I tried asking this same question here previously but worded it poorly. Please let me know if my muddled style is unclear to anyone alongside myself.

What I'm essentially asking is: all else being equal, does an advanced degree (MS or PhD) in Math and/or Philosophy (phil of math, or logic) provide one with any "smart points" such that it translates to a merit in itself on the job market, particularly in the context of programming jobs, which would be, as of now, the type of non-academic job I'm most interested in? So, e.g., if there were two self-taught coders with identical coding skills, one of whom has no Uni education while the other has a PhD in Math, would the latter be more attractive to potential employers, all else about them being equal? What if each of them had Bachelor's degrees in CS, while only one had the advanced Math degree, would the additional "smart points" of the Math degree then be irrelevant? How much do "smart points" or reasoning ability and critical thinking skills, as conveyed by such a degree, mean to employers in industry?

As you might have guessed, I'm a Math and Phil undergrad. I genuinely enjoy both subjects and would like to study them at an advanced level for their own sake. Yet, I do think about having to buy food and shelter one day. So, is such a degree worth anything on the job market, simply due to being one in a highly abstract and logically rigorous subject, or would the two hypothetical job-seekers described above be considered to have equal merit due to their perfectly equal domain-specific knowledge?

(And I guess that on that note I'll just add: assuming I go on to get a PhD in one of those subjects, should I just bite the bullet and get a Bachelor's in CS as well? How meriting would that be as compared to self-taught programming skills?)

PS I understand that this is Stack Academia and not Stack Career Experts, and that answering my question scientifically would require empirical data from the world of industry. But I'd be happy to receive intelligent guesses from intelligent people. I think it'd be interesting to explore the collective beliefs of employers a little.

  • You’ll want to consider the kinds of people you’ll be competing against. They probably have a capacity for abstract musing too. Start by exploring summer internships to see first hand. Apr 30, 2022 at 15:30
  • Perhaps you gain the most "smart points" by never going to grad school. Take a look at this. May 3, 2022 at 9:35

3 Answers 3


Mathematics provides a way of thinking about things that is valuable in a lot of things. However, the "prestige" of a doctorate is mostly valuable with your mom. Likewise, philosophy, gives you a certain valuable insight and a way of thinking about things that is valuable in itself.

An advanced degree may enable you to do some things that are harder to do without it, but you won't get hired based on any "wow" factor. Suitability for the position is what is looked for. Some masters degrees are industry focused, of course, and applied math is useful but not for prestige.

In fact, it is a feature/bug of industry that if you seem over qualified for a job ("Wow, a doctorate") you will be less desirable as an employee in the vast majority of positions. People will assume that you can't possibly be satisfied with doing the mundane things required. The exceptions exist, but are relatively few (Google, IBM, Oracle, ...). In most industrial positions you will be valuable only in as much as what you can do for their "bottom line". They don't make money by listing the degrees of their employees.

I finished my doctorate in an impossible academic marketplace so looked around initially for other jobs (caveat: long ago). I was told by an employment counsellor to only list my masters on any application as a doctorate would be disqualifying. Most jobs don't really do serious (non product related) research, which is what a doctorate in math is all about. Too many places don't want you "thinking deep thoughts" but making the next widget run faster.

You mention programming. It is a valuable skill, but an advanced degree isn't needed to write interesting and useful programs. Again, a CS degree isn't focused on programming and certainly advanced degrees are not.

If you want to go to graduate school, do it for what it is; a chance to go deeper into the underlying nature of things and increase your knowledge. Doing it for the "wow" factor is not going to add enough to make up for the time and effort spent.

I'll note, also, that there is an old saying (true in my case) that "You don't choose mathematics. Mathematics chooses you." Lots of people went into math and would accept no compromise because they (we) were driven to it. I caught the bug at the age of about 16 in a not-very-good high school geometry class. It was actually the first positive educational experience I had after kindergarten.

But, yes, a degree (masters, at least) can be valuable, but only for what it enables you to contribute, not for the status. The same is true for a doctorate in academia, of course.

  • 1
    "They don't make money by listing the degrees of their employees." While the spirit of this statement is correct, it is contra-factual! At one point, various investment banking firms were advertising that PhD's in mathematics and physics from the best graduate schools were writing the programs that drove their investments. Of course, some of those firms have since folded up! :-)
    – Kapil
    Apr 30, 2022 at 15:47
  • @Kapil, I didn't say they don't do it on occasion. Lots of things go in to advertising.
    – Buffy
    Apr 30, 2022 at 15:51
  • Thank you! "If you want to go to graduate school, do it for what it is; a chance to go deeper into the underlying nature of things and increase your knowledge." That's the thing... What I didn't mention is that I already did CS for a year, dropped out, and began this other programme. I did it because my current subjects interest me infinitely more. And while I'd like to think that as long as one pursues their passion this pursuit will end up paying the bills, it's beginning to dawn on me that this is false -- which is why I ask. Now, on the topic of programming being a valuable skill ....
    – ksmks3n1
    May 1, 2022 at 11:14
  • ..., would a Bachelor's in CS on the side be significant for job security as compared to just learning how to code in my free time? As you said, a CS degree isn't programming-focused, but it still seems to be the most common degree among programmers (the ones who have degrees in the first place). I could see myself persevering through a Bachelor's in CS, but likely nothing beyond that. Math and Phil are what interest me, is what I've learned. And, lastly, you did say that my favourite subjects do in fact provide ways of thinking that are valuable in themselves; so I wonder, for what? Coding?
    – ksmks3n1
    May 1, 2022 at 11:25
  • @ksmks3n1 it's complicated because none of us know what the future holds. Right now, most countries are experiencing a shortage of programmers, and folks are being hired with no college degree, but maybe a stint in a coding academy, or simply a portfolio of projects on GitHub. You have to have something to show that you'll be able to do the work. Right now many employers are fairly flexible. The danger is that the market will eventually shift, and employers will retreat to requiring a CS degree before they will even look at your resume. It's happened before. May 2, 2022 at 19:25

There are varying sorts of PhD's in math. One stereotype involves huge specialization, to some obscure technical issue of interest to only a few people in the world, ... and broader mathematical competence or scholarship seems not to play a role.

Also, one can take a broader approach to mathematics, while, yes, doing a research project to add some "focus" to the whole enterprise. Oddly (to me), some people (both faculty and students) object to requiring or encouraging breadth, since this is perceived as "obstructing the research program".

But, as a relevant skill-set "out in the world", mathematical breadth would surely serve a person better than narrow specialization (regardless of status-points). It is obviously important to not portray one's mathematical work as ostentatiously disconnected from anything real. :)

  • disconnected from anything real -- Definitely not a problem with this paper, since it appeared in the Real Analysis Exchange! Apr 30, 2022 at 20:23
  • @DaveLRenfro, sigh... ha... :) Apr 30, 2022 at 20:42
  • Thank you! I have no clue what kind of Math I would want to specialize in yet, if any at all. Now, when you say that mathematical breadth is a relevant skill-set, do you mean for programming in particular? I mean, it would seem as if the logical ability gained from mathematical training would boost one's coding skills, sure, but then one has to let potential employers know about it; which is why I asked about "smart points".
    – ksmks3n1
    May 1, 2022 at 11:47

Yes, you absolutely get smart points ... scored in awarding an interview. But that has no value if you can't answer the interview questions.

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