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prospective math student, unsure about best path forward




I'll to tell you about my background, and what dream about, and maybe you can help me figure out the best way to get there 😊

I have a BS in computer science from a top university. Now I want to get a PhD in math. I've been out of school since 2015, in a job about as far from math as you could imagine (teaching English as a foreign language).

My application at the moment is not very strong, IME. I have 4 or 5 math classes on my transcript averaging about B+. I can get weak recommendations from my CS profs, and maybe one from a math prof who vaguely remembers me. I could get a good recommendation from a *friend* who is now a post-doc in math, but I'm not sure that would be looked upon highly.

So, the options I see are:

1) get a master's degree in math to strengthen my application. I think I could get into an OK master's program.

2) apply to shoe-in PhD programs. I think I could get into something.

  a) if I get into a PhD program, I could quit after receiving a master's and apply somewhere else. But I don't want to piss off a professor/department which was expecting me to stay on for a long time. I need a reality check if this would even work.

  b) Finish the PhD at a low-ranked school

(1) is obviously the more prudent option, but the issue there is funding. I get the impression that master's students are not as well supported as PhD students. My impression is that they don't get a stipend, but they are still eligible for TAships, competitive fellowships/scholarships, etc. Can someone weigh in here as to the difficulty of supporting oneself with minimal savings as a master's student? I'm sure it varies a lot, but any input would help.

My brother-in-law who has a PhD in aerospace said to always apply to the PhD program because it is easier to get in. He says the schools prefer PhD students because they can...make them do more work (slave labor?), and they stay longer. Actually I forget the reason he gave...But I'm having a hard time believing this.

If you can think of any other pathways I couldn't, let me know! 


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