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Maths students - how many of you aspire to become professional mathematicians? watch

  • View Poll Results: Which of the following best describes your ambition?
    Professional mathematician.
    15
    22.39%
    Maths-related career.
    32
    47.76%
    Don't-know/Undecided.
    12
    17.91%
    Other (state).
    8
    11.94%

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    (Original post by Dirac Delta Function)
    Well, without attempting to do some research (like a PhD, not some summer project), I don't really see how you know it's not for you.

    FWIW, I don't have half your talent, nor even a maths degree, but I'm swimming these waters (in a somewhat applied area), for the time being, and if it doesn't work out, who cares.
    Possibly, but I'm not going to risk three years of my life finding out if a career which doesn't particularly appeal would suit me.
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    (Original post by Mr M)
    I have just about recovered now.

    Mathematics is a secondary shortage subject, there are hundreds of vacancies for secondary mathematics teachers that cannot be filled and the situation is getting worse as we are an ageing profession and vast numbers will retire within the next five years.
    I am so sorry! I will write you an ecard and sorry for the hurt sides!

    Ahh thank you, you made my day! I'll definitly have a look into it!
    Are you considering teaching?
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    (Original post by Jacinta_kid)
    I am so sorry! I will write you an ecard and sorry for the hurt sides!

    Ahh thank you, you made my day! I'll definitly have a look into it!
    Are you considering teaching?
    He is a teacher.
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    (Original post by Jacinta_kid)
    Are you considering teaching?
    Yes, I am considering it right now.
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    (Original post by SimonM)
    He is a teacher.
    Gave the game away, didn't you?
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    (Original post by Dirac Delta Function)
    Well, without attempting to do some research (like a PhD, not some summer project), I don't really see how you know it's not for you.
    A fair point, but research is but one aspect of an academic career and there are plenty of other factors that can legitimately diminish the appeal of a future in academia.

    /begin longwinded rant

    To my mind, it's just not a great job. For a start, you often find yourself waiting until your early thirties until you have anything in the way of job security. Until then you're usually relegated to short term junior contracts as a post doc, and might find that you have to relocate every two years or so, perhaps even to another country, in search of work. And even if you find a permanent position (keeping in mind that many more PhDs are produced than are required by academia), i.e. a lectureship, you're stuck on probation for an absurd amount of time.

    Once you've found such a position, you'll probably find a fair amount of your time being consumed by admin, departmental meetings and so forth, have to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in grim little conference rooms up and down the country for little reason other than that's simply what's expected of you. One consequence of this, and teaching obligations, is that it's not unusual to find yourself working more hours than you are paid for.

    So then on to research, the whole point of your career. Now, there's a great temptation to think that research consists of sitting in a tastefully appointed office, ruminating on a rich variety of stimulating problems. However, the reality can be quite different. With the publish or perish culture emerging in the UK, and the necessity of having a string of grants and publications to your name to demonstrate your worth as a human being, it's more likely you'll find yourself falling into a very narrow specialism and have to spend most of your time regularly churning out papers on a regular basis in order to pad out your CV and please the RAE or REF or whatever system the government has in place to undermine academic integirty.

    Added to this is the stress of having to periodically go crawling to the research councils with a begging bowl, and the intellectual contortions that must be performed to contrive some measure of social or economic impact in an effort convince them to throw a few pennies in your direction.

    Then, taking all this into account, what is the ultimate reward of a career in academia? The money's not great, you put your life on hold for eight years or so, there are a myriad of pressures put on your time that hinder you from doing your actual job, and your intellectual direction is constrained in no small part by the need to check a plethora of boxes - be they imposed by research assessment exercises, funding councils, or whomever.

    At least you get recognition from your peers, right? Well, maybe. The average citation rate per paper in mathematics over the past decade has been around 6 citations. So, after multiple citations by the same authors and a bit of pally reference padding has been taken into account, it's not entirely unfair to say that your entire life's purpose as an academic is to produce work that is of some degree of interest, and not necessarily a major one, to what amounts to little more than a handful of people.

    \end longwinded rant.

    Of course, some people might find it a rewarding career. Unfortunately, it's often the case that you don't really know what you've let yourself in for or if it's really for you until you've already committed to three or four years of a PhD. Whilst it's tempting to think that a love of maths and a desire to do research is a suitable grounding for such a decision, it's better to look deeper at the actual substance of the work. Whilst an education in mathematics may be a pleasure, a career in it might be very different.

    To this end, it can be illustrative to see what the moaning minnies (to whom I have a spiritual affinity, as can be seen from my overblown gripefest) over in the comment section of the THES have to say about their lives in academia
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    (Original post by Mr M)
    Gave the game away, didn't you?
    Sorry, didn't mean to ruin it for you
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    (Original post by SimonM)
    He is a teacher.
    Interesting! What level do you teach?
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    (Original post by Mr M)
    Gave the game away, didn't you?
    Ohhh, hiding things? :P You two know each other?

    What level do you teach at, if I may ask?
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    (Original post by Jacinta_kid)
    Ohhh, hiding things? :P You two know each other?

    What level do you teach at, if I may ask?
    Year 9 to Year 13.
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    (Original post by Jacinta_kid)
    Ohhh, hiding things? :P You two know each other?

    What level do you teach at, if I may ask?
    He teaches to the next level.
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    I used to want to be one. Then I realised it was REALLY HARD and I was REALLY STUPID AT MATHS.

    Now I'm a software developer.
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    (Original post by MrShifty)
    A fair point, but research is but one aspect of an academic career and there are plenty of other factors that can legitimately diminish the appeal of a future in academia.

    /begin longwinded rant

    To my mind, it's just not a great job. For a start, you often find yourself waiting until your early thirties until you have anything in the way of job security. Until then you're usually relegated to short term junior contracts as a post doc, and might find that you have to relocate every two years or so, perhaps even to another country, in search of work. And even if you find a permanent position (keeping in mind that many more PhDs are produced than are required by academia), i.e. a lectureship, you're stuck on probation for an absurd amount of time.

    Once you've found such a position, you'll probably find a fair amount of your time being consumed by admin, departmental meetings and so forth, have to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in grim little conference rooms up and down the country for little reason other than that's simply what's expected of you. One consequence of this, and teaching obligations, is that it's not unusual to find yourself working more hours than you are paid for.

    So then on to research, the whole point of your career. Now, there's a great temptation to think that research consists of sitting in a tastefully appointed office, ruminating on a rich variety of stimulating problems. However, the reality can be quite different. With the publish or perish culture emerging in the UK, and the necessity of having a string of grants and publications to your name to demonstrate your worth as a human being, it's more likely you'll find yourself falling into a very narrow specialism and have to spend most of your time regularly churning out papers on a regular basis in order to pad out your CV and please the RAE or REF or whatever system the government has in place to undermine academic integirty.

    Added to this is the stress of having to periodically go crawling to the research councils with a begging bowl, and the intellectual contortions that must be performed to contrive some measure of social or economic impact in an effort convince them to throw a few pennies in your direction.

    Then, taking all this into account, what is the ultimate reward of a career in academia? The money's not great, you put your life on hold for eight years or so, there are a myriad of pressures put on your time that hinder you from doing your actual job, and your intellectual direction is constrained in no small part by the need to check a plethora of boxes - be they imposed by research assessment exercises, funding councils, or whomever.

    At least you get recognition from your peers, right? Well, maybe. The average citation rate per paper in mathematics over the past decade has been around 6 citations. So, after multiple citations by the same authors and a bit of pally reference padding has been taken into account, it's not entirely unfair to say that your entire life's purpose as an academic is to produce work that is of some degree of interest, and not necessarily a major one, to what amounts to little more than a handful of people.

    \end longwinded rant.

    Of course, some people might find it a rewarding career. Unfortunately, it's often the case that you don't really know what you've let yourself in for or if it's really for you until you've already committed to three or four years of a PhD. Whilst it's tempting to think that a love of maths and a desire to do research is a suitable grounding for such a decision, it's better to look deeper at the actual substance of the work. Whilst an education in mathematics may be a pleasure, a career in it might be very different.

    To this end, it can be illustrative to see what the moaning minnies (to whom I have a spiritual affinity, as can be seen from my overblown gripefest) over in the comment section of the THES have to say about their lives in academia
    Yes, unfortunetely, I have to agree with all the above. I know the "joys" of writing propsals for funding from the research councils too.

    Nevertheless, having worked in two other industries (investment banking and software development), I have also been dragged through a pool of effluence on many occasions in much the same way as an academic would. Job security is wanting, particularly in banking, and I found myself working up to 16 hours a day (in both industries) to meet deadlines. The ironic thing is, the better you are, the more responsibility you get, the more you have to work. Good for your career, bad for your happiness.
    What happened was essentially that I traded a high pay & low intellectual satisfaction for high intellectual satisfaction and low pay.

    Whether I carry on or not, Im glad I spent some time doing research, it feeds a need that doesn't get satisfied elsewhere.
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    I used to want to be one. Then I realised it was REALLY HARD and I was REALLY STUPID AT MATHS.

    Now I'm on the dole.
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    (Original post by MrShifty)
    A fair point, but research is but one aspect of an academic career and there are plenty of other factors that can legitimately diminish the appeal of a future in academia.

    /begin longwinded rant

    To my mind, it's just not a great job. For a start, you often find yourself waiting until your early thirties until you have anything in the way of job security. Until then you're usually relegated to short term junior contracts as a post doc, and might find that you have to relocate every two years or so, perhaps even to another country, in search of work. And even if you find a permanent position (keeping in mind that many more PhDs are produced than are required by academia), i.e. a lectureship, you're stuck on probation for an absurd amount of time.

    Once you've found such a position, you'll probably find a fair amount of your time being consumed by admin, departmental meetings and so forth, have to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in grim little conference rooms up and down the country for little reason other than that's simply what's expected of you. One consequence of this, and teaching obligations, is that it's not unusual to find yourself working more hours than you are paid for.

    So then on to research, the whole point of your career. Now, there's a great temptation to think that research consists of sitting in a tastefully appointed office, ruminating on a rich variety of stimulating problems. However, the reality can be quite different. With the publish or perish culture emerging in the UK, and the necessity of having a string of grants and publications to your name to demonstrate your worth as a human being, it's more likely you'll find yourself falling into a very narrow specialism and have to spend most of your time regularly churning out papers on a regular basis in order to pad out your CV and please the RAE or REF or whatever system the government has in place to undermine academic integirty.

    Added to this is the stress of having to periodically go crawling to the research councils with a begging bowl, and the intellectual contortions that must be performed to contrive some measure of social or economic impact in an effort convince them to throw a few pennies in your direction.

    Then, taking all this into account, what is the ultimate reward of a career in academia? The money's not great, you put your life on hold for eight years or so, there are a myriad of pressures put on your time that hinder you from doing your actual job, and your intellectual direction is constrained in no small part by the need to check a plethora of boxes - be they imposed by research assessment exercises, funding councils, or whomever.

    At least you get recognition from your peers, right? Well, maybe. The average citation rate per paper in mathematics over the past decade has been around 6 citations. So, after multiple citations by the same authors and a bit of pally reference padding has been taken into account, it's not entirely unfair to say that your entire life's purpose as an academic is to produce work that is of some degree of interest, and not necessarily a major one, to what amounts to little more than a handful of people.

    \end longwinded rant.

    Of course, some people might find it a rewarding career. Unfortunately, it's often the case that you don't really know what you've let yourself in for or if it's really for you until you've already committed to three or four years of a PhD. Whilst it's tempting to think that a love of maths and a desire to do research is a suitable grounding for such a decision, it's better to look deeper at the actual substance of the work. Whilst an education in mathematics may be a pleasure, a career in it might be very different.

    To this end, it can be illustrative to see what the moaning minnies (to whom I have a spiritual affinity, as can be seen from my overblown gripefest) over in the comment section of the THES have to say about their lives in academia
    You must be exaggerating a bit. I plan to become a professional mathematician even through I heard such sob stories. In terms of intellectual work, I don't see how its bad. You get to interact with others in mathematics, which in say banking that be harder. Most of your time would be spent studying, in all jobs there are pointless things you have to do i.e. bureaucracy, finally there are little distractions.

    http://www.neverendingbooks.org/index.php/*******.html
    I also thought it was the students that are the problem. I suppose if you value money and other stuff more than yes. However, in the olden days they have even more strict rules, for example I remeber reading that to be a professor at Cambridge you had to be a bachelor.

    Also, about recognition, this comes to mind http://www.neverendingbooks.org/inde...p-think-2.html .
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    (Original post by Dirac Delta Function)
    Nevertheless, having worked in two other industries (investment banking and software development)...
    I agree with what you say, though I believe (perhaps hope is more accurate a word) there may be an alternative to the high flying world of IB, Academia, or Software development: namely, ensconced in some blissfully anonymous and undemanding role in the rat race.

    If you've ever watched the film 'Brazil', there's a wonderful scene where Michael Palin's character berates that of Johnathan Pryce for his lack of ambition, specifically for settling into a dead end mid clerical role with no responsibility and in which it's impossible to get noticed, to which the latter happily responds "I know, isn't it wonderful?"

    So that's my dream I feel that come the time I'm on my deathbed, I'd rather not look back and see a life spent overworked and messed around for no aim greater than a senseless and Sisyphean pursuit of citations and rankings.

    And yes. I am a grumpy b******.
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    (Original post by MrShifty)
    I agree with what you say, though I believe (perhaps hope is more accurate a word) there may be an alternative to the high flying world of IB, Academia, or Software development: namely, ensconced in some blissfully anonymous and undemanding role in the rat race.

    If you've ever watched the film 'Brazil', there's a wonderful scene where Michael Palin's character berates that of Johnathan Pryce for his lack of ambition, specifically for settling into a dead end mid clerical role with no responsibility and in which it's impossible to get noticed, to which the latter happily responds "I know, isn't it wonderful?"

    So that's my dream I feel that come the time I'm on my deathbed, I'd rather not look back and see a life spent overworked and messed around for no aim greater than a senseless and Sisyphean pursuit of citations and rankings.

    And yes. I am a grumpy b******.
    I've seen that sketch done in something else, and there is something that rings true about it, but I think one could only be satisfied with such a position if one had gone through the rigours of more demanding educational and professional challanges, to confirm to oneself that one is doing Beta work by choice, for one was born an Alpha egg.

    :yep:
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    (Original post by Dirac Delta Function)
    but I think one could only be satisfied with such a position if one had gone through the rigours of more demanding educational and professional challanges, to confirm to oneself that one is doing Beta work by choice, for one was born an Alpha egg.
    I'm not sure I'd put it quite that way, if only because I'm not sure academia is a good indication of alphariness

    After all, who's the bigger fool?

    He or she who settles early into a job they can do, but which affords them enough spare time to enjoy life and its simple pleasures, raises a family, and passes from this mortal coil content in the knowledge that they've lived a good, if undistinguished life;

    or,

    He or she who chases accolades and recognition with the single minded enthusiasm of a dog with a serious mental illness chasing rabbit after rabbit, only to eventually find itself lost and stuck in the rain?

    Just to add insult to injury, the former probably have better haircuts to boot.

    No my friend, we're the Deltas! As the prevalence of Khaki slacks in academia will testify :yep:
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    Lots of interesting remarks there. I'm glad that I've created this thread. :yep:
    (Original post by SimonM)
    Meeting some of the academics in Cambridge makes me realise how far I am from what you have to be to be "successful"...
    Can you elaborate on this bit, Simon? Do you mean they are the sort of people who came up with big theorems/ideas in their first/second year, or possibly something else?
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    (Original post by P → Q, ¬Q ⊢ ¬P)
    Can you elaborate on this bit, Simon? Do you mean they are the sort of people who came up with big theorems/ideas in their first/second year, or possibly something else?
    People who, in the long run, achieve some recognition for their work.
 
 
 
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