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I have a PhD from a reasonably good program in pure math, but I had no support from my department or adviser and so went into industry afterward. I'm unhappy with the situation, and I'd love to return to academia. The situation is a bit tricky, though, and I was wondering if a second doctorate (whether again in math or in another related area like mathematical physics) would help at all. Further complicating the issue is the fact that I've been in industry for the last decade, so my CV has hardly gotten any better than it was when I applied, or even left, grad school the first time. (The situation may be different in other areas, but there's very little you can do in industry that looks appealing to an admissions committee in pure math.) So, would applying to PhD #2 be a waste of time, or is this a weird but possible means of clawing my way back into academia?

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    I did see those, in fact, but they were mostly in the context of whether it's useful to have doctorates in separate fields or whether they're worth pursuing toward the beginning of one's career. I'm interested in whether this is a possible way to return to academia. (Also, I didn't realize there was a 'second-degree' tag. Spiffy.) – anomaly Feb 4 '15 at 1:09
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    Is your job anyhow related to Math? I don't know Math, but in Chemistry, Physics, etc there are plenty of people who can come back easily academia to tenure track. Have you tried to apply for jobs, postdoc or tenure track? – Greg Feb 4 '15 at 2:17
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    @Greg: For hiring (postdoc or tenure track) in pure math, they would look at your recent research publications. If you have none, then you will need another plan. – GEdgar Feb 4 '15 at 2:22
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    Another PhD in the same discipline is quite rare in my experience, although I have seen a few cases where students first earned a PhD in some foreign country and then immigrated to the US and completed a second PhD. – Brian Borchers Feb 4 '15 at 3:32
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In order to return to academia, you will need to satisfy certain requirements.

  • Most academic jobs require holding a Ph.D. in the relevant field. You already have one. A second Ph.D. won't help you here.
  • Teaching jobs require demonstrated teaching experience. A second Ph.D. won't help you here. You could certainly try to build a track record of successful teaching by getting in touch with a local community college and offering to teach a few courses - possibly even while holding your industry day job. If you are serious about returning to academia, this would be an investment, not a source of income, so you could offer to teach for little or no remuneration.
  • Research (and teaching) jobs require publications. A second Ph.D. won't help you here. Instead, get up to speed on current research, find a good open problem, work on it and publish some papers.
  • Finally, contacts will be invaluable. A second Ph.D. won't help you here. Instead, attend conferences, give presentations, get to know people, leave a good impression and hint that you would like to return to academia.

Note the common thread going through all these points: a second Ph.D. in the same field won't help you. Instead, invest your time in building the kind of portfolio (teaching, publications, contacts) that you do need.

This will likely be an uphill battle, but if you are motivated enough, then go for it. Good luck!

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    This is a more concise, less judgmental version of my answer: +1. – Pete L. Clark Feb 4 '15 at 13:36
  • Seems like this is a waste of time, then. Oh well, thanks for your answer. – anomaly Feb 4 '15 at 18:05
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    Ouch, as someone who has taken work as an adjunct at a community college, I am appalled at the suggestion for someone to offer to teach at one for no remuneration. – Morgan Rodgers Aug 20 '15 at 8:50
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    Unfortunately, it's very difficult to "get up to speed on current research, find a good open problem, work on it and publish some papers" without some kind of community. Do you have any former collaborators who think highly of you? You might be able to get a visitor office at their university for a year to try to get back into doing research. Odds of success are still low, but higher than trying it on your own. – Noah Snyder May 8 '16 at 3:03
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I think it will be very difficult -- perhaps prohibitively difficult -- to get a PhD in mathematics (or mathematical physics, which is all but mathematics) in the US given that you already have a PhD in mathematics from the US. It came up within recent memory in the math PhD program at my university that we had an applicant (from outside the US) who already had a PhD. We went so far as inquiring to the graduate school whether it would be against the rules to admit such a student. It wasn't. Nevertheless, suffice it to say that the student was not admitted to the program, and if this happened again I highly doubt the outcome would be different.

Maybe it will help to look at it from our perspective. We are trying to train future academics. (It is true that some PhDs leave academia, but for graduates of my department this is a minority: probably less than 1/3. Moreover, no matter what they go on to do, it is only fair to say that we are training students for academic jobs.) We want to spend our limited resources on people that want to say in academia and are capable of doing so. Someone who wants to get another math PhD ten years later is getting the horns of that dilemma: if you are actually capable of continuing on in academic mathematical career, then one math PhD ought to be sufficient. A US math PhD is not meant to be merely an apprenticeship in a certain specialized subfield of mathematics: it is meant to train you to do teach yourself new mathematics and do research independently. By attempting to enroll in a second PhD program, you are signalling that you didn't acquire these skills the first time around....or maybe you did but chose not to exercise them for so long that they atrophied. Either way makes you a poor candidate.

What can you do? I would have to say that getting a PhD and spending a decade away from mathematical research and teaching is closer to a "lockout situation" than most others I can think of. If I'm honest, I don't completely understand the story as you frame it: you write

I have a PhD from a reasonably good program in pure math, but I had no support from my department or adviser and so went into industry afterward.

You lost me: awarding someone a PhD is a highly non-negligible level of support. If you have a PhD from a reasonably good program in pure math, then you can get some kind of academic job: maybe an adjunct position, but some kind of job. You chose not to and went with that choice for ten years. If you really loved academia, wouldn't you have done some academic activities in that time? I'm afraid it sounds more like: you don't like either academia or industry. This is not a contradiction: there are more things you can do than that!

But let me give you the benefit of the doubt that for whatever reason you spent ten years away from the thing that you really want to do. What can you do? Well, what I said before about having a PhD getting you some kind of academic job is still true: in fact, at certain institutions, "even" in pure math your industry experience will be a big positive. A community college teacher may be a "pure mathematician" in her own private time, but those skills are very unlikely to be drawn upon in her work. Someone with industry connections of any sort would be preferable.

So I think you claw your way back into academia by taking a job at a community or regional four-year college: quite possibly a temporary job. If you play it right, you might be able to do this for a time while still keeping your industry job: I certainly recommend this. After you build up a teaching portfolio, the ten-year gap in your CV will recede into the background, and -- assuming you do well, work hard, and so forth -- you should eventually be able to land a permanent teaching position somewhere.

If you want to break back into mathematical research: go ahead and do it, you don't need to leave your job for that. Go to some conferences, read some papers, start contacting people in your intended field...just do it. It will be slow going at first, but because you already have a PhD in mathematics you do have the capacity to learn and acquire mathematics. So learn and acquire mathematics. Have fun...

  • I would have loved to have had an academic position during that time, but I needed a job on short notice after finishing grad school (I only found out I was finishing a month or two before I did), and neither my adviser nor my department in general were helpful in trying to find any sort of position afterward. It wasn't any deliberate choice of mine; I would have loved to have any sort of academic work. What I'd really want would be to start over in a different, more useful math program. It sounds like that's not an option, unfortunately. – anomaly Feb 4 '15 at 6:40
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    Also: Declaring that I could have had some sort of academic position if I had just wanted it enough if is unwarranted and unhelpful. While I'm not going to go into my own personal story here for reasons of privacy and space, telling me that what I really want is some alternative to both industry and academia is not a good answer. While I appreciate your taking the time to write up this answer, I can't say it was helpful. – anomaly Feb 5 '15 at 18:14
  • @anomaly: I don't know you and your story, but you wrote up your question as though you had explained why you couldn't get an academic job. But I didn't understand why based on what you said. Did you actually apply for all kinds of academic jobs as soon as you knew you were graduating and at regular intervals thereafter? If so, I read the situation wrong and you might consider including that information in your question. – Pete L. Clark Feb 5 '15 at 23:29
  • Also, I did not say what you wanted. What I said was that based on what you said, it sounds more like you don't like either industry or academia. To be honest, even that alone ought to be helpful information: namely that your language gave some generic math professor that impression. Also, there was more to my answer than that: a part where I took you at your word and gave you concrete advice for how to "claw your way back into academia". – Pete L. Clark Feb 5 '15 at 23:32
  • Let me also say that what you are asking about is way too weighty for you to take too seriously what a few random academics who have seen only a small snapshot of your situation tell you. Here's one last piece of advice that I guarantee you will be helpful if followed: find a mentor. Some math professor who knows you and feels positively about you will do fine. You would very much benefit from guidance which is both expert and personal. – Pete L. Clark Feb 5 '15 at 23:36
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While considering a more recent question by the same OP, I came across an alternative solution that seems more on-topic for this question.

I checked my memory of the graduate student admission requirements for the school where I got my PhD, UC San Diego. Unfortunately, my memory is correct and there is no option for duplicating a PhD in the same subject.

However, it also mentioned "Nondegree Study", coursework only study for a year, with a possible extension for a second year. You could look whether any schools in your area with good math departments offer that option. If you could get into a suitable department, taking pure math graduate courses, for a year or two you could aim to do several things:

  • Refresh your pure math skills.
  • Demonstrate aptitude for pure math.
  • Reconnect to current research.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Find people to write letters of recommendation for a postdoc.

It is unusual but it is more likely to fit university regulations than the second PhD idea. You don't need any more degrees. You do need a pure math academic network.

You would probably have to self-finance, either keeping a day job or first saving enough money for a year or two of tuition and living expenses. You might be able to get paid work as an adjunct professor, teaching the material you know from your industry career.

  • The reason why I mentioned a second PhD is that my time in grad school was quite atypical, and I feel like I was cheated out of the experience that most other students (even in my department) get. The coursework itself is not inherently very useful, aside from how it might like on an application; rather, I want the connection to current research, the mentor, and the sources of recommendation letters you mentioned. Given my experiences, I think that I would have been able to continue in my academic career happily with a different department or even just advisor; that's what I want to try. – anomaly May 12 '16 at 1:16

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