I'm currently facing an existential crisis of sorts with my choice to pursue my academic passions while navigating the demands of an academic system that I don't feel ever catered to what I wanted and let me work at my pace. I would appreciate community support and input on my possible choice and how to work through some difficult feelings around the options available to me.

My passion for the longest time has been to work in mathematical physics. I pursued my undergrad in physics, and through some haphazard circumstances, ended up getting into a graduate mathematics program in a small consortium of liberal arts colleges. In grad school I had the opportunity to pursue subjects I wanted to learn for many years and found a supportive adviser who mentored me in my research.

Midway through grad school, I was faced to make a choice about my research. For my area of math, there was basically only my adviser I had to work with and no cohort of other grad students who were working on anything remotely similar to me. My adviser, in her best of intentions, strongly encouraged me to put aside my interest in physics for the more practical/vocational goal of using my efforts for data science and landing a tech job after grad school. Facing the pressure of not being able to land a job in math or physics, I acquiesced to her suggestions and dragged my feet to complete my PhD in an area of research that's only partially related to my true interests.

Now..., I'm in a position where I have no desire to join the tech industry, and I'm working several part-time adjuncting teaching jobs that together require me to drive great distances in the area I live.

To get to the point already: I would like to be able to have a tenure-track position at a school other than a community college (which I'm inclined to take if offered). However, in order to reasonably do this I would need to dig my roots in an area of research that I could publish articles at a steady pace (other than my dissertation I only have one article that was approved and hasn't been published yet). Is it worth it to continue my research in mathematical data science to any capacity to help ensure long-term employment at a reputable institution, or is it better to continue adjuncting and devote all my time to my true passion of mathematical physics, basically "going it alone", studying texts and articles myself and building an area of research that is satisfying to me on my own terms?

  • It's up to you to decide what's important to you. But I would say adjunct teaching is never a good decision from a financial point of view. – Anonymous Physicist Aug 23 '19 at 5:26
  • Actually I don't think either of these are good options, considering your publication record. Why not pursue a tech job? – Anonymous Physicist Aug 23 '19 at 5:29
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Two reasons: I'm not willing to give up my interest in physics and to force myself into a line of work that I have no interest. Second, I do in fact have a lot friends at brand-name, well known companies. I've asked them about my viability for employment and they've each told me to go after what I want now. If in the future I decide I want a tech job, they're confident I could be employable several years after exiting grad school. I see tech as a backup option, and if I pursue that now I lose my chance to actually pursue what I want. – Mnifldz Aug 23 '19 at 5:42
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    So basically you are asking "should I take the low risk, low reward route or the high risk, high reward one?" That is a question that almost everyone asks themselves at some point in life, and it is one that only you yourself can answer. I would suggest to research both options, talk to people about chances and challenges, talk to people in your life that might be influenced by your choices, and then decide. Unfortunately, no one can make this choice for you. – Dirk Aug 23 '19 at 6:27