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In need of some realistic advice

  1. Jan 27, 2016 #1
    So to give a little bit of background on me, I am a sophomore math major (potentially a physics double major) at a non-ranked public state university. I love learning and and telling people about the things I've learned more than anything in the world. It's a pretty common occurrence for me to call my family and tell them the neat new physics or math fact that I learned for that day. This is all I really want to do. I spend most my time at our university library, and if I'm not studying for my classes, I'm off reading some other book on a topic that interests me. I'm very passionate about this stuff.

    My initial plans (and possibly a very naive plane) were to make stellar grades in undergrad and then go to a quality graduate program and become a professor. I don't think research has ever mattered to me all that much, I just want to have time in my day to keep learning about new things. So getting a professorship that is primarily teaching based would be the dream job for me. My plans also have a backup in case that fails, and that's to attend my schools masters program for high school math teachers, which gives us a $30,000 grant to do so, and become a high school math teacher.

    Here's the caveats. While I do have a penchant for academics, and am a really hard worker (I study at a minimum of 30 hours a week outside of class), I am starting to wonder if my grades will be good enough to get into a top graduate school program that would let me have a good assurance that I could get into academia. Last semester I made a C in Gen Chem 1 (all my other classes were A's) and this semester I think that while I can get A's in my major courses (Cal II, Stats, and a proof based math course), my other courses might net a below A grade (physics and and a Literature course). I'm almost certain that I can keep my grades above a 3.5, but its the fact that I won't potentially be able to push a 3.8 no matter how hard I try that is bugging me a little bit.

    So what I'm wondering is what are my options if I graduate college with a 3.5-3.7 GPA and a small amount of research experience under my belt? I also plan to take the Putnam exam, but we'll see how that goes.

    Is it reasonable to shoot for a professorship if I get these kind of stats? All I really want to do is teach and keep learning, in any sort of capacity for the rest of my life. Are there other options besides that one path? I'd appreciate some input.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2016 #2
    You have two issue to deal with

    Research will dominate your life in graduate school and as a Post Doc which you will need to help establish a reputation.

    Most if not all professorships require a commitment to research. Professorships are extremely competitive.

    High school is a good option for you goals and preferences. Good teachers in physics are in demand.
  4. Jan 27, 2016 #3
    Thanks for your reply.

    I really think that high school teaching might line up with my goals as well, but the only thing that worries me is that I'll get bored with the repetitive material.
  5. Jan 27, 2016 #4
    I think there are ample opportunities to vary the content and explore new ways or presenting material. Developing course material to entice students to explore STEM careers. and provide students interested in life sciences a more relevant physics experience is or current interest. If you can transfer some of your excitement of physics and math to even a few students you can consider yourself successful. Think of the students you are teaching and what you want to do for them and I don't think boredom will be a problem.
  6. Jan 27, 2016 #5


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    I second gleem's advice. Teach for one or two years in any high school program, as it will all be new to you. After the first year start looking to teach for a charter type school (advanced level courses for HS), and maybe even look at local community class instruction. All of these allow you to expand your knowledge through extra education and training. Admittedly, after 3-4 years you will probably see repetition, but jobs tend to equal work (and work is a four letter word!!!). But you did imply that you do like to explain and teach new things to your immediate family. If you enjoy helping others learn and comprehend new ideas, that alone might make such a career rewarding for you. And my plan bought you 4 - 5 years more time to search for your ideal career if you decide to move onto something else.
  7. Jan 27, 2016 #6
    Alright, I appreciate the advice. You know, things seem a lot less obvious until you write it down. I'll be definitely considering teaching at the secondary level now.
  8. Jan 30, 2016 #7
    Becoming a professor but no interest in research, that lines up so bad, I would be a bit worried about your perceptions of what jobs you can do with your education.

    Also, teaching is about teaching first, about math or physics second.

    Almost all jobs are repetitive. Once you have developed a skillset, your boss/institution wants to extract that skill from you as much as possible.

    While it would improve the quality of life for many and while our society can probably afford it, a company or institution that switches roles inside their business every few years or so, so their employees stay stimulated by new experiences, that probably takes time to retrain a person in something different and such a company or institution will fail and go out of business/lose funding.

    Studying for 40+30 hours, that you can't maintain long-term. Or, it may make your interpersonal skills suffer. I'd be worried about that, especially if you want to become a high school teacher rather than a nerd with no life in some research lab.

    Kids will eat you alive once you show weakness or hesitation.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2016
  9. Feb 1, 2016 #8
    Hey now, some of us studious, socially challenged, no life neuroatypical nerds quite enjoy the life. Besides i work out -flex-
  10. Feb 1, 2016 #9


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    Not at the college level in the U.S. You are hired for the research you do , if the employer is interested, not because you are considered to be a good teacher. Kind of sad, but true. And then there is the publish-or-perish (publich _and_ perish?) think , where you are expected to crank out research on a regular basis. Maybe you can do mostly teaching at community colleges, or high schools.
  11. Feb 1, 2016 #10


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    Teaching at the college level is also repetitive. That's the burden of being a professor. If you don't like doing the same things over and over, being an instructor is probably not for you.
  12. Feb 1, 2016 #11


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    But you may be able to keep it a bit fresh by changing your teaching approach.
  13. Feb 1, 2016 #12


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    At research universities, this is true. However, there are plenty of colleges and universities that are more focused on teaching than on research e.g. lower-level state universities and 4-year liberal arts colleges. Most of these places do want you to do research, but it tends to be more focused on things that undergraduates can participate in, especially at places that don't have graduate programs. The weighting of teaching versus research for tenure and promotion, how much you actually have to publish, and how "significant" your research has to be, varies from one school to another.
  14. Feb 3, 2016 #13
    It seems you not interested in repetitive teaching patterns,so all you can do with this is add more of practical teaching like creating a model of the processes involved in the topic to bring creativity towards teaching. And it is not always necessary to research over something theoretically which ultimately looses interest. You can meet a number of people into the field to gain knowledge. The career options like physician employment as physician assistant, instrumental engineering and other fields now demand for practical learning.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 3, 2016
  15. Feb 3, 2016 #14
    Well, you are hired as a teacher, you aren't going to be at a research university all the sudden.

    I agree a lot more with people who decide first to be a high school teacher, then pick one or two subjects that they gravitate to the most, then I would agree with people who study hard on a technical subject, then end up with teaching as their main goal.

    Then again, most people here are American, and when you do just a BSc, which isn't as in debt as it is in other countries and makes you do courses outside of your major, sure maybe teaching is logical.
    But after you have done your MSc, when you are a high school teacher you only use 10% of what you learned and you don't know 90% of what you need to know to be a good teacher.

    Supervising practicals, lecturing about your specialty to eager college students once in a while, that you can do as a backup with an MSc.
    I have seen good teachers this way in people who teach one day a week, work the other 4 and while they didn't excel at research or anything fancy, they have vast experience and their basics down.
    Or people who got fired/quit their job and are now working on a startup but have some free time on the side.
    Or people who are putting their family first (mostly women), and have kids so don't want to apply for postdocs all across the world but have an easy job close to the schools of their children, etc. That would be similar to teaching at a community college in the US.

    Teaching stuff you don't care about to a big classroom filled with teenagers who don't care at all, that's something entirely different.

    I do predict that even at research universities, we will slowly see a split between researchers and lecturers/teachers. Very few excel at both and even if you have the talent to become an excellent teacher after already becoming a very good researcher, there's so much time spend on grant writing and keeping up with the literature that you have less and less time for your own research. Putting in deliberate time to actively become a better teacher, that's going to sap away so much energy for most people.
    At least I hope they slowly become separated.
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