Short Post!

July 11, 2011

I’ve been told my posts are intimidatingly long, what with the twitter generation’s sound byte attention span. Normally I’d say, screw that! It’s because my ideas are so freaking nuanced they can’t be condensed to under a paragraph without losing their essence!

But today I acquiesce; here’s a short post containing at most one idea.

Namely, I’ve been getting pretty strong reactions online and offline regarding my post about whether an academic math job is a crappy job. I just want to set the record straight: I’m not even saying it’s a crappy job, I’m simply talking about someone else’s essay which describes it that way. But moreover, even if I were saying that, I would only be saying it’s crappy (which I’m not) compared to other jobs that very very smart mathy people could get. Obviously in the grand scheme of things it’s a very good job- safe working conditions, regular hours, well-respected, etc., and many people in this world have far crappier jobs and would love a job with those conditions. But relative to other jobs that math people could be getting, it may not be the best.

Many professors of math (you know who you are) have this weird narrow world view, that they feed their students, which goes something like, “if you want to be a success, you should be exactly like me (which is to say, an academic)”. So anyone who gets educated in a math department is apt to run into all these people who define success as getting tenure in an academic math department, and they just don’t know about or consider other kinds of gigs. It would be nice if there was a way to get a more balanced view of the pros and cons of all of the options.

  1. Laurent Berger
    July 11, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Hi Cathy, this is a great blog, and I look forward to reading your posts … even if they’re long! Take care!

  2. July 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    As an undergraduate about to start applying to grad school, I’ve noticed the same thing. I’d like to be better informed about my non-academic options than I am, and I’m actively trying to resist the temptation to see an academic career as an inevitability.

  3. July 11, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Is there a good general overview of non-academic options for mathy people? As an academic who’s never looked for another kind of job, I’m a bit at a loss when advising students on this (both at the undergraduate and graduate level). Of course, I’m vaguely aware certain options because I know people who’ve gone that route, but I’m wondering if there’s something more systematic out there…

    • Laurent Berger
      July 12, 2011 at 2:29 am

      If you don’t mind that it’s in French, http://smai.emath.fr/spip.php?article95 is pretty heplful. The brochure contains a list of non-academic jobs for math students. I expect that the jobs are similar in the US.

  4. Mozibur Ullah
    July 12, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Hi Cathy. Although I recognise what you say, I’ve also worked in investment banks and the people I’ve met there also have a ‘weirdly narrow’ view of life, where making money and working hard at making money is pretty much what makes life worth living.

    • July 12, 2011 at 6:27 am

      Good point! Maybe it’s a general fact about human nature. One reason I like to move around a bit is to avoid that mindset.

  5. DK
    July 12, 2011 at 6:22 am

    Cathy! There is no need whatsoever to defend yourself on this issue. Also, your posts are not too long – what does that even mean?! – so keep writing as you see fit.
    To those looking for a broad overview of non-academic options: some of us are working hard to make these known within the academic community. This blog in many ways is a testament to the efforts. However, if you are desperate for more information feel free to reach out.

  6. dg
    July 14, 2011 at 10:41 am

    I would add to this that there is a wider array of options within academia than many people (at least, than I) are told about while in graduate school, where it seemed to be taken as a given that grad students would not only go into academia but strive for a position at an R1 school. I think I vastly prefer the job I have ended up in, at a second-tier liberal arts school, than I would have enjoyed being at a large research university…

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