27 Jun 2011 vicious   » (Master)

Army of math

Doing math is like being in the military it seems, at least if you want to be in the academia. You don’t really get much of a choice where you go work, you sort of get an assignment. Especially in this job market. The idea is the following: you send about 100 applications (if looking for research jobs), then about 50 of those you won’t consider anyway, though you don’t know that when applying. Then out of the next 50 you might get some interviews, and some of those you decide you don’t want to go to. Then you get an offer from a place you didn’t interview at, for a postdoc, for which you didn’t really apply (actually I got two such offers this year). The whole process takes about half a year, though then you get 2 weeks to decide once you get an offer.

My first job application 4 years ago when I went to Illinois was a bit simpler. I applied to 100 places. 50 of those were tenure-track positions where I had no chance straight out of the PhD. The 50 were postdocs, out of which probably 5 I was a reasonable candidate for since no place will hire a postdoc unless they have a group in your area. Out of that I got two offers around the same time, and one sort of informal offer. Then you pick, and go live in the midwest for 3 years.

So we spent 3 years in Illinois, 1 year in San Diego, next up to 3 years in Wisconsin, then …? Wisconsin will be the 3rd state that Maia will be living in and she’s only going to be 5. So when someone asks her “Where’d you grow up?” Then instead of saying: “We moved around, my dad was in the military” she’ll sat “We moved around, my dad was a mathematician.”

Well at least it will make for a more interesting story. I wish the job market gets better so that I can find a permanent job I like. I know it sounds like whining, since I have a guaranteed job for next 3 years (though it’s also guaranteed I will not have that job in 3 years time).

Academia is one of those careers where you’re well in your thirties before you really can possibly settle down. And before your salary starts reflecting the level of eduction you got. Professors at top schools do get paid well, but it takes a long time. As a programmer, I could be making the amount of money I hope to be making 10 years from now as a mathematician, 10 years ago.

Then you hear someone say “Oh this or that person couldn’t get a job in the industry so he went to academia” … yeah right … that’s the easy way out.


Syndicated 2011-06-27 17:45:54 from The Spectre of Math

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