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When do I look for non-academic jobs?
November 20, 2010 9:51 AM   Subscribe

When do I look for non-academic jobs if I'm trying to transition out of academia, and which jobs do I look for? (I have a math PhD.)

So I'm looking for an academic job. (I've posted about this before, last time I looked for one.) I have a one-year position, for the current academic year.) So I'm applying now for jobs that will start in the fall semester of 2011.

But I'm not one hundred percent sure that I want an academic job. I have one now, and I'm not satisfied with it. But it's the end of the semester and it's my first semester here, which both work against me. And even if I do want one, there's always the chance that I won't get one.

So I should probably be thinking about non-academic jobs.

The first question, then: when do I start looking? Let's say, hypothetically, that I'd want to start sometime in the summer of 2011. I keep hearing things like "it takes on average N months to find a job", where N is some ridiculously large number like nine. And what do I do in order to look? This is really the new part of the question; what's below duplicates my previous question a lot but gives context.

Of course this depends on what sort of job I'd want. Brief summary: my PhD, earned six months ago, is in math, more specifically probability and combinatorics. I don't know statistics (beyond the level of an intro course) and don't program in any real language (although I hack stuff together in Maple pretty routinely, and this one time I took an algorithms course but it didn't require us to write any code), but I'm kind of underemployed now so I have time to learn. I'm currently in the Bay Area but have no real connections here, but I like it here. So I'd be willing to relocate but also willing to stay.

In theory I like teaching, but in practice I'm finding that teaching large classes of somewhat apathetic students is no fun. I find myself saying that I'd like to teach if only the students wanted to learn. I like the idea of doing research. But I feel like the directions that my academic research is going in are way too shaped by what the academic job market wants. If I'm going to do something that I wouldn't do if I weren't getting paid for it, I want it to be something that actually helps people somehow.

Yes, I know this is vague. I don't know what I want to do with my life.
posted by madcaptenor to Work & Money (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
What kind of academic job do you have now that's (evidently) not rewarding? Do you have any actual teaching training? (In my experience, most math PhDs don't have any substantial pedagogical education to speak of, which is a real shame how difficult math is to learn for a lot of students.) Since you are looking for some change for personal reasons, rather than financial reasons, maybe you should look into an education certificate of some kind (maybe through CSUEB or SFSU if you're still in the Bay Area) and see about focusing on teaching at the community college level. My partner finds it challenging and rewarding--with some exceptions, the students really want to learn. And no 200-student classes, either. (The only caveat is that full-time jobs can be difficult to find in the Bay Area proper, so you may have to be willing to relocate eventually.) Admittedly, the only research opportunities there are *usually* a) educational research or b) research you pull together yourself.

I've also known professors in the CSU system who said it was a good balance between more rewarding teaching and access to more traditional research opportunities.

Sorry if that was not at all useful if you're actually committed to the non-academic job path.

Good luck finding something that's right!
posted by wintersweet at 10:01 AM on November 20, 2010


Wall street research, such as...mmm, let's see...mortgage securitization?

Seriously, I was in the theory side of the trading biz for a number of years, and we ate up combinatorics/probability people. Paid quite well and the problems were fascinating. For me personally, the people actually running the industry were a bit of a downer, so I got out and did computers...which is another possibility, although less of a hot thing now than it was, theory-wise.

You've got very marketable skillz!
posted by MisterMo at 10:06 AM on November 20, 2010


wintersweet: I'm currently teaching two medium-sized lecture classes a semester (this semester, 100 in one and 60 in the other; next semester, 100 in each) at a large public research university (yes, the one you probably think I'm talking about).

In my experience, most math PhDs don't have any substantial pedagogical education to speak of, which is a real shame how difficult math is to learn for a lot of students.

You're absolutely right. I don't have any actual teaching training. (The department I got my PhD from had a three-day TA training program. This is apparently considered a lot of training.) I didn't realize it was possible to get such training for postsecondary teaching but I've spent a lot of time thinking that that would be something worth pursuing if it existed. But the idea of more school seems a bit silly; I've spent my whole life in school up until six months ago! On the other hand, it really fucking pisses me off that people find math hard to learn, and I'd like to do something about that.

Since you are looking for some change for personal reasons, rather than financial reasons,

that's not entirely true. Three classes are considered a full-time load here, and I teach two, so I get paid two-thirds of the standard salary for new instructors. This is enough to live on but not enough to shut up the voices in my head that tell me making more money would be good. (If I got paid a full salary to teach three classes a semester I wouldn't be complaining about the money.)

The only caveat is that full-time jobs can be difficult to find in the Bay Area proper, so you may have to be willing to relocate eventually.

I would be willing to relocate. But, you know, the academic job market kind of sucks, and I'd rather not end up relocating to the stereotypical Place In The Middle Of Nowhere that is painted as where you have to go if that's where the job is.

Admittedly, the only research opportunities there are *usually* a) educational research or b) research you pull together yourself.

That doesn't bother me. A friend of mine actually suggested I look into doing educational research. And as I spend more time in the classroom I do find myself wishing that I at least knew more about what people have done in educational research. I don't know what I'm doing up there in the front of the classroom.

Sorry if that was not at all useful if you're actually committed to the non-academic job path.

I'm not committed to it yet. I want to make teaching work for me but I'm not sure if I can.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:17 AM on November 20, 2010


MisterMo: is that still an option after the 2008 crash? I keep hearing that the job opportunities for quants are not what they used to be. And I guess I'm not really thinking of that as an option because I don't know how to program in any serious way; my sense is that those jobs require a lot of programming. (Although I could learn!)
posted by madcaptenor at 10:20 AM on November 20, 2010


I don't know about math, but in my discipline, the job market application deadlines were last month.

Here are the job wikis for math. Looks like it varies.
posted by k8t at 10:50 AM on November 20, 2010


I know that D. E. Shaw does pretty heavy recruitment of mathematicians for quant jobs.
posted by parudox at 10:55 AM on November 20, 2010


I'm kind of underemployed now so I have time to learn. I'm currently in the Bay Area but have no real connections here, but I like it here. So I'd be willing to relocate but also willing to stay.

what are you actually interested in, other than a well-paying job? since you are at berkeley, there is a lot of research going on, are you interested in genetics, artificial intelligence, finance? find something you are interested in and talk to someone doing it about whether there are any little projects you could work on. also, start saving money like crazy.

I think the likeliest places that will pay you to change your research focus are finance and the NSA. But, the only way you will be successful is if you can really drop your old research interests and jump into solving real-world kinds of problems. If you have the time now, why wait, jump into something new.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:59 AM on November 20, 2010


I'm a math phd student (but with an emphasis in statistics, which SOUNDS more marketable, even though you would probably know as much practical stats as I do if you studied for 6 months) - and I've never wanted an academic job. There are tons of jobs in the Bay area for math-type people.

Since you have some time, my suggestion is to find people who have non-academic jobs and ask about what they do. Find your local INFORMS group (probabilistic modeling is a big branch of OR), R user group (you should learn R!), ASA if you're willing to pick up some statistics (but we get a lot of people who are the probability end of prob and stats depts), search meetup.com for something likely looking, ask local schools about career info...

The main thing is that you will learn more about what people actually do in those non-academic jobs, and maybe figure out which subsets of those sound interesting to you.

Don't be too stressed about a particular programming language - though you might want to pick up one - usually places expect you to be able to learn what they use, not come in as an expert in it. They know they're not hiring you to be a software engineer.
posted by ansate at 11:01 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Other than academia, the two biggest sources of employment for math Ph.D. are the NSA (along with its subcontractors) and finance companies (such as D.E. Shaw). Either would potentially hire you despite your lack of programming skills--they'd train you. I would suggest going to the Joint AMS/MAA Meetings in January. They'll have an employment center where you could get a chance to meet with representatives from some of the aforementioned organizations. As for timing, getting a job at the NSA takes a while, because you have to get clearance, so if you'd like to work there in the summer, apply two months ago. With finance companies, the process is much faster, so you might apply a few moths before you want to start working.

Beyond the above, tech companies like Google and Microsoft might like you for your math Ph.D., but if you want to work there, you should start learning how to program.
posted by epimorph at 11:04 AM on November 20, 2010


oh - and my impression is that normal places that want to hire people want to hire you within a month or two of meeting you. National Labs, govt contractors etc maybe longer. But I wouldn't worry about a full on job hunt until March or so. That's just my impression!
posted by ansate at 11:06 AM on November 20, 2010


ansate: Thanks for your suggestions for where to find out what people are doing.

But I wouldn't worry about a full on job hunt until March or so.

That's good to hear. By then I should have some idea how the academic job hunt is going. I still have the sense that my attitude toward academic jobs might swing back; I'm kind of thinking that maybe by the time someone makes me an offer I'll actually want the job they're offering.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:21 AM on November 20, 2010


Another finance shop that hires a lot of mathematicians is Renaissance Technologies.
posted by dfriedman at 11:38 AM on November 20, 2010


Try the NSA for a year or three. At worst you'll come out of it with an air of mystery that will confound and impress future colleagues. Another couple of of previous questions that mention the NSA as an option.
posted by Ahab at 11:56 AM on November 20, 2010


I don't have an answer for your main question (about finding jobs outside of academia) but I do have some thoughts about some of the other points you raised.

If you find yourself on the fence about teaching because you don't feel like you've had adequate training, then I can't recommend Project NExT enough. A lot of math departments view teaching as a necessary evil and train their graduate students accordingly. I got my Phd from a department that actually did give quite a bit of training, but even so there's quite a big difference in being a graduate student vs. being a professor. Project NExT was the perfect opportunity in post graduate training (and networking!) If you stick with academia, make institutional support for Project NExT one of your bargaining points in your next job.

I would also encourage you to rethink your stance about living in the middle of nowhere just to have an academic job. I grew up in a largish city in California with thoughts that everything between Nevada and New York was a cultural backwater. My first job out of grad school was in BFE Georgia, and though it did suck profoundly, it gave me a lot of experience that proved invaluable when I decided to move on. Since then, I've lived in Lexington, KY (which was awesome!) and now live in a small town in Texas (also awesome). Ultimately, what matters to me is the quality and collegiality of the department I'm in, not my time zone. You might have a similar experience.
posted by El_Marto at 12:52 PM on November 20, 2010


El_Marto: I think you actually recommended Project NExT to me before. I couldn't have actually applied to it this year, because I got my job after their application deadline. I will definitely keep it in mind.

Your point about geography also makes sense. I'm trying to avoid ending up in a job I dislike that's also in a place I wouldn't want to live in. It's a form of insurance. (This "collegiality" you talk about? I don't have it here.) But I am not really worried about ending up in a stereotypically "good" geographical location. What scares the hell out of me is that I have no control over where I end up. If I wanted to find a non-academic job, I could reasonably limit my search to a not-too-ridiculously-huge geographic area (say, a single state). Looking for an academic job, I almost feel like I'm being picky by insisting that I want to stay on this continent.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:50 PM on November 20, 2010


I forgot I had already sung the praises of Project NExT. Sorry, didn't mean to sound like a broken record.

I think you have the right idea about insisting on being at a place where you'll enjoy the work. Not only did you bust ass to get a math Phd and sort of deserve it, but there ARE departments that will value you as more than just a minion. However, there are also MANY departments that are rife with disfunction. One of my favorite "over beers" questions to ask other mathematicians is "What is the most messed up department you know about?" You hear some interesting stories and learn to avoid certain places.

Good luck with your search! If it's any consolation, I'm still on the job market too. Every year you do it makes you a little better. You just got your degree so I wouldn't necessarily give up on academia yet, especially if you enjoy teaching.
posted by El_Marto at 7:16 PM on November 20, 2010


Answering your question, one of the really compelling things about doing math for finance is that math, properly applied, translates directly into cash. So despite crashes, math skills, especially in the hands of someone who can see how to apply them to the market, are indispensible. If you turned out to be a person who had an aptitude such as this, your bosses would find someone to do the programming for you. That said, having some programming savvy could never hurt.

Government and regulatory entities are now also more aware of their need for understanding on the math side of things, although in my limited experience, I'd doubt that they'd be all that interesting.

I also second ansate - you've got time!
posted by MisterMo at 9:31 PM on November 20, 2010


@madcaptenor -- yes, I've actually sat in on some of the TA training (I can't remember if it was engineering and computer science-specific or whether it was generic, because it was several years ago). It's pretty shocking to me that this is unusual, but I guess it's better than nothing.

I also understand the "in school forever" feeling. You can teach yourself a lot, though, if you look into it. There are some online sources in my comments here:
http://ask.metafilter.com/164929/Whats-the-textbook-for-maths-teachers
and you can also check out http://mathforum.org/mathed/professional.dev.html
The SJSU/downtown San Jose library (open to anyone who gets a card) has a decent selection of recent books, and presumably the library you have access does as well. So as long as you're teaching, you might as well take a look.

Again, good luck with whatever you do! I really think the world could use another math teacher with a clue and a heart, but people also need to be happy and, you know, have roofs over their heads.
posted by wintersweet at 5:46 PM on November 21, 2010


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