College Math Teaching

November 1, 2014

Ok Graduate Student, do you want a pure math Ph. D.???

Filed under: academia, calculus, editorial, research — collegemathteaching @ 2:19 am


This slide made me chuckle (click to see a larger version). But here is the point of it: it is very, very difficult to earn your living by researching in pure mathematics.

Is it a reasonable expectation for you?

Ask yourself this: look at your advisor. Is your advisor considerably smarter than you are, or even moderately smarter than you are? If so, then forget about earning your living as a research professor in pure math. It. Is. NOT. Going. To. Happen.

Yeah, you might get a post-doc. You might even manage to get one of those “tenure track with little hope for tenure” jobs at a D-I research university…maybe (perhaps unlikely?).

I’ve been on search committees. I’ve seen the letters for those who didn’t get tenure; often these folks had decent publication records but didn’t get large enough external grants.

It is brutal out there.

If you get a pure math Ph. D. and you aren’t your advisor’s intellectual equal, about your only hope for a tenured academic job is at the “teaching intensive” universities; basically you’ll spend the vast majority of your time attempting to teach calculus to students of very average ability; after all, most of the teaching load in mathematics is teaching service courses rather than majors courses.

It does have its charm at times, but after 20+ years, it gets very, very old. I’ll discuss how to alleviate the boredom in a responsible way in another post. (e. g., it is probably a bad idea to, say, spice it up by teaching integration via hyperbolic trig functions or to try to teach residue integrals).

So, ask yourself: is your passion research and discovery? Or, is it teaching average students? If it is the latter: well, go ahead and get that theoretical math Ph. D.; after all, there ARE jobs out there, and we’ve hired a couple of people last year and might hire some more in the next couple of years.

IF your passion is research and mathematical discovery and you aren’t your advisor’s intellectual equal, either switch to applied mathematics (more demand for such research) OR enhance your education with sellable skills such as computer programming/modeling, software engineering or perhaps picking up a masters in statistics. Make yourself more marketable to industry.


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