TL;DR My bachelor's degree didn't leave me with a solid education in mathematics and I'm not sure how to start a career in pure mathematics from there.

To start with, I'm 24 years old, living in Indonesia in Southeast Asia, and I just graduated from a low-ranking university (even for this country) with a bachelor's degree in computer science. I want to pursue a career in mathematics even though I've also enjoyed programming immensely (see all my posts on codegolf.SE) because I've loved mathematics for much longer and I feel like I wasted this first opportunity for education on a less-than-stellar degree. (Note: this less-than-stellar degree didn't even have a linear algebra course. Make of that what you will.)

I figure that a good path to a career in mathematics academia is to at least work towards getting a Master's and PhD in mathematics. The trouble is, is that even this is very broad. What topics/fields should I pursue (first) when looking for graduate programs? If I email professors, what do I tell them? "Hi, I'm looking for a graduate degree, but I don't even have an undergraduate's understanding of mathematics and I have no idea what path to pursue. Can you help me?"

Another hiccup is that I've just started a job as a software developer here in Indonesia to support my family, and I don't think I can leave that job to pursue academia for however many years, until I've worked there for a few years and saved up some money (especially if I pursue these degrees abroad). "Hi, I'd like to join your graduate program, but not till 2023." doesn't seem like a great thing to receive in your email.

This delay does give me time to give myself an informal refresher in undergraduate mathematics, but I have no idea where to even start. Read a textbook? Join an online course? Find a tutor here in Indonesia?

This is not to mention that I'm not sure how on earth I'll pay for everything, or that for most master's or PhD courses (or a combined degree) expect you, quite reasonably, to have a bachelor's degree in mathematics.

And lastly, my main mathematical interests are in number theory, algebra, and calculus, in approximately that order. I was thinking of applying to a North American university (maybe the University of Waterloo in Canada) before applying to Australian or European universities. I have US citizenship, which should help a lot.

In short, I have a myriad of choices and a bad starting position. I understand this is a very general question, so I thank you for any advice you can give or resources you pass along.

  • 5
    I'd say read textbooks in your spare time for a few years then reevaluate. You can ask questions on math.stackexchange.
    – littleO
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 20:19
  • @littleO Thank you for the advice! I'll try that first
    – Sherlock9
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 6:52
  • What math courses have you had? I'm guessing a calculus sequence (1.5 year?), you say you didn't have linear algebra, did you have a discrete math course?
    – user11599
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 23:23
  • 1
    I agree with @littleO about studying textbooks, and I"d add that you might check which textbooks are used at respectable universities for the courses that your undergraduate curriculum omitted (like linear algebra). I hope some math departments will have textbook information on their web sites (I think my department used to have it but no longer does). Commented May 25, 2020 at 1:05

2 Answers 2


Undergraduate math has a wide variety of free or cheap resources online. Youtube, udemy, and khan academy are your best friend. You will quickly learn how to spot a good teacher / course. Some books are public and many are available at libraries or online. And of course stackexchange is an option when you feel stuck. As you said, you have a number of years before you would try to make this transition.

This is coming from someone who went from being a teacher to learning python and getting a job at more than double the pay with just 3 months of online learning (mostly udemy and youtube) and a 3 month internship after that

As you learn more and gain a stronger grasp on undergraduate mathematics, you will begin to answer your own question about what topic you really want to pursue.

Although, even now, it does not hurt to send out a few emails and ask professors about topics. The worst that can happen is them ignoring you. You might "waste" 3 minutes of 100 professors time but a single answer could inspire you or help you make a more informed choice about your future careers. I think it is worth is.

If you are unsure the topics you should study on and the recommended order, find transcripts or graduation requirements for a mathematics degree in a school you respect. It might take a little digging, but finding exactly what you would need to take at x school for y degree is not impossible (heck, send emails to counselors there and just ask if you cant find it easily online)

for an undergraduate reference


Even vague terms like "upper division depth course" can be clicked on there and it leads to a list with descriptions of what they are and what is taught.

I found this by just googling

course requirements for math degree ASU

similar searches should yield fairly similar hopefully helpful results

  • Thank you for all the advice! I'll give all these ideas a try
    – Sherlock9
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 6:54
  • Yes, it is harmless to ask email questions of faculty... but if/when I see that I'm one of some unknown number of people on a "bcc" email, I just delete it. Think about it: if "only" 1000 people in the whole world send random email to 100 faculty, then those 100 faculty have to think about responses...?!? No: if you want information from individuals, address them by name, after doing at least a modest amount of on-line work to see what their interests are. Don't spam people... Commented Mar 16 at 21:29

I totally understand where you are coming from and am also an aspiring Mathematician. I am of a Statistical Data Science degree (long story of how I ended up here and it was a bad start up as well) and even though there's Maths but it's hugely statistics-based, which leaves little to no room for Pure (Number theory and etc) and was quite disappointed by that. There are actually a lot of resources for Masters/Undergraduate materials taken by an undergraduate student in Cambridge: (https://dec41.user.srcf.net/notes/?fbclid=IwAR2JKzUSmkiNPWmclCFguBZ8xkLMpiet386xrym-be-aP4djueOTPxUb04A) and the notes actually gave me a lot of insight of what knowledge I should be equipped with before progressing to Masters and next to PhD. There are free online courses from Harvard as well and sites like Coursera actually helped me a ton. I would suggest to read through the notes with your own pace until you understand the concept, and the rest of it will fall into place. It's not too late to ever start Maths (https://mathoverflow.net/questions/3591/mathematicians-who-were-late-learners-list)! Good luck! (I am from Malaysia btw)

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