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What are the chances of becoming a Math professor?

  1. Dec 24, 2013 #1
    I am a college student who is thinking of getting my Masters and PhD in Math. I was considering becoming a Professor one day (I just started college so I'm going to spending 5 years Undergrad, 2 years Masters and 4-6 PhD), so I was wondering what you think the probability is of becoming a Math professor in later years?
     
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  3. Dec 24, 2013 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    If it's anything like physics, about 1%.

    One in 10 PhD's becomes a professor.
    One in two people who start graduate school ultimately get a PhD.
    One in three physics BS graduates go on to graduate school.
    Three in five people who start college finish within 6 years.

    Multiply it together and get 1%.
     
  4. Dec 25, 2013 #3

    StatGuy2000

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    I have read elsewhere that prospects for math PhDs for tenure-track positions are much better than for physics PhD, so the probability you list above is likely quite inaccurate.
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2013
  5. Dec 25, 2013 #4
    1% seems to be a good guess for how things are now. In the future I expect this chance to deteriorate due to probable decrease in public funding, strong push to increase the number of students and tendency to replace tenured staff with postdocs and adjuncts. If it is 1% now, then in a few years it may drop well below 1%.
     
  6. Dec 25, 2013 #5

    HallsofIvy

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    On the other hand, if I did it anyone can!
     
  7. Dec 27, 2013 #6

    StatGuy2000

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    Please see the following link:

    http://api.viglink.com/api/click?fo...dit.a1300150&jsonp=vglnk_jsonp_13881685302168

    The article I linked above seems to suggest that mathematics PhDs have a higher chance of landing a tenure-track academic career compared to other areas of the sciences. Again, the article quotes data based on 2008 data from the NSB, and so I'm not certain how accurate the results would be today, or what the prospects for academic careers for math PhDs are in the future. The article also does not distinguish between different specialties in mathematics, nor does it discuss whether statisticians are considered mathematicians (which they really shouldn't be).
     
  8. Dec 27, 2013 #7

    jtbell

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    College/university students take more math courses than physics courses, on the whole. Many schools have general-education requirements that include some level of introductory math, and many major programs require additional math courses up to some level. At the small college where I work, there are about twice as many math professors as physics professors.
     
  9. Dec 28, 2013 #8
    Those are lecturers not researchers right? Or are most doing both?
     
  10. Dec 28, 2013 #9
    Thanks for the article. Looks interesting. Unfortunately it's based on the data from 2008. Since then a lot seems to have changed, and likely even more will change in the near future.
     
  11. Jan 6, 2014 #10
    I am the type of person that believes we are only limited by what we accept to believe about ourselves and our lives. The reality of the market, however, is that there are far more people with degrees that allow them to teach than there are positions available for those people. Could you become a math professor? Absolutely you could become one. You can do anything you set your mind to. Will it be as easy as apply and start? That may not be the case, and becoming a professor may require relocating thousands of miles away.
     
  12. Jan 6, 2014 #11

    StatGuy2000

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    I had recently posted on the blog "Not Even Wrong" hosted by Peter Woit, a math and physics professor at Columbia University who is probably best known for his criticism of string theory, on this very topic (under his blog topic "Peter Higgs: 'Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that.'"). Here is his reply below.

    Peter Woit says:
    January 2, 2014 at 12:22 am
    anon,
    The situation in math is much better than physics. Even in math, getting a permanent position at a research insitution is difficult, but it’s much easier than in theoretical physics. I don’t have any problem encouraging students to get a Ph.D. in math, since there are some reasonable academic job prospects. Theoretical physics is a different story, there students do need to be made aware of how awful the job situation is (and will be for the forseeable future).

    As for applied subjects, I would guess job prospects depend a lot on the exact field, but I’m not well-informed about what is happening in different fields. People should be aware that claims of an “STEM shortage” are nonsense, so if they go into some applied STEM field expecting jobs to be plentiful they probably will be disappointed.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2014
  13. Jan 6, 2014 #12

    Vanadium 50

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    Note that my numbers were for all of physics. Theoretical physics, especially theoretical HEP, is harder.
     
  14. Jan 7, 2014 #13

    esuna

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    What is the difference between a math phd and physics phd that makes landing a math job easier than landing a physics job? Are there just fewer math phds, or a much higher demand for them?
     
  15. Jan 7, 2014 #14
    With respect to getting a job at university, I would guess that the difference is that math departments need more faculty to teach and lecture because there are many students who need to take algebra and calculus. If this is true I would temper the enthusiasm for getting a university job with a math degree by pointing out that the math position will have more teaching and less research involved. I suspect that many math professors only teach and do no research. In physics departments there are usually only a couple professors who teach/lecture only and the rest do mostly research.
     
  16. Jan 7, 2014 #15

    StatGuy2000

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    I do not believe that you are entirely correct about this -- whether or not math professors do research or not depends on the size of the department and the nature of the school (i.e. small liberal arts school, large research-intensive university, mid-size state-funded school).

    For example, at the University of Toronto (my alma mater), almost all of the faculty members in the math department are involved with research, and I believe this is also the case with most research-intensive Canadian universities with sizable math departments (the University of Waterloo has an entire faculty of mathematics, one of the few in the world, but it's worth keeping in mind that the computer science department is housed in that same faculty). I also see no reason why the situation would be any different in US schools overall.

    I would suspect that the reasons that math PhDs have an easier time landing an academic job can be summarized by the following:

    (1) There are comparatively fewer math PhDs awarded relative to the number of faculty members, so you have less of a situation where PhDs are being "reproduced" relative to demand at various schools.

    (2) Math PhDs may be more likely to find employment in departments outside of math, particularly if their research is of an applied nature. For example, it is not uncommon for someone who earned a PhD in applied math to find employment in, say, computer science, statistics, operations research/industrial engineering, or economics departments. This may be less true for those with a physics PhD.
     
  17. Jan 7, 2014 #16

    Vanadium 50

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    I think we should find out whether and how much easier it is to get a math position than a physics position before asking why - i.e. before finding out why it is so, find out if it is so.

    The physical sciences graduate 4205 PhDs (Science magazine, from Science and Engineering Indicators 2012) per year, and there are 27,700 faculty. For mathematics, there are 1696 PhDs for 14,500 faculty. So that's a PhD production rate in math that is 77% of what it is in the physical sciences. So change the 1 in 10 to 1 in 7.7 and the 1% number becomes 1.3%.
     
  18. Jan 7, 2014 #17
    Then how do you explain the difference in teaching loads? Every university student has to take multiple math classes, most university students never take a physics class. Or do you not believe this either?

    Teaching cuts into research time, there is no way around that. Math departments have to teach more classes than physics departments. Thus they either produce less research or they hire more faculty.
     
  19. Jan 7, 2014 #18

    StatGuy2000

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    It is worth noting that the Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 from Science magazine had also used the same numbers quoted above with a PhD student to faculty ratio of 0.12 (1696 divided by 14500) and assuming a 20 year career suggested that 43% of math PhD recipients can expect to hold faculty positions.

    The same indicators also states that the ratio of postdocs / faculty is 0.034 (500 postdocs for 14500 faculty), which is considerably lower than the same ratio for the physical sciences (0.119 or 3300 postdocs for 27700 faculty).

    The bottom line is that math PhDs do find it easier to obtain faculty positions than physical science PhDs.

    Keep in mind that Science and Engineering Indicators (or at least the article from Science magazine quoting their indicators) makes no distinction between pure and applied math (because it may be that academic positions for one may be different from the other). I'm also not certain whether the numbers for math PhDs include those who completed graduate work in math but end up becoming faculty members in other departments (e.g. computer science, operations research, economics, statistics)
     
  20. Jan 7, 2014 #19

    StatGuy2000

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    You are assuming that each of those math classes that the university students take are taught by tenure-track faculty members in the math department. Many math classes at my alma mater (especially for 1st year classes) are taught by PhD students or by postdocs (who are either not counted or are counted separately from faculty), and I see no evidence that the situation is any different in other universities, either in Canada or the US.

    I have also observed that math classes taught in , say, engineering departments are sometimes taught by engineering faculty, not necessarily by those in the math department.
     
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