I am currently almost homeless and without job. Can someone please help me in right direction of finding an academic or non-academic job? Minimum salary will be acceptable.

I hold a PhD in mathematics. I am 43 years old and I am from middle east but citizen of a European country (Germany). I have been away from academia for 4 years (mostly to take care of parents) and I can not get any recommendation letter.

I can teach and have experience in teaching most mathematical topics up to PhD.

I have been applying for many teaching jobs around the world with no luck. With no recommendation letter my applications don't go through.

I also have a few unfinished research projects.

Edit: addendum in response to Buffy's answer.

If you are just four years past finishing your doctorate it isn't too late to re-connect with your previous professors, and maybe your advisor. If you wait much longer it will be, however.

In fact I got my phd before I was 30. So it was, relatively, a long time ago. Contact with my previous professors isn't a possibility.

Another thing, not very palatable, is to get some low-level position in a decent university where you can do more than is required by the job.

I have tried applying to many "low-level" positions but recommendation letter is a real obstruction.

Further down the list of suitable options is to look at good secondary institutions, rather than universities. There are many of them that find people with doctorates to be very desirable. The job is mostly teaching, and mostly introductory subjects, but it can pay the bills.

Secondary institution as a high school? I am trying to find a position in a high school too but a "license or teaching certificate" is needed in most cases and in my situation it takes time and money to get that.

get connected to a research group so as to get some papers into publication. Initially they might be joint papers, of course.

I have a few publications which I guess are relatively good. I try to publish preprints too. But it is getting hard because I will be out of money very soon.

What surprises me is that when I look at my cv it doesn't look extremely bad but still I have got not even one interview or any offer. And asking people in the subject to write recommendation letter has not been successful.

I was hoping maybe someone with similar situation who managed to solve his/her problem can help me by sharing a bit of his/her experience.

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    I'm so sorry about your situation but I don't think this site might help you to find a job. You better talk to at least your PhD adviser if he/she is still in academia and see if he/she can help you to find a job somewhere. – Alone Programmer Feb 19 at 14:16
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    What is the reason why you cannot get letters of recommendation? Your advisor retired/died? Or is he/she still active but refuses to write one? Did you collaborate or interact with other researchers during your phd? – Federico Poloni Feb 19 at 15:17
  • @Federico Poloni : they are still active. I guess they don't write a letter because they have such a high standard. Unfortunately I didn't collaborate with anyone when I was active in research. That was one of my terrible mistakes. – HGeometer Feb 19 at 16:16
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    Hello, I am also sorry about your situation. You didn't mention in which country you can afford to move, but can't you become a civil servant in Germany ? In France I know that it is possible to become a civil servant without letters, there are competitive exams each year with a fixed number of positions (for math teacher, for administrative clerck...) and those who have done well enough get the jobs. Is it the same in Germany ? There are lots of administrative jobs that people never hear about which are not too boring, and with a decent salary. – Archie Feb 19 at 21:17
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    "I am from middle east but citizen of a European country (Germany)." How well do you speak German? A collegue of mine is in a similar (although less desparate) situation as you. In his case, lacking German skills are a major impediment on the German job market (academic and non-academic). How about you? – CL. Feb 20 at 9:07

The situation is difficult so the solution may also be difficult. I can offer only a few suggestions.

If you are just four years past finishing your doctorate it isn't too late to re-connect with your previous professors, and maybe your advisor. If you wait much longer it will be, however. The best way is to visit your old institution in person and spend a couple of days talking to people and reminding them of who you are. You can also talk to them about research ideas - theirs and yours. But you can also let them know why you have been away and that you'd like to get back into academia. If you were once well regarded then you still are, but they need a reminder. Such a visit might be the best "vacation" you've ever had.

Another thing, not very palatable, is to get some low-level position in a decent university where you can do more than is required by the job. If you can let the tenured faculty know of your skills and interest, maybe you can be given interesting tasks that will lead, after a while, to good letters of recommendation. It may not be possible to work up from a low level position to a better one at that university, but you may be able to leverage it for a position somewhere else.

Further down the list of suitable options is to look at good secondary institutions, rather than universities. There are many of them that find people with doctorates to be very desirable. The job is mostly teaching, and mostly introductory subjects, but it can pay the bills. If the place is also located close to a good university, you can make yourself known there and try to get connected to a research group so as to get some papers into publication. Initially they might be joint papers, of course.

But don't let your age be a deterrent. You will get older no matter what you do. Many people don't start their career until your age, in fact. But take a long view into following whatever opportunities present themselves, always with a view to a higher level position.

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Can someone please help me in right direction of finding an academic or non-academic job? Minimum salary will be acceptable.

If you really are just looking for anything at all to bring in a little bit of money to get back on your feet, I'd suggest looking for work as a tutor. You don't even necessarily need to apply for this job. In many cities I've seen freelance tutors advertising their services on paper flyers on noticeboards in cafes or shops, or you can post on local message boards like NextDoor or Craigslist. Look at ads for other tutors for inspiration. With your academic credentials and teaching experience, you could charge a fairly high hourly rate.

If you prefer a more structured environment, you could apply to be a tutor at a large tutoring company like Kaplan. They will not require academic recommendation letters, but they may ask you to demonstrate your competency at standardized tests.

Somebody else had suggested teaching at a secondary school, and you mentioned the lack of teaching credentials as an obstacle. Depending on what country you're in, private schools may not require any official teaching certification, and they may be happy to employ an instructor with a PhD because it will make them seem prestigious.

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  • And in some (many?) schools and systems, you can start a job and earn the license/credential over time. – Buffy Feb 19 at 20:59
  • Thanks for the links and suggestions. I will check out Kaplan. – HGeometer Feb 19 at 22:36
  • @Buffy: In Germany that would be the Quereinsteiger and Seiteneinsteiger programs (for normal school). – cbeleites unhappy with SX Feb 20 at 0:08
  • @HGeometer Good luck! I applied at Kaplan myself some years back. One thing I remember them caring about a great deal was clear handwriting on a whiteboard, so consider practising that before your interview. – bjmc Feb 20 at 9:18

You mention that you are German citizen. A few thoughts that are rather specific to Germany (assuming that is where you are as well):

  • In Germany, Arbeitszeugnisse are [still] more usual than letters of recommendation, even though for academic positions letters of recommendation will be accepted in lieu. The Arbeitszeugnis is a letter by the employer certifying what the employee did and how they performed. At/after the end of an employment contract, the employee has a right to get one of these, and it must be both truthful and reasonably positive.
    If you were previously employed in Germany, it may still be possible to get one. As is is a legal right, the employer cannot turn down the request unless they gave you one already when you finished there.

  • almost homeless

    Time to talk to the Sozialamt at your community center/town hall. That's probably not going to be fun, but it may be crucial.
    Also organizations like Diakonie or Caritas or if you prefer one without Christian affiliation, the Arbeiterwohlfahrt may help you by having people who know how to talk/write to the Sozialamt (I don't know whether other religious communities have similar organizations, they may, or they may also have similar help organized on a more informal basis).
    These organizations also offer postal addresses in case you do become homeless - the postal address is crucial in order to get a job.

  • Mathematics teachers at school are scarce in all Länder. Some Länder offer training programmes for professionals in certain subjects (including STEM) who did not do the university courses to become a teacher.
    This will obviously require excellent command of German, written as well as spoken.

  • If you look for possiblities to get back to academia, consider also Fachhochschulen (universities of applied science) if you can land an industry job. In contrast to universities, Fachhochschulen want industry experience.

  • Germany has lots of small to medium-sized companies, and also quite a number of universities outside the big cities in rural areas. The rumor has it that they have difficulties finding people - this may be your chance, at the very least as a (re)entry into the job market.
    I'd roughly say: the larger the company/university where you apply, the less likely I expect them to be willing to overlook your difficulty in producing recommendations.
    And in contrast to many other regions world-wide, rural Germany has IMHO a very acceptable living standard almost everywhere (and maybe a much better wage : living expenses ratio).

  • You can tutor students and pupils. Mathematics is quite in demand in that respect.
    In order to do so legally, you'll need to sign up as freelancer with the tax office and with the pension cass (while freelancers in general are not required to contribute to the governmental pension cass, freelancing teachers are unless they have employees). This option has burocratic consequences such as being required to do tax declarations and earlier deadlines for these tax declarations. Ask e.g. the local IHK what (free) information is available for possible founding of such a small scale business. The IHK is not exactly for freelancers, but they'll know about courses (free and paid).
    Since you are mathematician, the DMV may be helpful (i.e. I'm chemist, and the GDCh has a tiny but helpful subsection for freelancing chemists and people who think about becoming freelancers in chemistry).

  • Still thinking in direction of teaching: I have no idea whether something like being a certified instructor with the carpentries helps (that's where I volounteer). The course has certainly helped my teaching, and it may show that you are serious in wanting to become a teacher. Also, if you volounteer with them (which costs you time, and you'll have to be able to pay upfront for the travel until the reimbursement arrives) you're going to meet different univeristies/institutes in person, and moreover they'll see you working. It may be worth while thinking whether such opportunities could get you over the lack of recommendation obstacle. That is also a community where related jobs (worldwide) are reqularly posted on their mailing lists. Of course you can sign up for the mailing list without being an instructior, but I'd expect your chances there are much better if you are known in the community.

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  • Thanks for your answer and the suggestion. Going to the Sozialamt is not what I would do as it will have severe psychological impact on me which at this point I can not handle. I am aware of self-destructing consequences of such a decision. – HGeometer Feb 20 at 8:00
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    @HGeometer I understand the (perceived) social stigma of taking support from the Sozialamt and that you want to avoid this. But: You said that you're are "almost homeless". Becoming homeless will definitely have a "severe psychological impact" on you as well – please trade this off against your aversion against the Sozialamt. Moreover, being homeless will make it far more difficult to find a job. – CL. Feb 20 at 9:06
  • @HGeometer I think this decision is not just self-destructive but foolish: You payed a good amount of money during your work life to make a system work that help people in your exact situation. You have fulfilled your part of the social contract as long as you were able to and it’s absolute fine to now rely on the other side. That’s the very reason why our system is designed as it is. – dtell Feb 20 at 10:05
  • @HGeometer: of course going to the Sizialamt is your decision. And it is appropriate that you do not take this decision lightly. I may add that I know people who decided not to get involved with those Ämter when they could have gotten financial assistance - but with them it was never looming homelessness. Still, you may want to talk first to one of the caritative organizations (maybe not AWO Frankfurt right now...). You may get information there how unpleasant the Ämter are going to be, and they may also have Seelsorge ("light" psychological counseling) in addition to practical advise... – cbeleites unhappy with SX Feb 20 at 14:18
  • @cbeleites supports Monika : homelessness can be solved. I have hundreds of math books and will sell them to get a good small car and will use it as home if I end up without jobs in summer (not a solution but still doable). By the way, can you give examples of universities/colleges in rural area where they have problem to get scientists? Because many of universities in Germany are in small towns and as I am told, for most people academic jobs in Germany are difficult to get. – HGeometer Feb 20 at 14:31

Search for non-academic jobs using your local jobs portal. Why non-academic? Because these jobs are much less likely to ask for recommendation letters.

  1. Polish your resume. Make sure to write it so it's understandable by a non-academic. Get help if you need to, either from Google, or from your alma mater's career services center (if they have one).
  2. Go to your local jobs portal. There should be plenty of them in Germany. Use Google to find them if you don't know what they are.
  3. Search for jobs that require a degree (preferably a PhD) in mathematics. Find something you can do, and apply.

Here're a couple of examples of results from such a search. You'll likely want to apply to more than two jobs.

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Since you're searching for jobs around the world, I'll add specifics for the US. This may be similar to other countries, but no guarantees.

Many school districts in the USA will accept a Masters degree in lieu of a teacher's certificate, and a private school isn't required to have teachers with a teaching cert.

Although private schools are not required by law to hire only licensed teachers, in most cases, a license is preferred. Private schools are more autonomous than public schools as they can create their own policies and standards. With that said, a school can decide to hire you with or without proper teaching credentials. The choice is entirely up to the individual school. Since most private schools prefer certified teachers, many schools will hire an individual without the proper certifications under the stipulation that the candidate continues his/her education.


The same article states that you can do online teaching without a cert, but the basic teaching cert is just an exam that you can take. They name the Praxis exam, which actually has a variety of versions. It's not exactly cheap, but it's not outrageously expensive, either. If you don't live in the USA, you'll probably spend more to get to a test facility than the test costs. From my little bit of research, it doesn't look like they have online or international testing.



An aside

You may want to consider teaching one of the non-English languages you speak to get a foothold into a school. American, and other country's, schools might be more interested in that than your math skills. The first step is to get you into the system, then you might be able to demonstrate how good you are at teaching math, but they may think a local math teacher is just as good as a foreign math teacher, due to them not knowing you personally. Once you become a local teacher, you should have a better time changing subjects than just walking into it "from the outside".

I spent 20+ years looking for a job within the US, but where I'd have to relocate to take the job. I never got a single job I applied for that was more than 200 miles from my then current location. It wasn't until I actually moved to a new location and proved that I was local did I get a job. Most hiring managers seem to automatically, and unfortunately, discredit or discount you for not being local unless you have something they "can't live without". This "special ability" in your case is your ability to speak languages that are foreign to the school's location.

Again, I'd suggest you use that to your advantage. It might not be what you want to do, but it might help you get a job. Maybe you find you really like it, maybe you switch to math the next year, maybe you find another job somewhere else and get paid better in the industry, rather than academia. That's for later, though.

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    Applying to North American schools and colleges is what I am doing most because at least they send non-automatic rejection letters. I appreciate your suggestion about languages. I will be emphasizing it in my applications. – HGeometer Feb 20 at 8:06
  • Do American schools really hire people speaking language X without knowlege of teaching language X? Does not seem very good to me – user111388 Feb 22 at 16:53

A recommendation letter is not always a pre-requisite to get a job. A company looks for dedication in an employee. Rather than applying online, show up with a hard copy of your CV. Maybe do some voluntary work (if applicable) for them and try to get their attention with that.

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  • Hm, I am not sure if someone who is almost homeless can afford to do voluntary work. – user111388 Feb 22 at 16:51
  • Not many places of work, even in academia, have volunteer opportunities. And even if they did, you'd have to volunteer for them for quite a while to get a reputation good enough for anyone vouch for you, let alone someone in the right dept. to hear about it. – computercarguy Feb 24 at 17:03

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