I'm currently working on a PhD in cognitive science, but my research and interests straddle the line between cognitive science and mathematics. Right now, I am most interested in pursuing an academic career, and I've begun looking at job openings for postdocs and assistant professorships just to see what's out there (fully realizing those exact positions will be long gone by the time I graduate). I noticed that some positions listed in statistics/mathematics programs seem to fit my overall interests and skills; however, they almost universally state that a PhD in mathematics or statistics is required to apply.

When the time comes to apply for positions, should I even bother applying to the ones where my PhD is not technically among the ones listed on the job opening? Obviously, if my PhD was in a completely different field than the position in question, my chances of getting it would be low. However, what about positions where my research is within the scope of the field in question, even though my PhD is not (e.g., my PhD is in cognitive science, my research deals with statistical approaches to study cognition, and the position is in a statistics department)? Would I be disqualified on a technicality?

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    Note that the official field of a PhD is something quite fuzzy or bureaucratic formality, and hiring committees are aware of it. Mine is officially "Biochemistry", but I have only used a beaker to clean the coffee machine.
    – Davidmh
    Dec 30, 2014 at 19:44
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    My degree certificate doesn't show the subject, only the title of my thesis. If your work is in the right area, the official classification usually won't be important. There are occasional exceptions: I've heard of job descriptions that are unusually specific because they're trying to avoid a specific person being eligible.
    – Jessica B
    Dec 30, 2014 at 20:42
  • Here is an honest question you must be able to answer: what makes you think you are suited to an academic career in mathematics? Assuming you have a convincing (non-delusional) answer underpinned with facts, how will you persuade the hiring committee? "Getting hired" is only step one - being good at the job is what really matters, otherwise you are wasting the one life you have.
    – Floris
    Jan 1, 2015 at 3:12

2 Answers 2


In mathematics in particular, the question that search committees will have about you is your willingness and ability to teach a variety of undergraduate mathematics courses. If you have significant experience teaching main stream undergraduate mathematics courses, then you should make sure to highlight this in your application. If you have no such experience, then it will be a significant negative factor in your application.

  • Any advice on how to market yourself to get those opportunities? I think my university allows PhD students to teach classes, but I also think they would have at least a few questions about letting a non-mathematics PhD teach a mathematics course. Dec 30, 2014 at 20:58
  • One option would be to look for adjunct opportunities at community colleges in your area. Dec 30, 2014 at 21:44
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    Let me add that a further expectation is that you will have taken appropriate graduate level course work in mathematics. The mathematics PhD (more so than those in the physical sciences and engineering) typically includes a lot of graduate level course work. If you haven't studied mathematics including analysis, topology, and algebra at the graduate level you can expect that this will be a significant issue in getting a job in a mathematics department. Dec 30, 2014 at 23:52

Different departments handle hiring decisions differently. If your discipline hires according to "we need someone in field X to teach classes in Y and do research in Z," then it's probably not going to help you so much if you don't do X, Y, or Z. On the other hand, if they're recruiting according to "best talent available," then you could be outside what they're looking for and it's still okay.

However, the important point is this: if you don't apply, you won't be hired. So if you're already sending out N applications, why not send N + 1?

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    So if you're already sending out N applications, why not send N + 1? Ah, the old inductive approach to getting hired...
    – Michael
    Dec 31, 2014 at 2:06
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    Filling out applications is mentally taxing and time-consuming, for the applicant and (I would assume) for the hiring committee or whoever reviews the applications at the destination. As someone who recently applied for jobs, I'm still bitter at everyone who advised me to send out lots of applications to jobs I was quite unlikely to be qualified for. ;-)
    – David Z
    Dec 31, 2014 at 2:47
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    I prefer the strong-inductive approach: If you're already sending out n applications, why not send 2n?
    – JeffE
    Dec 31, 2014 at 14:34
  • If you have been rejected from N jobs what makes you think the N+1th would be any different? Stand out in quality, not quantity. And network. People hire whom they know - or have heard of.
    – Floris
    Jan 1, 2015 at 3:09

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