Masters in maths? Difficulty level: Have bachelors in graphic design
March 31, 2013 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Dear Mefites, a long time ago I got a degree in graphic design but never worked in the industry. Along the way I somehow (don't remember how or why or when) became interested in math and I finished a graduate diploma in maths as a distance learning course in my free time. I am considering applying for masters programmes in maths or related subjects but ... can I? Should I?

To give a little more background, I'm interested in what I perceive as stuff related to applied maths: meteorology, language processing, cryptography, etcetera. But I'm also wondering how I can relate these sorts of interests to jobs or careers ...

I've seen center for women in mathematics and LEAP but I'm not a US citizen and I can't afford to attend those. Also, I have no access to education I'm interested in where I live, hence I'm considering becoming an international student in the EU. I have some savings but by no means can I afford to get a second bachelors degree ...

I've also tried looking for work in related fields so I could get a feel for them but right now I'm just stuck at an awful data entryish job that I hate so much.

And also sometimes I feel like I'm so stupid that I just shouldn't be attempting this at all ... argh!

I'd appreciate any advice! Thank you!
posted by Cat Set Go to Education (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
It might help to know where you are and also what courses you picked while doing the diploma. There seem to be two separate issues here. One is whether you could get into a master's program and the other is whether you should.

Looking at some masters programs at random, you're almost certainly qualified on paper for some of them. Some require abstract algebra and real analysis. If you took the 'advanced mathematical analysis' course, I think most people would see that as having had real analysis. I don't know that the 'further calculus' on its own would count. It doesn't look like the diploma had anything approximating abstract algebra.

Some departments look more favourably on people with unusual backgrounds than others. Right now, it sounds like your math background is fairly weak, but some departments will say "Oh, her degree was in graphic design, so it's totally understandable she hasn't taken X and Y, and she seems smart and motivated, so why not?" and others will go "Graphic design? WTF?"

There are some places in the US that fund masters students, usually places without PhD programs. (I've honestly never figured out how funding works in the EU if you don't normally live in the EU, even if you're an EU citizen.)

I don't think I can really say much on the "should you do it" front.
posted by hoyland at 12:26 PM on March 31, 2013


I'm interested in what I perceive as stuff related to applied maths: meteorology, language processing, cryptography, etcetera. But I'm also wondering how I can relate these sorts of interests to jobs or careers ...

How do you feel about computer science?
posted by TheCavorter at 12:39 PM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


It might be worth seeking out people who work in fields you might be interested in and asking for their advice. It could be that a Master's in math won't get you where you want to be but there are other options that will. Even if they have no idea who you are, people -- especially academics -- will usually respond to a nice introductory email.
posted by goingonit at 7:48 PM on March 31, 2013


Hi Hoyland! I did the compulsory ones (abstract math, further linear algebra, further calculus) and four optionals (game theory, advanced mathematical analysis, optimisation theory & advanced statistics: distribution theory). Yes there was very little abstract algebra! I've been trying to pick up some of the things I missed there by going through recommended books from a typical undergrad curriculum.

Oh, I didn't know that about departments with differing attitudes. In your opinion, is there a difference between the two departments? I have a hard time imagining that anyone would see a plus in an 'unusual background' like mine and be seriously serious ... it's got no relation to maths whatsoever (Unless you're Vi Hart)!


Hi TheCavorter! I did think about comp sci, I don't know why but I can't seem to be enthusiastic about my (incorrect?) impression of it as software development & algorithms.


Hi goingonit! I've read quite a few interviews about people's careers like those in plusmath and other websites and they all seem awfully straightforwards -- it's like all of them have known what they were interested in since they were 6 and then they went on to a related degree & career. It was really demoralizing.
posted by Cat Set Go at 9:49 AM on April 1, 2013


Don't worry! I don't think that the interviews in plusmath accurately represent the variety of background that people actually have in these fields.

Browsing them briefly, it looks like their career interviews are essentially "you should study math in school" propaganda so it's no surprise that this is how their interviewees got there. Plus, you have to think about how they find people to interview. The editors are both academically-oriented people who work for Cambridge University, so who do you think they tend to meet on a daily basis?

You may get different results if you look for some career paths that strike your fancy and seek people out looking from the other direction -- plus you'll get a nifty demonstration of sampling biases in action!
posted by goingonit at 1:32 PM on April 1, 2013


To give a little more background, I'm interested in what I perceive as stuff related to applied maths: meteorology, language processing, cryptography, etcetera. But I'm also wondering how I can relate these sorts of interests to jobs or careers ...

I have a hard time imagining that anyone would see a plus in an 'unusual background' like mine and be seriously serious ... it's got no relation to maths whatsoever (Unless you're Vi Hart)!

You mentioned meteorology, have you looked at physics? Physics folk are pretty easygoing and welcoming of eclectic backgrounds. And it can be fun, if you're passionate about it.

I'd suggest you take an intro quantum course at a university (and ace it) to have something on your c.v. that shows you can hack the material, and to get a taste for the field and the people. I'm suggesting quantum because other mid-level courses like Electromagnetism or advanced Mechanics need a bit more of the intro stuff leading up into them.

In terms of jobs:
http://www.iop.org/careers/workinglife/articles/page_39037.html
http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2012/06/08/the-best-and-worst-masters-degrees-for-jobs-2/2/

Look at doing a masters in medical physics or experimental condensed matter if you're looking for subfields with really well defined job-streams coming out of them. (I'm not disparaging something like theoretical high energy particle physics, which is what my wife does, but it doesn't have well-defined non-academic jobs.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:57 PM on April 2, 2013


Hello sebastienbailard, thank you very much for your advice! May I ask a few more questions of you?

I've been looking at physics courses and they look very interesting indeed. You suggested doing a masters in medical physics, did you mean something like this? http://www.ucl.ac.uk/medphys/msc/dist

Also, you mentioned taking an intro quantum course if possible, because other courses require intro level stuff. This is something that worries me ... if I backfill all the gaps in my knowledge along the way by studying on my own, will I be at a disadvantage compared to a person who actually has a bachelors in Physics? I am wondering if I will be putting myself at a disadvantage if I go directly into a specialised masters.
I have no doubt that I will study hard and cope with the material, my only worry is that I will be lacking a necessary foundation.

Many thanks!
posted by Cat Set Go at 9:43 PM on April 12, 2013


You would want to spend 1-2 years at a physics department doing the last 1-2 years of a physics major. Eithier full-time instruction or in chunks as a 'Special Student' - what they call non-traditional students here doing professional / personal enrichment . This would certainly have to include one or two lab courses and something like a modern physics course. This may be as part of the masters program.

I would start by grinding through Halliday and Resnick's text and problem sets and supplementing that with relevant readings from the Cartoon Guide to Physics and the Feynman Lectures on Physics. (Which has chunks quite advanced.) MIT's (or Berkeley?) video of the lectures for first-year physics may help via iTunes university or youtube?

On the side, start reading decent popularizations: Bad Astronomy and small chunks of Physics Today, Flying Circus of Physics, and whatever the physics analog of
this is, maybe. You just have to fall in love with physics a bit, or this plan is a death march and you should learn to paint instead.

At the end of Halliday and Resnick, I would touch base with a tenure or tenure track prof at a local university who is friendly, and I would lay out a course of self-study for the next 2-3 years, based on the standard texts that make up the current curriculum. "Well, obviously you would want Griffith's QM and E&M books, ..."

See if you can meet the prof who is working on "Recruitment and Retention" for the department and whose job it is to talk to prospective students, and ask to meet them during office hours and not during the first few weeks of term.

Bring donuts, or tasty artisinal baked goods.
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Open University has offices and regional examination centres in most other European countries if you would like to do that route. This would be easier than a generic self-guided approach.
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I've been looking at physics courses and they look very interesting indeed. You suggested doing a masters in medical physics, did you mean something like this? http://www.ucl.ac.uk/medphys/msc/dist


Eh. Just have a good plan for what you'll do with the degree. It is common for grad students doing physics to think "I want to do General Relativity" or something, and what happens is that 1) no-one at that university does GR, 2) IBM is not hiring General Relativity Theoriticains. Instead they work in an experimentalist's lab or under a theorist and fall in love with their sub-discipline and so on.

If that sub-discipline actually has a real-world analogue that's a job in the real world, this is a good thing.

Medical Physics is one of those jobs in the real world.

GR is not.

Someone who did GR ends up figuring out an optimal bus routing for a city as part of a consultancy, and then does something else weird for the consultancy. Or they become a quant, abuse cocaine, have a few bad scares, think about where their life is going, and then become a hobby woodworker in the fens.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:58 PM on April 22, 2013


Good luck!
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:00 PM on April 22, 2013


Hello sebastienbailard, thank you for your helpful advice! Greatly appreciated!!
posted by Cat Set Go at 7:44 AM on April 24, 2013


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