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PhD Math Education without Prior Math Degree


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Hi, all. 


I am a high school math teacher interested in pursuing a PhD in K-12 math education, most likely focused in Geometry and Algebra, based upon my conversations so far with potential advisors. I did not study math in college, nor in grad school (I did an Ed Policy Masters which is where I became further convinced of the need for improved math instruction). I have been in contact with several potential advisors and some outright said that I should go back and do a master's first (Vandy and Columbia and somewhat UVA) while others (Michigan, Michigan State) said that once I arrive at school, I could use a few of my elective credits to make up for this gap. I have self-studied (or MOOC'ed) several Calc courses and I have a pretty high Quant GRE score (167). 


I have phone calls lined up over the next few weeks with Stanford, Harvard and Penn and I realize that I have not yet told them about my lack of a math degree. Any advice for how I can demonstrate to them that I am a competent math student/teacher despite not having formal credentials in this area? Again, I am certainly willing to work toward closing this gap once enrolled -- I simply don't have the time or finances to take coursework at a university. 


Really this is a variation of the larger question about how much math math teachers should know to succesfully teach their subject. Ironically, many of the weaknesses that I have noted among other math teachers that I have observed stem from a superficial understanding of their subject. I don't believe that this is the case for me, but am I right that this might be an uphill battle? The very reason that I entered math education is because I was so turned off by math as a middle/high/and even college student. Still, I was always a successful math student, just not one that took too many courses beyond what was required.  


Finally, certain programs (such as Harvard's and Penn's) are not explicitly "Math Ed PhDs" but are instead Teaching/Learning Degrees in which you may choose to concentrate in math. Would having a prior math degree be less important in these programs? 


Thanks so much for any insight!

Edited by patientpatient
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I am not in education so others can probably give better advice but I do have an undergrad degree in math so I am familiar with the area. I don't think the lack of a math degree needs to hold you back at all. You have experience in this area and can bring some unique perspectives. I am pursing a PhD in biophysics and have only taken 1 physics class ever (and I got a C in it). I have a strong quantitative background through and my interests and experience perfectly line up with my PhD program. When talking to schools, I never mentioned my lack of physics. I instead focused on the knowledge and experience I have.


I would change the way you approach this with schools. Make sure you sell your background. If you bring it up to schools in a way that makes it seem like a flaw then it is more likely to be viewed by them as one. You may be able to gauge their opinion on it by saying that you are interested in taking X and Y math class during your PhD and asking if you could use that to fill elective requirements. Outside of that, I don't think I would mention the lack of math degree. I would instead focus on discussing your research interests and how perfectly they fit with the program.

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I don't think it will hurt you too much, but you might also want to look beyond specific math ed programs to those that are doing work around math education topics (e.g., policy, ed psych). What articles have you read that really interested you? Who wrote these? Look at those professors and their programs.

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