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I am currently trying to change careers after doing postdoc physics research for many years and not being able to obtain a research faculty position. I really enjoyed my university teaching experiences and want to focus on teaching as a career. But I haven't been successful in finding a nonresearch teaching position with an EECS PhD.

My goal now is to teach Mathematics at either the community college or liberal arts college level. Is it impossible to achieve this goal with only a BS in Mathematics plus EECS PhD? It seems like I need at a minimum a MS in Mathematics.

There was a related question here. There was a suggestion for that person to look into getting a DA degree in Mathematics as a way to get a doctorate with an emphasis on teaching. I've never heard of it, but based on descriptions of the DA program I've found online, it seems to match my teaching goals perfectly. (There were also suggestions to consider the PhD in Mathematics Education, but I don't think it would be a good fit for me.)

My questions:

  • Am I wasting my time applying to college-level math teaching jobs with only a BS Math + grad engineering degrees?

  • Is a Master's degree good enough or even preferable to a DA if I only want to teach?

  • I am interested in the DA, but I'm worried that the commenter in the link above says "It's a bad idea". Is it true that most Math departments don't even know what a DA degree is? Will having a DA put me at a disadvantage compared to others having a PhD if I apply for a teaching position requiring a doctorate degree?

  • Since it's been a long time since my BS Math degree, would getting a MS Math degree first be a good idea before thinking about getting a doctoral degree?

  • I'm not sure if getting another degree is a reasonable way of planning my second career. It's been 10 years since my PhD and if I decide to do this I will be over 40 by the time I finish another degree. Is it a bad idea to go back to school as an older student just so I can teach college math?

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    What kinds of classes would you like to teach? – Potato May 13 '15 at 6:06
  • " Is it a bad idea to go back to school as an older student just so I can teach college math?" Do you have the funds to handle this and do you really, really enjoy the math and the teaching? If you don't have a passion for it, and it's just a "job" for you, then don't. If it's a passion you want to share, go for it. As a side note, in the US atleast, you may be able to convince a Community College that you have an equivalent degree and get in on that. Talk to a local dept. – scrappedcola May 13 '15 at 16:16
  • @scrappedcola: Yes, I really have a passion for the math and the teaching. I am willing to make some sacrifices if there's a chance I can find a teaching position someday. I don't really want to get an industry job that I won't enjoy. – mars34 May 13 '15 at 16:53
  • @scrappedcola I applied to some community colleges hoping they would consider my phd as an equivalent degree. But maybe they don't consider a Math BS + eecs phd as equivalent. – mars34 May 13 '15 at 17:00
  • @Potato I want to teach undergrad level math. I would be happy teaching calculus, diff. eqns, and linear algebra. I TA'ed a probability course in grad school and really loved teaching that subject. High school math (alg/geom/trig/pre-calc) is also fine. – mars34 May 13 '15 at 17:12
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I attended a junior college before finishing my BS Math at university. My University Physics II instructor at the junior college had a BS Physics and a Master in Church Music. I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to find a job teaching mathematics at a junior college with your doctorate.

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You mentioned positive university teaching experiences. That's a big plus.

I wouldn't mention "doing postdoc physics research for many years and not being able to obtain a research faculty position" in your cover letters or your interviews. You probably weren't going to, but I just wanted to make sure. You could say that as you were wrapping up a project, you realized that the most rewarding job you've ever had was teaching.

If you don't mind being a poorly paid adjunct instructor at the beginning, you should be fine.

Perhaps you could take an education class concurrently with starting your adjunct teaching.

You may also want to consider high school teaching as an additional possibility. If you do that, being able to teach both math and physics will be a special plus.

Contact some instructors and ask permission to do some observing.

Good luck.


Getting a job has a lot to do with timing and luck, so don't get discouraged if a department doesn't snap you up right away. You can mention your postdoc physics research background, but you need to give a different spin on it than "not being able to obtain a research faculty position." You could say something like "physics research is fascinating, but I have discovered that what's most important to me is helping young people get the tools they need to be successful in a STEM area."

You could get your feet wet with teaching as a Peace Corps or other type of volunteer, or as a high school substitute teacher. Anyone with a Bachelor's degree can work as a sub.

Practical experiences like these can give you clearer ideas about what would be a good fit for you, and you may also be able to get some strong recommendation letters.

  • I will take your advice to highlight my teaching experiences, but it's hard to avoid my "postdoc physics research" background since it's pretty obvious once they take a look at my cv. I'll do my best. – mars34 May 18 '15 at 15:56
  • Do you think having a PhD in engineering (not Mathematics) will prevent me from getting anything better than an adjunct Math teaching position? I've read sad online stories of people getting trapped in low-paying adjunct positions for many years. (I will consider HS teaching. Thanks. I would upvote this, but I don't have enough points.) – mars34 May 18 '15 at 16:01
  • There is a definite possibility that anyone who starts out as (ill-paid) adjunct will never escape that situation... – paul garrett Jun 27 '18 at 22:36
  • @mars34 - A CV is a CV and as you say, there's not a whole lot of spin you can put on this or that element of it. However, a cover letter is a different story. In the cover letter you can select one to three specific things about yourself to talk about. You don't have to retell the contents of the CV. The interview is an in-person, longer version of the cover letter. If they ask you about something you don't want to emphasize, answer the question, and then start spinning, to bring it back around to what you want to emphasize. – aparente001 Jun 28 '18 at 2:05
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I think you would be especially qualified to teach an applied mathematics course – I would say go for it now not later

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