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I have one year left until I graduate with a bachelors in pure math, and as registration rolls around for next fall I need some advice on deciding which path I should go down. Ultimately it comes down to the decision to eventually go into industry or stay on the path of pure math with hopes of attending a good graduate program.

Ever since I started university I have wanted to get a PhD in math. I think I would truly enjoy being a professor, and I find the idea of studying math for a living very attractive, but as of late I have been considering other options for a couple of reasons.

1) Financial Reasons:

Industry jobs usually pay much higher than jobs in academia, and although money has never been my number one priority I still have to be realistic in planning my future.

2) I'm not Competitive:

So far the upper division math classes I have taken are 2 courses in Real Analysis, 2 courses in Abstract Algebra, 2 courses in Number Theory, 1 Probability course, and 1 course in Complex Analysis from a top 40 school. I have done decent in these courses (3.4), but not as competitive as I know one might need to pursue a PhD at a good school. Originally I thought I could be one of the "top" students in math and eventually go on to make real contributions to math, but it seems that I might not be cut out for it. I definitely don't want to fool myself to continue in a field that I will never be successful in.

3) Mental Stability:

I don't know if I am as motivated as I need to be in order to pursue a PhD. I enjoy math and the mental challenge, but I find that consistently struggling with math problems every day can be overwhelming for me, and I'm not always as dedicated as my peers seem to be. I also suffer from anxiety and find myself very overwhelmed in regards to tests.

4) I might be romanticizing academic life:

I think I was originally drawn to the idea of becoming a professor because I didn't want to end up working for some corporation monotonously running through the same set of tasks daily. I also have always liked the idea of teaching students and helping them discover their interests and harnessing their potential. That being said I think I might be overgeneralizing and overlooking the good qualities of jobs in industry.

With this in mind I have to make my decision for next years classes. I have two options; I can enroll in graduate level classes for analysis and algebra to boost my application for graduate programs, or I can take classes focusing on applied math, like financial mathematics, or some computer science classes.

Sorry that this was so long, but thank you for reading and any advice would be great! Specifically if you have experience in math academia, or if you have experience with industry careers like actuarial work or programming I would love to get your opinions.

1 Answer 1

That sounds like a tough decision but I see no reason why your long terms plans need to be decided now. Keep your options open by enrolling in the graduate level classes that will help you academic applications AND find a summer internship in industry.

Make your decision only after you have applied to grad school (see where you are accepted) and have a better feeling about what you might want to do in the private sector (go on lots of informational interviews). It is easier to change paths (and leave a PhD program early for industry) than the other way around.

I say act as if you are planning on going to grad school but have a backup plan in case you find an industry job you really like or are not accepted at the grad school of your choice.

Good luck!