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I am currently doing a post-doc in pure Math [teaching and research] in the US. The academic year 2014-2015 will be my last postdoc year and I am currently considering my next employment possibilities.

For several reasons, I am considering a job outside academia in Europe [I am an E.U. citizen], for my next employment. As I know about nothing else except for my research in Pure Math and teaching of Math, I could use as much advice as possible regarding this potential transition from academia to a non-academia job. I have read through the many related questions and answers. But I still could not find answers to the following questions.

(1) How early in advance do you have to apply for a job outside academia? Let me provide a bit more details: I really need employment as soon as my current one ends, b/c I need the money to support my living expenses. So I cannot really afford to spend more than one or two months without employment. I am asking this, b/c for academia jobs one typically applies one year ahead of time, things are standard and clear. But not so clear to me are applications outside academia.

(2) Given that I know nothing about programming right now, what would my chances of getting a programming job be? In other words, would I get some sort of PAID training in programming?

(3) Any sort of comments/advice regarding working for a publishing house? [such as: salary?]

Thank you.

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1) You should start applying for jobs about 9 months before your current job ends. Most employers will want you to start immediately, or within a few months, and might favor candidates who can do so. Starting 9 months ahead is basically allowing time for the job search process, application processes, the interviewing processes, and employer decision-making processes. All of those can take much longer than you'd expect (and much longer than is necessary). You might be very efficient in your processes, but employers can be very slow in communicating with you, starting the interview process, and (worst of all) making hiring decision.

I say "about 9 months" because this is a very rough estimate. You might do well to start a year ahead and you might succeed by starting 6 months ahead. But don't start 3 or less months ahead. There are many factors you can't control and you are not in a position to go many months without income.

If you get lucky and get an interview 9 months before you are available, someone might ask why you are interviewing "now". Just tell them your job search plan and your priorities. If they can't hold the position open for 8 months, then move on.

2) I'd say that your chances of getting a programming job are about zero if you have no previous experience or training in programming. There are just too many other people who have it.

Your best chance is to apply for jobs that require PhD in Math and where you'd work in groups with programmers. For example, you might find work in the field of cryptography as a mathematician and then get training and experience in programming along the way. Same goes for jobs in Econo-physics (quant finance & trading).

If you have one year before you change jobs, I'd recommend taking one or two introductory programming courses -- Python and R are good choices.

You should also build social network relations with as many academic-to-industry mathematicians as you can, so you can learn who is hiring and how that maps back to your particular knowledge and skills.

3) I'm not familiar enough with (technical) publishing to know salaries. I was recently a technical editor on a book, but that was a contract position and the pay was low for the hours I put in.

  • I think your chances for a programming job are literally zero without a related education or experience, and taking a Python class won't change that. – xLeitix Jun 19 '14 at 6:57
  • @xLeitix: I agree that taking a Python class won't increase is chances of getting a programming job. I was suggesting it so that he would be starting down the path now rather than waiting until later, and also maybe increasing his his chances of getting any industry job with his pure math PhD and background. – MrMeritology Jun 19 '14 at 17:51
  • Thanks to MrMeritology and xLeitix for the helpful advice and comments. – user1451857 Jun 19 '14 at 22:54
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    I question the idea of searching for jobs in industry 9 months in advance. Most companies have no idea who they'll want to hire in 9 months' time. Even 3 months is a lot, anything more is going to be rare. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jun 20 '14 at 1:04
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    But it should also be noted I was not paid particularly well until I had moved into that role, it was good for what I was doing but I was very junior at that point. And sometimes I did feel hampered by my lack of coding experience, I sought to mitigate that by self study and making myself the go to for any sort of math question. – kleineg Aug 28 '14 at 1:10
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A lot of this is obviously highly situation-specific. I'll mention a few points that I think are likely to apply to someone in your situation, but it's quite possible that there are reasons why this or that wouldn't apply in your case.

As a general note, finding a job far from where you are is difficult. Combining an international move with a career change will compound the difficulty. While a lot of companies will accept phone interviews, some will insist on an in-person interview, and the ones that don't are likely to select a candidate that they've seen personally all else being equal. Having some positive connection can often tip the balance towards you: “he comes with a recommendation from Prof. X, the last candidate who did was great” is a lot better than “he comes with a recommendation from Prof. X whom I've never heard of”.

Most companies have little long-term visibility. In France, most programming jobs have a 3 month latency (if I resign, I'm still supposed to work for the company for 3 months, and if I'm fired, the company still owes me 3 months (or more) of salary), so it's common to say “if you hire me I can come to work for you in 3 months plus 1 week”. Even 3 months is considered a long time: companies that are hiring usually want someone ASAP and ask if you could possibly come to work for them sooner. Anything beyond that would be unusual. Most companies have no idea who they'll want in 6 months.

I advise you to research teaching jobs in your desired locale. Even if you don't intend to stick in this job, plan to spend a year teaching as a bridge.

There are plenty of programmers on the market. Programmers, per se, are not in high demand. Good programmers or programmers with specific skills are in high demand. Your lack of programming experience is a definite minus, but the PhD in math can be a plus in the right place. Most employers will start with a certain stereotype of what a PhD in math with teaching experience would be: a quick study, autonomous, good at explaining things, but untested at teamwork and unlikely to have internalized the practical aspects of shipping code now rather than when it's working to perfection.

(Personal story time: I did a PhD in theoretical computer science, and then switched to a job in industry. I think I was hired for two reasons: my PhD advisor knew the person who recruited me (so his recommendation carried a lot of weight), and they basically told me “you know nothing about our business, but you have some background in the general domain, you can absorb new material quickly and write it up in terms that people can understand. We have a tech writer position.” After a few months I switched to a position that involved coding.)

With a PhD in math, you should look for domains where your math background will be useful, even if it's unrelated to the math you did in your PhD. Finance is a possibility; there are high-paying jobs there, and this is one of the few industries where you might start out applying your knowledge of differential equations and probability and learn coding on the job. A number of engineering jobs involve computer simulations based on mathematical models of physical phenomena. Arithmetic might lead you to cryptography, but that involves more specialist knowledge. The list of examples could go on: there are plenty of niches where a math PhD might fit in, and they tend to value their employees well because of the relatively rare skills they require; the flip side of the coin is that these are all small fields and there aren't openings every day.

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