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I'm an international student, originally from a country in South Asia. I have been admitted to a PhD program in Mathematics. The school is ranked in the top 70-80 range.

While I'm interested in getting an academic job in the future, I'm aware that it would be very difficult for me to get an academic job after having graduated with a PhD from the aforementioned school. Therefore, I'm seriously considering keeping my options open to enter the industry as well. I'm especially considering this option since I, ideally, don't wish to move back to my home country directly upon graduation.

My questions are as follows:

  1. As of yet, I'm looking to complete my PhD in analysis/probability/PDE's. Would this allow me to keep a options in the industry open? If so, what options are generally available if one has a PhD in these field(s)? Is the job market robust? Or should one consider completing a PhD in a different field?

  2. Is it especially hard for international students to find a job in the industry (or academia) after graduation? I'm open to looking for a job in multiple countries. I'm also considering the possibility of moving/transferring to a statistics program to keep more job options open.

In a nutshell, what can students like myself do now to achieve the best possible outcome which can be achieved by attending a middle tier graduate program in mathematics.

Edit: With regards to post-doc positions, I am assuming that it will be very hard for me to find a good position after having graduated from a top 70-80 school. Given this additional information, could someone please guide international students like myself who may want to keep as many options open in the industry?

  • Why don't you start looking for a job in industry immediately (and keep looking while you are in school until you find one) instead of waiting until you graduate? Do you really like being a PhD student (or like the chance of becoming an academic) so much that you are willing to be $50K/year (or more) poorer for it? – Alexander Woo May 16 '18 at 20:51
  • @AlexanderWoo I'm not currently enrolled in a PhD program. I'm trying to answer this question prior to entering the program. I assume other students will be able to find the answers given to this question useful as well. I, of course, have a range of personal and non-personal reasons for considering both academia and industry. – user82261 May 16 '18 at 21:06
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You seem to be completely ignoring the possibility of getting a postdoc in a better school.

In addition to being a great opportunity to expand your social network, it would give you the chance to do more (hopefully good) work before applying for faculty positions.

  • Hi. You're right. Getting a job in academia would necessarily mean that this is a first step that I would have to take. However, I deliberately phrased the question such that it focuses more on the prospect of getting a job in the industry. As of yet, I'm more interested in exploring the options available on this front. – user82261 May 16 '18 at 15:08
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These are partial answers, and I hope someone with more industry experience will chime in.

  1. The topic of your thesis (i.e. your specialty within math) does matter, but it's not a dealbreaker. I've seen algebraic geometers get banking jobs directly after their PhD or postdoc. (Granted, they were coming from top departments.) The logic seems to be that someone with the quantitative skills and motivation to get a PhD in math can learn domain-specific stuff on the job. Having said that, the closer you are to applied math, the easier a time you'll likely have, since you can sell yourself as both smart and in possession of in-demand skills. Analysis/PDE is a decent middle ground, especially if you can do something sort of applied. Probability may be the ideal compromise, since it's relatively in-demand in academia, and it also puts you closer to statistics, which is incredibly hot in industry right now. Needless to say, coding skills will also help. If coding is relevant to your thesis, great. If not, it's still a good idea to learn it on the side and find a way to demonstrate your skills publicly.

  2. Being a citizen of [country] will generally make it easier to get a job in [country], but again it's rarely a dealbreaker. One of the best things you can do is seek out internships in industry during the summers of your PhD. Then when you apply for a job at that company, you won't be a faceless non-citizen, but a person who they already (hopefully) have a good impression of.

  • My experience is that topic of thesis does not matter (very few people can even understand what one's thesis is about). Also it's significantly harder to get a job in [country] if one isn't a citizen or PR; I know several people who struggled and some who simply gave up and went back to their home countries when their temporary visas expired. – Allure May 16 '18 at 23:35
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It's good you're asking these questions before commencing the PhD.

There's nothing like doing the research yourself to answer these questions. Use your favourite job portal as a starting point. If you don't know which portal to use, try Google, and possibly refine by the country you want to work in (e.g. Google for "jobs in the USA"). Then search for your specialization.

For example I'll use Indeed.com searching for jobs in the US. I refine by jobs requiring a PhD in mathematics (it is very unlikely the specific subfield of mathematics your PhD is in matters). As of time of writing the top five results are:

You can research these jobs, especially the ones you want to do, to find what they need, and tailor your PhD studies to pick up those skills. For example if you're interested in working for Apple, they're looking for knowledge of SQL, VBA, SAS, and Python. Learn these things and you should stand a better chance after your graduate. As of time of writing, there are a total of 4385 openings listed. Whether or not this qualifies as 'robust' is up to your interpretation.

As for whether it's harder for international students to find jobs, the answer is "yes". Most countries will have some laws to protect their own. A typical example might be, before a company can hire a foreigner, they have to advertise the position to citizens and permanent residents for some time, and prove they can't find anyone suitable. However, if the job requires very high skills (or very low skills, oddly enough), the odds are better that the country doesn't have suitable people among its own population. The good news is that jobs that require a PhD in math are very likely to be receptive towards international applicants. You will know if your nationality is working against you if the advertisement says "only citizens and PRs need apply", or if you approach a hiring agency which responds with "for this job, it's very unlikely international applicants are hired".

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