teacher who was 55 when she get her phd. Goodluck and don't give up!
  8. Aug 17, 2005 #7
    That is certainly a good way to look at it. I do plan on going to graduate school, but my main concern is whether I can or not. It looks like I probably can, but I want to play things safe. So, I want my bachelor's degree to afford me some level of safety in case I can't go to graduate school. And I guess that is the crux of my inquiry: is a bachelor's in pure mathematics any good in the job market? I'm not talking about living large here, just something decent in case I just can't go to grad school.

    And if not, does a b.s. in math look better if you minor in something like computer science? Or maybe engineering? Or, if I can muster the energy, a double major of math/engineering? Can anyone recommend any other good pairings?

    btw, ERATOSTHENES, I love your "location". :biggrin:
  9. Aug 17, 2005 #8

    Well with a bachelors in mathematics, from what I have researched, there are not that many job opportunities. But I think you will find it comforting to know that most mathematics phd programs offer free tuition, free books, and provide a small salary that you can live off while attending graduate school. In return, you do research or work as a teaching assistant.

    From the several schools I have looked into, most require you to teach 1 course and take 2-3 graduate courses at the same time. Some don't require you to teach any courses the first year, and then in the following years you are required to teach. Also some schools have language requirements. For example a few schools I visited require that you can read mathematics in french, german, or russian. I believe at Harvard two of the three are required, and some other schools make you choose one out of the three. Every school is different, and I don't think that every school I looked into has this requirement.

    Anyways, the point is, it's totally free and you can live off what they pay you while attending graduate school. So really, the only thing that can hold you back is lack of motivation and effort.

    Most people who get phds in mathematics work as teachers at universities when they are done. I know there are other jobs out there but they are probably alot harder to get because there are not many, so if you plan on getting a phd try and see yourself as a teacher and doing research. Is this what you want?

    Some people go do there post-doc after getting there phd. This is where you go to another univerisity and do research for a set amount of time. For example a friend of mine finished his phd in chemistry here in the US and got a post-doc position in Australia doing DNA research. After you do your post-doc you look for employment elsewhere usually.


    Edit: You should google for several schools and visit their mathematics departments to get an idea of how the phd programs work. Most discuss what courses need to be taken, what exams that need to be taken, and how much they provide in terms of financial support.
  10. Aug 17, 2005 #9


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    college teaching requires a PhD but we really need high school teachers more than college teachers and there a masters is more than plenty. of course the conditions are more difficult and the pay is probably less.

    By The Way I went back to grad school at 32 finishing at 35, and my wife started med school at 33.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2005
  11. Aug 17, 2005 #10
    And dealing with high school students ( compared to College students) you're teaching to kids who mostly really don't care about school.
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