Career question: museum and math edition
April 2, 2017 7:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to graduate with a master's in museum studies. I'm doing a master's project on lesson plans highlighting the math within art pieces at a specific museum. My undergraduate background is not math, but I've become interested in learning more math.

I am currently exploring sequences and series, multi variable calculus, and linear algebra through a mixture of MIT open courseware and Khan Academy. I never took any of these in undergrad. I enjoy pure math more than applied math but also love connecting math to art. I know about the program at Smith College for those who want to do prerequisites in math after majoring in not-math in order to go to grad school. My problem/question is that I'm not sure if I want to go to grad school for math. I'm applying to museum jobs right now and I expect I would enjoy one if I manage to get one. I'd also be interested in any jobs in informal math education or other informal math education. I think I would love working at an art museum illuminating the math in the art, some kind of math education program showing people how math is fun, any museum education/exhibits position. (And I'm going to be looking for work in general if I can't get these ideal jobs - I know they're hard to get.) My main questions are:

A) What jobs should I be considering right now in the informal education field that I might not know of in museums?
B) What are reasons I should/shouldn't pursue graduate education in math?
C) Where are places to learn math without having to enter into a full time program?
D) What kind of math education jobs are out there? What kind of degree might I need for that job?
posted by azalea_chant to Education (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here are three math-education-focused nonprofits you might find interesting: Groups working on STEM education more generally, especially STEM for people from underrepresented groups, will have a similar feel (there's a huge overlap between math and computer science, for example).
posted by yarntheory at 4:26 AM on April 3, 2017

I can't speak to museums much/at all, but I did do a math PhD and then leave academia. Broadly, I think doing a degree in another subject when you've just finished one is a bad idea, though I'm sure we could concoct scenarios where it makes sense. More specifically, I don't think you have enough math background to make an informed decision at the moment. Exposure-wise, you're on the brink of the significant shift into proof-based classes.

Once you finish the courses you're doing now, you probably want to make your way through real analysis and abstract algebra. "Baby" Rudin is the classic undergrad real analysis book (I think it's called Introduction to Real Analysis--there are no fewer than three books people refer to as "Rudin" and expect you to figure it out from context), but is not the most user-friendly. Maybe use Pugh instead (same level, but more accessible). Undergrad abstract algebra texts are somewhat more fractured. I used Beachy and Blair, which has the advantage of containing approximately the contents of a good semester-long undergrad abstract algebra course. Artin is fairly popular, but has some "extra" chapters. Dummit and Foote is definitely the hard end of the undergrad books (it gets used as a "light" choice for a graduate algebra class) and has a lot of chapters you don't need , but has loads of exercises. Depending on your personality, you could work through on your own, or follow the homeworks for a class using the same book (these are Math 104 and 113 at Berkeley, for reference) or take a class if you have a flexible work schedule (or a university nearby that actually teaches math at night).

I do know three (four?) people who went to the Smith program. I think they all had some non-zero math background--one was a math minor in undergrad and came back after a few years of working in the arts, one was working as a middle school math teacher (but I don't know what her actual math exposure was in undergrad) and one was actually a math major at a tiny college. Memail me if you're giving that option more thought and I can put you in touch.
posted by hoyland at 4:52 AM on April 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

You likely have seen this, but since you didn't mention it: There are some jobs open at the National Museum of Mathematics in NYC. Even if that isn't an option, you could try to talk with some of the folks there.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:01 AM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Where are places to learn math without having to enter into a full time program?

Many public universities will allow you to enter as a non-degree seeking student, particularly if you already have a bachelor's. I'm assuming that if you happen to have managed to acquire a master's without a bachelor's that you'd still be eligible.
posted by yohko at 12:49 PM on April 4, 2017

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