selling out while staying academic
March 31, 2009 9:55 AM   Subscribe

How can math postdocs switch into more applied fields?

I am a mathematician finishing my second postdoctoral stint, working in one very pure branch of mathematics. I'm good enough to occasionally get shortlisted for assistant professorships by respectable universities, including a couple top 10s. So I'd eventually get a job in my area if the economy was better. But I've not gotten any offers & the economy will suck for several years. Btw, the smaller schools naturally don't want anybody too focused on research.

I think it's time to take a step back and work on other interesting problems that get more funding. It might be fun getting a second PhD in physics, but this seems excessive, and I'd be more interested in analysis & probability. Any advice?
posted by anonymous to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could do some modeling work in Engineering I'd bet. For instance, a prof I know does computational modeling. He probably doesn't have funding for you, but this might be something to look into.
posted by lizbunny at 10:06 AM on March 31, 2009

I don't know anything about your field, but what about institutions in countries not affected by the recession (yet, maybe)? New Zealand, and I think Australia also, have not been affected by the financial crisis. Someone of your caliber may find it easy to get a job there.
posted by scazza at 10:12 AM on March 31, 2009

Look into business schools.
posted by rbs at 11:14 AM on March 31, 2009

Computational protein design might be an interesting field for you.
posted by sickinthehead at 11:50 AM on March 31, 2009

Hmnn, I'm finishing up a PhD in Applied Math at some point this summer (crosses fingers), but I haven't really been on the academic market. Have you considered work with one of the Department of Energy laboratories? Some of the computational math work is actually fairly analytical, though almost all of it relies on a lot of programming.

If you're an utter badass you could apply for a job at D.E. Shaw Research, just remember that getting a job there can be more competitive than getting an academic position.

Beyond that, I don't have many ideas, as far as I know Microsoft Research isn't hiring right now, Google may have a few positions open, but hiring has slowed there as well.
posted by onalark at 12:19 PM on March 31, 2009

It might be fun getting a second PhD in physics, but this seems excessive, and I'd be more interested in analysis & probability.

Don't get another PhD. Do another postdoc. Find someone who's doing something that you're interested in, where your skills will be applicable, and try to get a position with them. Theoretical physics might be one place to look, but what you need is someone with a mathematically intensive problem but without extensive math expertise. Playing the role of the "outside expert" can be very productive for a postdoc, and if you're productive in the field, you have instant credibility, regardless of the discipline written on your diploma.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:44 PM on March 31, 2009

Have you considered the field of cryptography? I think NSA is always looking for people who are good at math, and there are private companies in the cryptography field, too (e.g. RSA).
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:53 PM on March 31, 2009

The NSF has just announced a new round of postdocs for people who haven't had any luck getting a job in this economy. Not what you asked, but it's an option.
posted by number9dream at 6:45 PM on March 31, 2009

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