I am a 3rd year mathematics undergraduate(see my math se account), and I think I am well positioned to go into academia, and I am willing to do anything to make it happen.

I also have a desire to show my love for America, and I can't think of any unequivocal of doing this other than joining the military.

Many of my competitive advantages have come from completing certain milestones before a certain age(i.e. finishing the trigonometry books that Ramanujan used at the age he did them, BC calc in 8th grade, a competitive REU program Freshman year, going straight to the graduate courses in my undergrad). Thus getting deployed to active duty might break this string.

Has anyone had any experience in this matter?

I am not, of course interested in industry, at all. I would sooner do math on the streets than go into any other job where I cannot continue what I am doing 24/7.

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    There are many ways to serve your country. See for example: nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps You might also seek out volunteer activities. For example, given your interest and abilities in math, have you considered finding out if there is a Math Circle in your community? mathcircles.org You can help others (including those who are disadvantaged) discover the same joy in mathematics that you have. – Anonymous Jul 12 '16 at 2:14
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    It could just be my european mindset, but I find it quite alarming that serving your country is so synonymous with joining the military. Especially since they are two very different things. – 101010111100 Jul 12 '16 at 7:37
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    @101010111100 what do you mean with "European mindset"? Referring to military service as a service to one's country is widely spread in the European countries that I know. – Cape Code Jul 12 '16 at 12:10
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    @CapeCode Not really sure that's the case. In Western Europe especially, there has been a rather strong anti-war, and by association anti-military, attitude for some time now. The first thing people tend to think about when hearing the words "serving your country" is typically related to (peacefully) helping other people (e.g. helping the less-privileged). – 101010111100 Jul 12 '16 at 12:50
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    @user062295 when you write the wars that are fought are antithetical to my conception of American values, you may want to consider that if you do join the military you give up some of your rights (such as the right to decide whether or not you go where they tell you ). (I'm not at all trying to make a political point -- just an eminently practical one). – virmaior Jul 14 '16 at 1:02

I think you should really consider what you are willing to do in the military. Are you going to enlist or apply to OCS? What is your desired MOS? If you want to join the military while continuing in academics, this is very field specific. For example, the Navy/Army/Air Force employs a number of medical physicists and will pay for their masters degrees. You need to specify exactly what your goal would be while in the military.

"I am not, of course interested in industry, at all. I would sooner do math on the streets than go into any other job where I cannot continue what I am doing 24/7."

If you join the military, you will almost absolutely break your 'string' of math achievements.

"the wars that are fought are antithetical to my conception of American values"

If you are enlisting and you branch infantry, what will you do? If you become an armor officer, what will you do?

All academics aspire to 'serve' humanity in their own way. Research pushes mankind forward, not nations.


Yes a military service would interfere to some extent with your academic career.

One way to reduce the impact of a military service on your academic development is to serve in a unit in which you can use some of your mathematical skills (typically R&D, technology and intelligence units). You don't have to be an infantry soldier - in fact you are probably more useful to the military if they can use your special talent. Also, check if the military has special programs that involve academic studies as part of the training.

Finally, even if it does interfere with your career it is up to you to decide whether this is a deal breaker. Plenty of people have had very successful academic careers with such interruptions due to various different reasons.


The United States has five service academies where the academics are also serving in the military. There are also a variety of non-military federal agencies which employ mathematicians to do research. The NSA is probably the best-known.


If you must join the military, you will have a better shot at a career in academia if you do it before you embark on your PhD. You have probably reached the end of the phase of life when achieving things before a certain age makes much difference in any case. Age matters less and less as you continue. On the other hand, when people look at your CV, they will be looking at your record of research achievement since completing your PhD (or possibly since publishing your first paper). A career gap can have a big impact.

If you must serve military goals, you may be able to make a bigger contribution as a researcher than as a member of the armed forces. The defence forces fund research that ultimately makes a big difference to their operations.

How else can you serve America? You can do research that has a positive impact for American society: applied mathematics research in health, economics, justice, or the environment, for instance. You can volunteer in ways that make life better for American people: habitats for humanity or a tenants' information service or tutoring diadvantaged children, for instance. You can become politically active and support policies, candidates and parties that you think will make America stronger and happier (and help keep the country out of wars that you find antithetical to your values, perhaps). You can run for political office yourself. You can serve a term in the public service before embarking on academia. There are many options!

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