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Should I be a math professor? Do I have what it takes?(need advice, any prof around?)

  1. Jan 22, 2005 #1
    Ok so I love tutoring math and I am currently a math major at a University in the US. In the past I have tutored college algebra, pre-calculus, trigonometry, calculus 1, 2, 3, differential equations, and even some lower maths(pre-algebra, intermediate algebra, technical mathematics). Currently I tutor just calculus 1-3 and differential equations. While tutoring, sometimes I get compliments from people about how great my explanations are and so forth and it really makes me feel great. But that isn't the best part, the best part is I could tutor all day everyday and love it and I have no idea why to be honest. I love teaching everyone; I teach my brother, my girlfriend, my neighbors kids, and even my mothers friends, and I just really do love it. Time seems to fly by when I do it and it makes me wonder if teaching a classroom be the same. I mean it would be amazing to actually be able to make living from just teaching since I like it so much. Because of all this, I decided to major in math and become a math professor and hopefully teach at a university.

    Now I have 2 really big problems.

    1. I like teaching math more than I like learning it. I have gotten all A's at my university in all my courses but I do ALL my homework, sometimes 2 or 3 times. I mean I study really really hard. If I didn't do all my homework I don't think I would get A's, so I am not sure if I am "good" at math to be honest, and I worry that maybe I don't have what it takes to get the required degree(Phd) to teach at the university level. I mean I still have to take courses like Real Analysis and Topology, and those are supposed to be really hard.

    2. Even though I have tutored people one on one and in a small group setting I am not sure I can do well in a classroom setting. I already took the required speech course for my math degree and I got an A, but I was nervous every second I was up there. My speeches weren't bad but I was nervous the entire time.

    I guess my questions are, are there any professors on this board that could give me some advice? Why did you choose to teach and from what I have described about myself do you think I could get the phd needed and teach? Were you nervous the first time you had to teach in front of a classroom and how do you think you did?

    Also what is the starting salary for someone who just got there phd in math and is teaching, 40k a year or so? Also is it reasonable to assume that I can find a job teaching after I get my math phd? When in graduate school, how many hours a week did you study? Did you have to study everyday?
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2005
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  3. Jan 22, 2005 #2

    Dr Transport

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    Go and do as you choose. I have advanced Physics degrees and have taught in the past and enjoy it immensely. The problem is that salaries in the US are not that good teaching anywhere. To give you some foresight, high school teachers make about the same as college professors. I suggest if you want to get an advacned degree and teach do so. Teach high school for awhile and see how it goes. Teach night courses at a community college, that is what I do to make a little extra cash on top of my day job as a research scientist in the aerospace industry.
  4. Jan 27, 2005 #3
    You had to take a speech class? That's interesting, was it math related, or was it in case you wanted to teach?
  5. Jan 27, 2005 #4
    It was neither.

    It is required that everyone take a speech class in order to earn a bachelors degree in anything from an accredited university, at least in the state I live in. I am not sure if this is the case in the United States as a whole, but I would think so, I'm not really sure.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2005
  6. Jan 27, 2005 #5
    Although I am not a professor, I share some of the same views as you so I feel compelled to reply to this post. I too enjoy tutoring and would imagine that I would enjoy teaching a class one day. I can't comment much on your first problem about the higher level courses ( I am not there yet - 2nd year Undergrad. ), but in response to the second, I think a speach class is no indication of your ability to lecture a classroom. They're two totally different environments. As a teacher your talking about something you are very familiar with (possibly more than anything else) so the words tend to come out naturally. Plus your audience is interested in what you have to say (generally). Im sure every teacher is nervous the first time, but that probably wears off very quickly. In contrast, everyone sweats in a speech class because their speaking in front of their peers on a topic that no one else cares about (not even the prof usually). Your more conscious of being scrutinized then getting your point across. There are some profs who are just horrible speakers, but generally they are equally horrible in one-to-one private sessions. You already mentioned that you love to tutor, and from the responses you get from your tutees, your probably very good at it. This, in my opinion, suggests you wouldn't have any problems lecturing to a large group as it requires even less personal attention. Of course these are my opinions which have no backing by any formal experience other than the observations of my own teachers.
    I say go for what you love.

  7. Jan 27, 2005 #6

    Thank you for the kind words of inspiration!:) That's a really good point about speech class!

    I have decided to go for it. I'm sure it will be a long road but I think it will be worth it. Are you a math major MathStudent and if so what are your plans?

    Dr. Transport: I thought about teaching HS for a while but that also requires disciplining the kids and stuff. Also if I teach high school for a while, and then decide to go back to school for my masters or phd it will be harder then. I might have a house and that means a mortage payment and a financial responsibility to pay it and so forth.

    I have 1 summer semester and 3 full semesters left, over a year and a half left till I'm done. I guess I should really start studying and preparing for grad school. Anyone here have any experiences with graduate school for math?
  8. Jan 27, 2005 #7
    Math and Physics, Hopefully a phd. I'll probably try to get a job at a small engineering firm or get some kind of computer programming gig, when I become a grad student, to help pay the bills.
  9. Jan 27, 2005 #8
    Ahh cool, I've taken some physics, just 2 courses, I've gotta take 1 more that covers modern physics.

    About paying the bills, I think most schools pay for your tuition, books, and provide a very small salary if you are a teaching assistant. Also if you do research sometimes the same thing is done. I talked to someone who is a grad student at MIT a few months ago and they said that they get their books and tuition paid for, as well as a very small salary. In return they do some kind of research, I think it was AI I can't remember. Anyways it's just enough to live on but it works. Those are just some other options incase you were wondering and didn't already know.
  10. Jan 27, 2005 #9
    That is definitly another option I am considering. I dont' know whether its automatic with admission, so I'll just have to wait and see.
  11. Jan 27, 2005 #10
    Yes - you typically get a teaching fellowship that pays your tuition and some salary. At Caltech, it's something like >20K a year for physics. At other schools and in other fields, it can vary a bit.

    If you do experimental research, you typically get a research fellowship which means you don't have to teach.

    There are also external fellowships you can apply for like the NSF. Getting an NSF usually gives you a very good shot at going to the grad school you want.
  12. Jan 27, 2005 #11


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    Well, I am a professor, but not of math. One thing to keep in mind is that you do a lot more than just teach when you are a professor. Actually, teaching becomes a rather minor part of your existence unless you work for a small college that emphasizes teaching over research. Otherwise, you will spend a lot more time doing research, publishing that research, and writing grants to fund more research. On the other hand, there's a lot more informal teaching as you interact with your graduate students.

    However, if you really have a passion for teaching (and I've found you learn a lot better when you teach too), that's certainly important and much needed!

    If you're not completely certain yet, apply for a master's program. You'll see what the research side of things is about and whether you'd like to pursue a PhD, and if you don't like it, it's only a short time committment and you can work on getting teaching credentials to teach in high school or a community college instead.

    Don't worry about feeling nervous speaking in front of a class. That's normal and once you get more practice doing it, you'll become more comfortable. Everyone's nervous teaching their first class (or two or ten).
  13. Jan 27, 2005 #12


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    I would love to teach!

    The best part is that every student must listen to you! :rofl:
  14. Jan 28, 2005 #13


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    Who told you that myth?
  15. Jan 28, 2005 #14

    The teachers he doesn't listen to.

    I plan on being a professor, although research is much more interesting to me than teaching. I love research actually. Can't wait for graduate school to finally come around.
  16. Jan 28, 2005 #15
    That is great advice thanks so much moonbear! I didn't realize it would be a minimal part of my day. I have no idea what research mathematics is about. I probably don't know enough mathematics to even begin to undersand.

    Do you think having a masters is detrimental in the admissions process to a phd program? Let's say I do the masters and I enjoy it, and then want to go for the phd, will it hurt me to have a masters? I've sifted through some threads around here and lots of people seem to think it will. It's sounds stupid but is it true?
  17. Jan 28, 2005 #16


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    It's absolutely not true. It used to be the normal course of events, you get a BS, then and MS, then a PhD. Over the years, programs have begun to allow students to enter directly into a PhD program, but getting a masters first is still a perfectly acceptable route. Note, that some places offer a masters as a "consolation prize" for those who enter directly into a PhD program and can't make it. There are hints of this in the transcript that will distinguish between a masters that's a "PhD drop-out" (for lack of a better way to put it), and what's called a "terminal" masters, which indicates you entered only to complete a masters program.

    Another thing you can do to start getting familiar with what the research side of math is about, and to get to know your professors well enough to get strong recommendations to graduate school, is to find a professor in your math dept who you can work with. I'm not sure what, if any work, an undergraduate can do working in a math dept, but it's worth asking to see if there are any sorts of opportunities (it's a little different in wet labs where I can always find something for a motivated undergraduate to do even if they are still learning the theory in their classes). At the very least, you can start asking them what their research involves, what types of options are available, etc. I can offer very general advice, but when it comes to specifics of what goes on in math depts, I'm too much of an outsider to help there.
  18. Jan 28, 2005 #17


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    That's great to hear. I actually enjoy both research and teaching. I can't imagine being happy in a job where I can't do both. At one point, I was considering getting a job in industry instead of academics (there are appealing things about industry, the salaries certainly being one of them), and realized the only way I could do it would be if I also held an adjunct appointment at a nearby college or university to teach some night classes.
  19. Jan 28, 2005 #18
    There are some depts that are purely PhD and don't accept master's degree candidates per se as well.

    One potential downside to going the master's route is that you have to pay tuition, and don't get a salary from a fellowship. Or are there fellowships for master's degree candidates?
  20. Jan 28, 2005 #19
    Another thing - you really need to start taking more math courses, otherwise you're either going to be really far behind when you start a master's program, or you're not going to get accepted.

    From Jordan Ellenberg's Slate column:

  21. Jan 28, 2005 #20


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    If you go to a smaller college that offers only master's degrees and not so many PhDs (there are such places, and they are good places for someone who is testing the waters still), then you can probably still get a teaching assistantship. In larger universities, those will preferentially go to the PhD students who haven't yet gotten other sources of funding. Since you like teaching, it will be a nice way for you to get funded. Those who don't like teaching and really only want to focus on research don't always appreciate having to resort to funding via a TA. Potential sources of funding are always worth asking about when applying.
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