I am a Ph.D. student in pure mathematics and I am in my final year of graduate studies. I found that academia is not suited for me: unstable job, low salary, and a self-sacrifice culture that it is based on the motto "Publish or Perish". I want to ask you what are the odds to get a good job with a Ph.D. in pure mathematics? I am truly lost. I consider myself a big failure. I have expended three years of my life in pursuing a thing that it is useless and purely theoretical. Currently, I only want to make some good money in the industry. I want to ask you: what can a pure mathematician do in the real world? Is there any kind of investment banking or hedge funds interested in hiring mathematicians holding a Ph.D. in pure mathematics and a master´s degree in big data and business analytics?

Thank you very much for any response.

  • You will probably be a great asset to a data-science team (in the fintech sector or elsewhere), especially if you have knowledge of programming in Python or R, but even without that you could contribute with math knowledge and ability to think logically and understand abstractions. Once you start you could further improve your data-science and programming skills, or make steps in the direction of management. Your PhD is an excellent way to show a company that you are intelligent and capable of completing and possibly also managing a difficult project.
    – Louic
    Jun 11, 2020 at 9:06
  • I know how to programming in Python, R, C, C++, Mathematica, Matlab, SQL, Scala, Huskell ectc.. but I find myself lost to look for jobs. I think I can contribute a little bit in hedge funds or invest banking but I don´t know if there is any kind of period recruitment, or I just have to send my CV to some of this companies. Do you know any what kind of companies does this jobs? Jun 11, 2020 at 10:03
  • Its best if you know someone in the company (family, friends, ...). Otherwise just search on the company website or jobs websites and apply. You could think of: banks, insurance companies, pension funds, credit card companies, and so on. But you should be able to accept starting with a "low" salary (probably better than academia, but still). Then you can move to your next job or get promoted when you have more work experience (most companies consider that to be very important). After a few promotions and/or job changes you will get your "good money", if you are good.
    – Louic
    Jun 11, 2020 at 10:11
  • What have other students in your department done over the last few years? What kind of folks have you talked to at conferences? What talks from industry or national labs seemed interesting?
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 11, 2020 at 13:19
  • 1
    @Buffy I love maths that was my first motivation. I wanted to publish high quality papers and know more and more about mathematics. I consider my advisor a good friend and it is a well known mathematician, in adition I find the topic of my thesis amazing. But, I have discovered in the last years what academy is about, and this is just not the enviroment I want to be in. I dont want to go from on podtdoc to another and can’t have any kind of emocional or professional stability. I hate the rotten side of academia, and I dont want to expend the rest of my life in this situation. Jun 11, 2020 at 14:56

1 Answer 1


Well, I think few people make a lot of money doing mathematics unless they are "quants" in stock investments, or actuaries in the insurance industry. People don't normally go in to mathematics for the money, but, rather are driven to do it by some internal inescapable mechanism.

My advice, such as it is, is to evaluate your options. It may be that finishing is the best option now, as it shouldn't be far off.

Yes, academia is in a bit of a mess now and the post doc merry-go-round is pretty destructive, but many people in the past have also finished their degrees in terrible economic times. My advisor had just started his studies when the Russians came over the border into Czechoslovakia and shut the universities down. He was delayed for years but did well (after escaping later). I graduated into an economy with no jobs for mathematicians. When we landed on the moon, funding for science and math dropped off a cliff after years of growth. More people had already been hired than could be justified in the new world. I had to take a job at a very low level college, though some thought I was one of those "most likely to succeed" types (My mom, anyway). I also had to change fields to CS and was only able to make partial use of my math skills. But I survived and eventually it worked out.

But, someone who can do mathematics can do a lot of things that require analytical skills.

Your advisor seems like a resource. I hope you are using that to advance. She may not need to worry about her own future anymore, but I hope she worries about yours and her other students. I assume that she has a circle of collaborators with whom she is in contact. If you aren't part of that circle, you need to become part of it. Have her, for example, get you invited to give talks at other places. Right now your advisor is your chief mentor, I suspect. But as you move on, look for others willing to help you advance.

Build your own circle.

And, publish or perish isn't universal, though it is at top places. And it isn't so terrible if you really like to write papers. You are down now, but you want to make your trajectory and exponential one. Once it gets better it will continue.

  • Thank you very much for your insights. At this particular moment, I am pretty down. I am in a dark circle of depressive thoughts dreaming of finishing my thesis and run away to the industry or to pick strawberries in a little village. I consider people who survived through all this academic craziness truly heroes. I am considering my options carefully, but anyway thank you all for your comments and responses. Anyway, I am going to finish my thesis this year and after that, I am going to take a little time for myself. Once I am in the right set of mind I will decide what to definitely do. Jun 11, 2020 at 17:05
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    I live in that village, actually. And strawberries are on tonight's menu. But it sounds like you have a plan. Don't make big decisions when you are depressed. And think about getting a counselor if it seems that dark.
    – Buffy
    Jun 11, 2020 at 17:11
  • Thank you for your advice and comments Buffy Jun 11, 2020 at 17:14

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