Without sounding defeatist all I have heard is bad things so far; the sector is over concentrated with more people obtaining phd's (and wanting to work in academia) than there are jobs available.

I am really enthusiastic about pursuing a phd and eventually a job in academia but to put it bluntly I'm not sure if I'm cut out for it. I will graduate this summer with a 1st in mathematics from a mid-level Russell group university and plan to apply for an MSc in Pure Mathematics (after a gap year). My final graduating grade will be 71% and I'm just unsure how that will hold up in the academia job market. I get the impression that to pursue a job in mathematics academia you have to be really outstanding, getting publications very early on and the such as it is so competitive. I feel like I'm at a crossroads now where I need to commit to the idea or not as I do not want to waste time, effort and (a lot of) money on a lost cause. I know there are so many factors involved and there is no definite answer but some advise would be extremely helpful.

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    It is pretty hard to predict the job market years in advance. If you want a PhD in maths, do it for the love of the sport. Things might work out, even if not immediately. The job market goes up and down.
    – Buffy
    Jul 8, 2020 at 19:04
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    Wanting to work in academia is in my opinion simulilar to want to work in a specific company. It may work out, but you should also keep your mind open for different opportunities. Unfortunately, too many profs teach that "academic is good and industry is evil"..
    – user111388
    Jul 8, 2020 at 20:16
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    To expand upon what @user111388 wrote, I'd look at the diverse set of careers open to math PhDs; you might find many of them appealing. There's nothing wrong with aiming for a job in academia, but if Plan B and Plan C also look good, then you could enter a graduate program without worrying that you were wasting your time.
    – academic
    Jul 8, 2020 at 21:09
  • @academic Thank you for the info you raise a good point. You mentioned the diverse set of careers open to math PhD's; are you able to expand on this? I have only just started researching and I'm unsure of what kind of industries require PhD level maths.
    – Oliver
    Jul 8, 2020 at 22:50
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    Your undergraduate marks do not matter on the academic job market. Publications matter. Also, you should get paid (poorly) to get a PhD. Jul 9, 2020 at 6:46

1 Answer 1


You're right that the job market is academia is very competitive, across all subjects, not just maths. While raw talent is important to be able to succeed (and by "succeed" I mean get a permanent job in academia -- your definition of success might be different), your publication record is generally more important. The quality and volume of publications you write depends on many things: your own hard work, the work of your collaborators, the guidance you get from your supervisor (having a distant or disengaged supervisor can seriously hamper your progress during your PhD unless you're extremely good at self-motivating and learning), the tractability of the problem you're working on, etc etc.

All this to say that, once you start your PhD, the classification of your undergraduate degree doesn't matter. Working on interesting publishable problems with a wide range of people (ideally collaborate with academics outside your own university if you can) will give you the best chance at success. It's also important to advertise your work as much as possible, and don't be afraid to relentlessly self-promote; go to conferences, talk about your work to everyone you meet, convince them that your problem is interesting and your solutions even more so.

I think you have nothing to lose by doing an MSc (apart from a year's potential earnings). Try to choose a course with a research or dissertation component. This will give you a chance to explore what doing research is really like, and will help you decide if doing a PhD is right for you. Your Master's supervisor or tutor would also be able to advise you about that, especially if you tell them early on that's what you're interested in.

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