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Math Grad School after long break

  1. Apr 16, 2014 #1
    Next Spring I'll be graduating at the University of Arkansas with a Double major in Math(B.S.) and Physics(B.A.). As of right now the plan is to teach high school math and/or physics in Texas. However, that isn't necessarily my ultimate goal. I would like to go to grad school and get at least a master's in Math, not really sure what my focus would be, but that's neither here nor there.

    Currently my (long-term) girlfriend and I have a sort of arrangement, wherein she is currently supporting me until I finish up my degree next spring, and then she will be returning to school to do what she wants to do, likely a UT-Austin, where I will support the two of us while she finishes, like 4-6 years down the road. 2 to finish a bachelor's, 2-4 for grad school/pharmacy school, whatever she decides.

    I'm torn, because she's working her (expletive) off so that I don't have to work. Which is great, but I really feel like research or teaching at the JuCo level is what I really want to do, and I don't know how practical it is to teach algebra to high school kids for 6 years and then expect to be accepted into a grad school, much less be successful..

    So really, my question is this, have any of you all out there had that long of a gap between your undergrad and graduate studies, what was it like, and how did you do it? And I'm open to any other advice aswell.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 16, 2014 #2
    Yeah, that is going to be tough, but not impossible.

    First of all, you will certainly have forgotten a lot after 6 years. It will take you quite some time to get back into the game. You can of course always try to do mathematics on the side while teaching high school. Then again, teaching is a very time-intensive activity, I'm not sure if you will have much free time to do this.

    Second, I don't know how grad schools will look at a gap of 6 years. Maybe they don't mind, but they might as well find it a very bad thing. Furthermore, you need to present some letters of recommendation to the grad school. It's going to be a bit difficult to obtain those after 6 years since your profs might already have forgotten all about you.

    I'm not trying to be negative here. I wish I could say something positive about the situation, but there really isn't: going to grad school immediately is always better. The only good thing is that you will be more mature. The longer you wait to enter grad school, the harder it's going to be. Sorry :frown:

    Maybe you should talk with your girlfriend about this.
  4. Apr 18, 2014 #3
    No, I totally understand, you've really just confirmed what I had been thinking.

    Is there anything out there that would allow me to sort of stay involved and on top of things? Like something further than independent reading and learning, something that could possibly go on an application.
  5. Apr 18, 2014 #4
    I think getting in somewhere is the least of your problems. If your GPA is good and if your math GRE is nice, then I'm sure you'll get in somewhere (even if it's not a top institution). Sure, taking a few years is not going to be in your advantage. Maybe taking a terminal masters degree would be easier, since it would be easier to get into. After that you can find yourself a grad school for PhD work?

    But your main problem is: once you get in, can you handle the material? I think you need to make room for studying some math every day during the years off. That way you will stay on top of things. This might be hard because I doubt you'll have much free time as a teacher. But if you do nothing for 6 years, then you'll have a very hard time!

    One thing you might do is to find a professor and do some research together. If you find somebody like that then that would be very very good. Then again, I doubt you'll find many professors willing to advise somebody who's not even one of his/her students.
  6. Apr 18, 2014 #5
    What you should probably do (and might have to do) is go back and take a handful of undergraduate math courses after your break. This will 1) get you back in the game 2) get you in contact with professors who can write you the needed recommendations for grad school. You might have to do a semester, you might have to do two. Take any of the math classes you might have 'missed' the first time. (I'm getting my bachelor's and still feel like I missed a lot).

    Teaching keeps you in touch with math on a fundamental level and that isn't bad either. Sure, it's not rigorous. Maybe you can subscribe to some journals or something and keep up with what's going on in your spare time.

    My situation is not exactly the same as yours but we have some things in common. I went back to school "late" (33) while my wife supports me. (which isn't always easy for me, being the one in the house not making any money) I am getting my bachelor's now at 37 and entering the graduate program next year. (She will continue to support me, and she already has a masters and makes a good living) It's great that you two support each other and there are lots of ways to make your plan work.

    Just another note...You might want to have this book around "All The Math you Missed but need to know for Graduate School" by thomas Garrity. It's a really cool book that has a lot of subjects condensed into a readable format. I'm using it to review some things and crash course some other things. You could study this book while you're teaching, maybe.

    Oh..Also considering subscribing to some sort of math journal. Having the stuff come in your mailbox on a regular basis might be bite sized enough to keep you in touch but not overwhelm you. Even an MAA journal, though it's undergraduate stuff, is sort of "high level undergraduate" stuff and even has material you might be able to pass onto ambitious students of your own.

    -Dave K
  7. Apr 18, 2014 #6
    Thank you both, I'll keep all this in mind through out this next year, and try and figure something out. Its not unlikely that I'll end up changing my mind and not teaching. As good as it sounds to me right now, I'm still not sure if its my best option.

    On another note, I'm sure its different everywhere, but as an undergrad I've not been very ambitious leading up to my last couple of years. And now I would like participate in things like internships and such, but due to summer classes I won't be able to do any of hat before graduating. Have any of you ever heard of summer internships that accept or even cater to recent college grads?
  8. Apr 18, 2014 #7
    One approach you may want to take to staying on top of things is going through problem books in mathematics. There are several goods one, Berkeley Problems in Mathematics being one of them.
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