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Math Educator's change of heart


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I'm a resident of IL and have been most of my life. I received my undergrad in Math Education with the goal of being a high school teacher, but decided to hide out in a masters program for pure math while the State got its act together with common core implementation. Lately, through tutoring and mentoring, I've found that I really just can't stand teenagers, likely due to pushing 30 and having nothing in common with this new generation. I'm considering following up my masters work with a PhD and shooting for a professorship instead. I've since found out that this is exceedingly difficult to accomplish and wanted to know if anyone else around here has made a similar jump.

Academically, I've been a 4.0 student throughout but at a completely unranked school. College Rank didn't matter when I was thinking about high school, but I've realized that this is not the case for post secondary educators. So, with a "fourth tier" public school education and zero publications, what kind of PhD programs should I even be looking at? And more importantly, if a fourth tier school PhD is what I can attain, is it worth it to even attend? I'm in a kind of midlife crisis mode suddenly seeing that what I planned the last 6 years isn't what I want. Looking to maybe network with people who have had a similar experience who could offer advice.


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I get the impression that you want to be a professor so you can teach college students. Am I understanding you right?

To my understanding, it is rare to pursue a PhD in the goals of teaching. A PhD is a research degree and your primary passion and motivation in doing a PhD should be producing original research. Nothing against teaching students, but I wonder if having that as the primary motivation would be enough.


In regards to your question, I think the people on these forums can give better advice if you are more specific with your background. What was your Masters in? Do you have any proof intensive courses? Maybe even check out mathematicsgre.com as they are a much more active forum.



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Teaching is what I want to do, yes. I understand that teaching is only a part of what a professor's job entails at a more prestigious institution, but that ship has long sailed for me. I think possibly a junior college level or small, liberal arts school would be a better fit. As I understand it, a phd is preferred even if not required for these kinds of opportunities.

My masters will be in pure math and I'm about half way through. I'm taking a second course in each of algebra, analysis and topology now. My undergrad focused more on the education aspect than math, so the courses I was in last semester were considered "transitional" - that is, undergrad level for grad credit. I'm aware that the rigor I experienced is nothing compared to what many other programs offer, but I'm doing well in this setting and would like to continue studying math.

I will check out that other forum. Thanks.

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I think you can probably overcome the lack of name recognition of your schools by: 1) obtaining a high subject GRE score, and/or 2) obtaining excellent letters of recommendation. Even if you are from a university the admissions committees have not heard of, strong letters that say you're in the top 1% of students the professors have ever taught and that give SPECIFIC examples of your research potential for mathematiics will go quite a long way. Though the place I obtained my MS in applied mathematics is hardly "unknown" (however, it is a big flagship public university that isn't as high-ranked for math), there was an undergraduate student in the math dept who was able to get into MIT for a PhD in pure mathematics. I attribute it to: 1) the high subject GRE score he received (so his application wasn't just dismissed), and 2) the fact that he had been taking graduate level classes since his freshman year.


Having no publications isn't likely a problem. The vast majority of math PhD applicants will not have any publications. That said, I do think the most prestigious, top tier math programs may be out of reach for you, only because of the calibre of students applying to those schools. For instance, it is not uncommon for many new grad students at Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, etc. to already have started taking graduate-level classes their sophomore year (maybe even freshman year). So you will unlikely be able to compete with those types of students only because your exposure to mathematics will not be as deep as them.


You may want to aim a little bit lower. Depending on how good your subject test is and how good you assume your letters of recommendation will be, you can probably aim as high as SUNY Stony Brook and Indiana. If your GRE is *really* good, you can probably throw in a few "reach" schools too, but your chances below that will get better the lower down the rankings you go. If your goal is to teach at a junior/community college, SLAC, or technical school, then it's likely the prestige of your PhD program won't be as big an issue, so in that case, going to a second tier PhD program won't be as big of a problem.

Edited by Stat Applicant
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  • 1 month later...

I've found that I really just can't stand teenagers, likely due to pushing 30 and having nothing in common with this new generation. 


Just curious, why do you think the teenagers are "unbearable" and why the college students are bearable instead?

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