MATHEMATICS GRADUATE
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Finding a Job

img_2At the beginning of what you plan to be your last year in graduate school, it’s time to apply for jobs. While you do not have to have your thesis completed at this point, it should be at least mostly completed. Your advisor will be able to help you decide exactly when you’re ready to start applying for jobs.

Not everyone who leaves graduate school will land the same type of job. Some will seek teaching jobs, some will seek academic research jobs, and some will seek jobs in industry. Exactly which path you choose will depend on your preferences and strengths. Keep reading for information to consider that is specific to each of these career paths. However, during your job search, always keep in mind the following resources:

Job Search Resources

Employment Services for PhD Mathematicians: The AMS provides the automated Mathjobs.org job application system plus job ads on the web and on paper, and helps arrange interviews at the January meetings. All services are free for applicants.

UCSD Career Services Center: The UC San Diego Career Services Center helps UCSD students determine and fulfill their career goals.

Academic Research Jobs

If you have not enjoyed writing your thesis, this might not be the thing for you. In an academic research job, you’ll be expected to write papers of (most likely) higher quality than your thesis, repeatedly and with less time and guidance. These jobs may or may not have teaching requirements attached to them. Faculty member Dan Rogalski has put down his thoughts on landing a research position.

Teaching Jobs

Teaching positions often do not require much (if any) research. You must have a desire to teach and demonstrate that teaching is important to you. If you enjoy teaching significantly more than research, you should definitely consider this career-path. Be advised: the market is full of strong teachers, as more emphasis is being placed on university teaching. Consequently, you’ll have to convince hiring committees of your teaching prowess and commitment to further developing your teaching if you want to get one of these jobs.

One drawback to a teaching position is that the pay is not as high and the job offerings are not usually as plentiful as research positions. Aaron Wong — a former UCSD graduate student — took a teaching job at Nevada State College in Henderson, NV. He documented his year-long experience finding a job.

Research and Teaching Statements

Both jobs will require a research statement and a teaching statement. As you probably guessed, research statements are more important for research positions and teaching statements are more important for teaching positions.

The research statement is a relatively short (say 3-7 pages) document describing your research interests. It typically begins with a summary of your work written in such a way that other mathematicians in other fields can understand what you are doing. The rest of the document is typically written for those in the field to understand.

It is often useful to try to relate your thesis problem to other work that is being done. Ideally, you want to connect your thesis with the work that a faculty member is doing at the university you are applying.

The teaching statement is less rigid in its form than the research statement. This can be both a blessing (as you can express yourself freely) and curse (it is easy to stray off-topic). Searching the web for advice is often helpful, but sometimes you find contradictory advice. For example, one website suggests “Do not read any other teaching statements before you write your own. This will prevent you from expressing yourself in a unique way” while another website suggests “Read lots of other teaching statements for inspiration.”

Aaron Wong offers the following advice for writing a teaching statement:

  1. Be yourself: I find that I don’t express myself as well when I try to write in a very formal manner. It is both more comfortable and more effective for me to write as if I were speaking. This causes some sentences to run a little too long sometimes, or perhaps the word choice may be somewhat awkward, but those things will get sorted out during the proof-reading process.
  2. Balance specific details with pedagogical positions: I think part of a good teaching statement is telling a good story about how you teach. I think it’s helpful to talk about specific interactions with students, topics, or incidents because it highlights something unique to you. However, experiences alone are not sufficient. You should also spend some time to discuss why the story matters. For example, a story that demonstrates good rapport with students is helpful because it shows that the students a more comfortable environment to ask questions. Or alternatively, even though the students were disappointed that you didn’t show all the details, you wanted to emphasize the main ideas and deemphasize the algebra.
  3. Be honest: I think it’s relatively easy to see through people who aren’t being honest about themselves. If you are applying for a teaching position and there’s something about your teaching statement seems off, you’re not likely to get an interview. Industry (non-Academic) Jobs

There are research positions available in the private sector. Examples include Microsoft Research, Yahoo! Labs, AT&T Labs, Finance/Private Equity, NSA, and Center for Communications Research (CCR). Typically, you would not need to worry about teaching, so if you really did not enjoy being a TA, this might be the option for you.

One drawback is that you may be given problems to work on, rather than choosing them yourself. Also, if you are working for the NSA, you might not be allowed to publish your work. However, the pay does tend to be higher in these jobs than in academic ones.

Students with degrees in an applied field such as Numerical Analysis or Statistics might find jobs in industry related to their work. For statisticians, jobs in the financial as well as pharmaceutical sectors are plentiful. Having experience in the field is helpful, so if you are thinking of pursuing a non-academic job, you might want to look for internships the summer between your fourth and fifth year.

It should be noted that the application process is different for academic and non-academic jobs. Typically, applications are due by November of the preceding year for academic positions. Also, the above documents (research and teaching statements), as well as a CV, letters of recommendation and supplemental documents (as determined by the various programs) will need to be submitted. It is not uncommon for one to apply to 50-100 schools in the hopes of landing a position. Depending on your research area and research/teaching experience, you may need to apply to more or fewer schools.

Former UCSD graduate student Andy Niedermaier has documented his thoughts on the job search here.

Former Head TA Brian Micelli applied to 95 schools and received offers to 3 of them. The applications will take a lot of time. There is no getting around this. You might be tempted to save some time and prepare one cover letter. This is a bad idea, especially if you are applying for a teaching program. There are many qualified applicants for each job. By putting in the extra effort to connect your application to the particular university, you boost your chances of landing that position.

For non-academic jobs, applications can be submitted later. Whereas you might wait two or three months to hear back about an academic position, you might hear back as early as one week about an industry job. If you are not sure about what type of job you want to pursue when you graduate, you should apply to academic jobs in the fall and see how the prospects are looking in the Winter quarter. After you are most through the application process for an academic position, you will want to apply to industry job. That way, you should have job offers coming around the same time.

There are a lot of factors that go into finding a job. To help you navigate the process, the department hosts a panel each spring on the topic. It is highly recommended to attend your third and/or fourth year. Graduate students going through the process pass along their advice.