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What to Do With Myself.

  1. Apr 23, 2009 #1
    Hi everyone.

    I am a third year maths major, at a very small university. I know the chances of me becoming a mathematician (my dream) are, if not zero, then very close to it. So should I waste my parents money and go on to get a phd in mathematics (if I'm good enough), and then get a dead-end job I don't enjoy and pays little (where do maths phds work?), or should I just get my undergrad degree, and then do something like engineering, or accounting or something?
    What do you guys think?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 23, 2009 #2
    Why are you certain you will not become a mathematician?

    Math PhDs can get very lucrative jobs in fianance fields. Some get hired as computer prorammers, etc. Although as of late, this is changing... math people are losing respect after the finance crisis =P. If you are sure you will fail, going back to school for 4+ years is not really a sound plan.

    In my opinion, if you are doubting yourself now you should not enroll in grad school. Definately get a bachelor, or if possible switch fields to something more applicable (commerce, engineering, actuarial science).
  4. Apr 23, 2009 #3
    I would disagree with the idea that mathematicians are stuck at a dead end jobs. If you market yourself correctly(more often than not the part where people mess up on) you'll land a job easily.

    for some more information about your career this government website is quite handy(if your an american)

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  5. Apr 23, 2009 #4
    Well, like I said, I'm not certain, but being realistic, I do have a very small chance of going on to be a mathematician. Let's look at the facts:
    I go to a small university. Even people who go to top notch schools like Harvard, Princeton etc., very few of those people go on to be mathematicians-- how much less hope is there for me?
    The first two years I stuffed around and didn't work as hard as I should have. OK, now I am working hard and getting good grades, but it's a bit late aint it?
    If I do get into a decent grad school, my parents probably couldn't afford it anyway (I'm an "international student").

    It's either: bachelors ==> phd, or
    bachelors ==> something else
    which will both take another few years anyway.
    But if maths phds make a decent living anyway (the non-mathematicians), then I might as well get my phd.
    Btw, I do want to get a phd in maths, I'm just saying I don't think I'll become a mathematician.
  6. Apr 23, 2009 #5
    Hmm, what are the "good math schools" in your opinion? I mean there are many good schools out there (shameless to say, University of Wisconsin Madison is really decent, too!) And what specific subfield you are looking for. I mean there are some mediocre schools that are top notch in some subfield.
    And even as an international student, I think it is still possible to get a TAship (I think?) which then you don't need to pay for tuition (and receive stipend, too).
  7. Apr 23, 2009 #6


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    Wait, define "mathematician" to you. What do you mean that few people that go to top notch schools don't go on to be mathematicians? There is no universal test that decides who gets to be a "mathematician" and who doesn't except qualifying exams for PHD programs which, to be honest, aren't so hard that only a handful of people in the world get to get in. If someone goes to an ivy league school and gets their bachelors in math, if they decide not to go onto a phd program, it's most likely their own personal decision, not because they couldn't get into a program.
  8. Apr 23, 2009 #7
    You don't pay tuition at PhD programs. You are given a stipend by the university, either from TA/RA appointments or fellowships. You will not live in luxury, but you can get along just fine and your parents won't have to pay a cent.
  9. Apr 23, 2009 #8
    Consider computer science.
  10. Apr 24, 2009 #9
    I agree with what many others have said here. I earned my graduate degree in mathematics and it has opened a lot of doors into a wide range of professions. Over the years I've worked in such diverse disciplines as, Science, Engineering, Information technology (programming, algorithm design & analysis), finance, actuarial science, gambling, insurance, police science, traffic analysis, teaching & education.

    Mathematics shouldn't lock you into a dead end. If anything it should open many doors as it is applicable to a wide range of professions.

    Most of the people I know who majored in Math are actually doing better than those who went into some narrow and highly specialized corner of the IT industry.
  11. Apr 24, 2009 #10
    Your first two years can be ignored if you show significant improvement in your next two years. A lot of schools consider only the last 2 years of undergrad anyway.

    You cannot enrol in graduate school knowing you won't make a career out of it. If you are only attending grad school to increase your career prospects, you are making a grave mistake. There are much better ways to do that. For example, going for an MBA or passing acturial science examinations. Ask yourself... do you really love math? To the point where you will give up luxury in order to make it in the field? There is a difference between liking math and loving it. Loving it means you do all the work and enjoy going to class. It doesn't matter what school you are from as long as you are talented in math to the point where you can score really well on the GRES. I'll be honest though, given the fact you are doubting yourself now, I do not think you have what it takes.
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