My question is similar to this one

Career for a mathematician outside academia

but slightly different: what can I do with an MS in Math degree, if I don't continue for a PhD?

I wrote an MS thesis, spent about a year with a good research lab on campus, and have made good progress in research. The feedback I've gotten from the lab directors has been pretty good.

The problem now is that I'm testing the job market, and currently nobody really seems to want me or value me. They don't seem to care that I wrote a thesis or worked in a research lab. And, people are taking a long time in getting back to me on the phone, on email, etc.

This is interesting to experience; however, how can I figure out which companies or industries will actually value someone with my background?

I've been looking for entry-level to mid-career finance positions, at banks and hedge funds -- nobody seems to want to talk seriously with me yet.

(I have a bit of coding experience but not a fully developed computer science background, e.g. I don't know anything about operating systems or compilers.)

For context: I'm in the United States.


2 Answers 2


It's good you're wondering about this now, before you commit another 3+ years to doing a PhD after which you might face the same questions but after paying a much higher opportunity cost. Questions such as these are what I consider paramount to ask before applying for graduate study.

The good news is a Masters degree will open up at least some doors. There are things that you can do with a Masters degree that someone with only a Bachelor's cannot. The bad news is that there are fewer of these positions. Because you're more highly qualified, you can also overqualify yourself out of entry-level positions since the employer assumes you'll move on quickly and they would waste their efforts training you.

Regarding what you can do, I wouldn't usually start with which companies are interested, but rather which jobs require a MS math degree. A quick search on monster.com turns up results such as this and this. By extension the companies posting these ads are interested in you. As you look through the ads, think of all the things you learned that you might be able to apply to the requirements listed. For example you say you have coding experience. The Data Scientist job specifically asks for familiarity with SAS, R and Python. Do you know these things? If so, you're in business.

If after responding to lots of these ads, nobody still wants to talk to you, then chances are your application isn't very good. This could be because of your cover letter, CV, transcript, or a multitude of other factors. Talk to your alma mater's career center, if they have one, or ask on Workplace.SE. It's not that different from applying to 10 different graduate schools and getting rejected by all of them. Diagnose why, fix it if possible, and apply to another 10 graduate schools.

You can also look at jobs that require a PhD in math. If you find you like these jobs a lot more than those that only require a MS, that's a good time to think of doing PhD studies.

  • Great answer, +1; only quibble is with the last paragraph. The answer might lie in making a slight change of course rather than going for the PhD. What I mean is that unemployment is not necessarily the best reason to pursue a PhD (which is probably not what you meant, but that paragraph could be read that way). Commented May 7, 2018 at 17:18

I got a degree in Math as well. I was unable to find a job. After a summer of living back at home with my parents. I figured enough was enough and just took a temp job in a warehouse.

In this warehouse I worked as a stock boy. I nearly got fired my first week (the manager was awful) because I did not know the product very well (I don't want to be specific). After my first month I was one of the better stock boys. Eventually they made me a cashier.

I did a great job as a cashier. Quickly I learned the entire inventory and was easily able to help customers with any problems they were complaining about. Then I was moved to customer service.

The customer service team was behind by 6 months. After me being there for 2 months, we had caught customer service up to 2 weeks. As a customer service rep, I was allowed to sell parts that the customer may have needed. Many times a customer would buy the wrong product. Thus I would have them return it, refund them, then get them to buy the correct product. They noticed that my sales were fairly high and they put me on the sales team.

Once again, I was horrible when I started. Customers were typically in a rush, and expected you to understand much of the slang related to the product. After a few months, I became the top sales man. Out selling someone who had been there 20 years (he was very upset about it).

Then I was told that they were having problems with managing there data on their clients. It was several large excel sheets that had the information of hundreds of thousands of clients on them. They wanted particular statistics from them. I simply converted the excel sheets to CSV files, then I manipulated them. Thankfully there was an API within there Inventory Management System that allowed you to upload CSV file data to it. So I did that and any statistics that they could have wanted they were able to generate themselves now. Before I had done this, there were have 3-4 guys works on these excel sheets for months. Hundreds of man hours waisted.

My entire career has been similar to this. If there is one thing I have realized it is that there is always work that needs to be done. It is much more important to find a healthy environment where what you accomplish is acknowledged than finding your dream job. I don't know why people buy into the 'a degree will get you a cushy job'. I don't think it will. But it sure does make you more intelligent and a better learner. And that is much more valuable than a good job.

This was over 8 years ago. Now I work as a product engineer. Doing mostly Embedded, Fullstack and Mobile development. I typically just follow wherever the money is and work is needed. You should definitely do something that you enjoy, but these days I think people confuse that with doing something you love. Not everyone can do something they love for work. Be realistic about your job options. Make sure you pick a field that pays very well. Start at the bottom, work your way up.

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    The twisty career path you describe is very common, probably the norm for the last few decades. Best of luck to you! It would behoove students keeping an eye on career paths to be aware of this. Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 15:26
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    "You should definitely do something that you enjoy, but these days I think people confuse that with doing something you love. Not everyone can do something they love for work." Sage advice. Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 15:31

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