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Programs Pure math PhD going into the industry. What are the chances?

  1. Jan 10, 2012 #1
    So I'm a junior in mathematics and I've reached a point to decide about graduate school. I love pure math and am considering getting a PhD in it. But I do not want to go into academia because I don't think I will enjoy teaching. So I want to go into the industry after a PhD. But one of my professors told me that pure math PhD programs in a way 'train' a person to go into academia. I have also been getting some pressure from my parents. They want me to do the more applied stuff so I can actually get a job. Is it hard for a pure math PhD to get a job in the industry? Does anyone have experience/insights on this issue?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 10, 2012 #2
    Here's a question that's not in your post, what do YOU want to do? Getting a PhD because people influenced your decisions is a bad idea. Getting a PhD because you love the subject a lot could be a good idea. It's really up to what you can/want/feel like doing. I know I want to go ahead with a PhD eventually, in which case I don't care about the job prospects too much, all I want to do is math, if all I can find is an unrelated mediocre job, then so be it, I will do math on my time off.
  4. Jan 10, 2012 #3
    So here are the things I want to do:
    1. Get a PhD in pure math
    2. After step 1, get a pretty cool job in the industry that can feed me and my family.

    The purpose of this post is to get some information/insights on whether these two things are well-correlated.
  5. Jan 10, 2012 #4
    The most likely outcome with a pure math phd (even if you want to go into academia) is to get your pure math phd, do one postdoc and then never do pure math again.

    You will likely be able to get some job (computer programming, finance,insurance, etc), but odds are you won't use the math you spent those years learning, and you probably won't ever really make back those foregone wages from your phd/postdoc years (you might in finance). If you are fine with that outcome, then fantastic! You'll enjoy the phd, and look back on it fondly.

    Now, if you don't want to be a computer programmer, and you don't want to work finance and insurance, you may want to reevaluate your plan. If you would prefer to work in engineering, or fluid dynamics, etc then you may not want to do the pure math phd. I've had nothing but trouble finding an engineering job and I have a theoretical physics phd.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2012
  6. Jan 11, 2012 #5
    The 'never do pure math again' part is quite lamenting. But I think I can deal with that...
    I personally love theoretical physics so I have a lot of respect for theoretical physics phds. :smile:
  7. Jan 11, 2012 #6
    Your teaching duties are less of a burden before you are full time faculty. You will not have grad students to advise, for one, and each grad student takes one our a week. Advising 4 students means 4 hours a week plus organizing seminars for them or other obligations part of having a student individually working with you. Teaching a course means around 3 hours lecture and 2 or 3 office hours. Plus preparation.

    I think a postdoc has relatively less responsibility, because often the large 300 person classes require more attention and administrative gibberish, and those classes seem to be relegated to full time professors often (at many schools, maybe not all).

    I confess a lot of what I said above is what could be the case, and varies on case by case basis.

    I do agree that a PhD in pure math is a way to train for academia. People can try to chime in and say that is a limited viewpoint, but so far I have seen no good arguments otherwise.

    If you have programming background and all, you can succeed outside of pure math. You may find that it is more frustrating than you think not doing academia after all the training you undergo....when you could have built your profile for that field.

    That said, you CAN maintain interest in and keep in touch with pure math work whatever you do after your PhD. You need a flexible career with reasonable hours and tons of determination, but I do have strong reason to believe you can strike a balance. However, you will be unable to produce work at a high rate that someone in academia maintains.
  8. Jan 11, 2012 #7
    That tends not to be true in finance. The people that I know who are mathematicians tend to use the mathematics that the did research on. There are some branches of mathematics that lend themselves to industry more than others (i.e. optimization as opposed to number theory).
  9. Jan 11, 2012 #8
    One thing that you will find if you go into industry is that you'll be spending a ton of your time teaching. Every day at work you will have to teach a class "Why you shouldn't fire me" and you may find yourself trying to explain extremely complex mathematical concepts to MBA's with no math background.

    If you don't like teaching, you are going to find industry a very, very hard slog.

    Yes they do, but sometimes you have to pull a MacGyver with what you have.

    It's not hard in the sense that there are jobs available. It is hard in the sense that you'll have to undo a lot of the brainwashing you undergo in the Ph.D. program in order to get them.
  10. Jan 11, 2012 #9
    I'm in a liberal arts college and can barely imagine a class with 300 people...

    I don't have much programming background at the moment but I think that is not hard to build.
    While I can build my profile for academia, only the tippy top people get to work in academia anyways. :frown:
    I may just reread A Mathematician's Apology and cry to myself..
  11. Jan 11, 2012 #10
    Yeah I heard that from other people too. I wonder research labs could be a little bit better..
  12. Jan 11, 2012 #11
    I'm a freshman math major and just finished my first semester. This thread has me very worried about my future.
  13. Jan 11, 2012 #12
    It's actually not that bad. In fact, it's quite good.

    Everyone that I've known that has gotten a Ph.D. has ended up with a decent middle class/upper class job. Personally, I'm having a blast with mine.

    The hard part was to avoid being brainwashed into thinking that you are some sub-human being if you do anything other than academia. I would have had a lot more fun with my Ph.D. had I been more aware that the "normal academic track" isn't really normal. One problem is that if you spend seven to eight years of your life, and the only people that you meet are Ph.D.'s that ended up in academia, you easily lose track of the fact that most Ph.D.'s *don't* end up in academia.

    You are also going to have to deal with the fact that you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you can come closer than most people.

    Yes, there is a cultural adjustment that you need to make, but the way that I look at it, if I believe that I can solve the deep mysteries of the universe, figuring out how to write a decent resume and play corporate/employment politics isn't out of my grasp. I figured out quantum field theory. I can deal with a resume.

    Also, getting a job is tough, but it's tough for everyone, and one thing that I've found is a Ph.D. talking about how you don't want the jobs you are offered because they aren't exactly what you want to do will rub a lot of people without skills the wrong way because they are having problems getting *any* work at all.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2012
  14. Jan 11, 2012 #13
    At least with me, while I'm sure I was brainwashed at some point to an extent, good influences have worn that off considerably. But what does still seem very stressful is doing the considerable juggling to land a good position that a) lets me do cool stuff and b) keep in touch (if not produce research at the breakneck pace demanded in academia) with and build on the ideas I came to love while conducting my inquiries.

    Clearly anyone can spend some time thinking, but if one is crazy enough to spend that much time on a PhD, it would be nice to build upon that knowledge, even if it's not possible to get one's dream academic job.
  15. Jan 11, 2012 #14
    I guess when they get rubbed the wrong way, they both have a point and have a misunderstanding. The accurate point is that nobody ever was assured of getting a dream job, so some extent of thankfulness is important.

    The misunderstanding is that the PhD is about more than a job to those who, as I see it, entered grad school not being somewhat delusional. I'm sure even the person not getting any job at all has some things he/she really believes in doing with his/her time, and would strive to regardless of what job he/she had. For PhDs, it's exploring a certain aspect of the world, psychology, humanity, whatever. It so happens that being part of a university is an immense help in doing a lot of these things.
  16. Jan 11, 2012 #15
    A lot of things, while not hard to build, become harder and harder when you realize you haven't started yet, and have to start from scratch.
  17. Jan 12, 2012 #16
    Yeah that's what I'm thinking about. I am deciding between taking three math classes and taking two math and one comp sci next semester.
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