It is possible to purse an online PhD in mathematics? Even though I am already 40 years old, this is the dream I have. I am a full-time teacher, and because of economic reasons I cannot give up my job to dedicate my entire time to work on a PhD. It would be great if there was an online program, but I was not able to find it. Can anybody give me an advise? Do I still have a chance to study for a PhD with a full time job? I understand that it may be almost impossible for me, but I just want to know if there is a chance. Any suggestion in this matter is greatly appreciated

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    A real phd? No. Perhaps one from a diploma mill.
    – Rüdiger
    Commented May 19, 2017 at 18:25
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    Possible duplicate of academia.stackexchange.com/questions/11132/…
    – Aru Ray
    Commented May 19, 2017 at 18:39
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    @anomaly No, you're wrong. the point of PhD is improve one's knowledge in mathematics and advance the field.
    – SmallChess
    Commented May 20, 2017 at 5:35
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    @SmallChess: It's an apprenticeship; certainly learning the material and how to do research is unquestionable worthwhile and useful, but that's ultimately pointless if you don't wind up in a suitable career. It's nothing as crass or limited as generic job training, but it's only the first rung of the ladder.
    – anomaly
    Commented May 20, 2017 at 5:40
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    @Nate8 – Indeed, you should ask yourself why you want this. What do you want out of this dream?_ I find this remark quite condescending. What makes you think that OP doesn't know why he/she wants to get a PhD?
    – Dan Romik
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 2:16

6 Answers 6


It is possible to purse an online PhD in mathematics?

Highly doubtful. A PhD is not course-based, like an undergraduate degree. You can't just "do" a PhD, as in finish the given classes and work and call yourself done. You need to do research, both independently, and in collaboration with your supervisor. You're not learning things that are known, but learning how to discover things nobody else knows, and how to communicate knowledge. So this isn't something that can be completed with a few courses.

Could you do this remotely? Maybe, but it would be really hard. I had to do a portion of my Masters remotely, and coordinating over Skype is very difficult, and while we made it work, I would not recommend it. The times I went in to meet with my supervisor, I often felt like I learned more and made more progress than over the weeks previously.

I cannot give up my job to dedicate my entire time to work on a PhD

Then why do you want your PhD?

It's worth mentioning that PhDs usually paid. They're not well paying, compared to teaching, but if this is truly your life's dream, you may be able to make it work economically. Many students do, after being saddled with debt from their undergraduate.

Do I still have a chance to study for a PhD with a full time job?

Again, highly doubtfull. A PhD is usually roughly the amount of work of a full-time job, and what you're doing in it corresponds more to a 9-5 office job than to courses with homework. If you want to have no home-life, you could maybe make both work, but scheduling meetings with your supervisors and such would be a nightmare.

Part time PhDs exist, but they're tricky.

One final note

If you are doing a PhD, and you are not getting funded to do it (or at least, are paying large amounts of tuition) then be wary, as a predatory institution may be taking advantage of you.

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    Care to explain the downvote? I can make edits to improve aspects of the answer that are lacking. Commented May 20, 2017 at 5:43
  • I upvoted, but can you add more about how phd in math really looks like, for example how much time you need jut for qualification exam and comprehensive examination
    – SSimon
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 2:34
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    @SSimon That sort of thing will vary wildly. Where I did my PhD there were no such examinations but just writing a fairly short report and presenting it. Other places do not even have that necessarily. Commented May 21, 2017 at 8:10
  • In canada you dont have thesis proposal defence? @jmite
    – SSimon
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 16:18
  • @SSimon we do have that in Canada, at least in most programs I've seen. Why do you ask? Commented May 21, 2017 at 16:19

It's definitely possible to get a PhD online from a reputable school. The University of Florida, the flagship school of the Florida university system, for example, offers a number of options. Nova Southeastern University, another reputable school, also offers multiple options. However, if you look closely at the degrees offered, I think you'll find that they tend to be in a relatively small number of fields, e.g. psychology, education and criminal justice. These are generally considered high demand fields so the Universities' that offer those degrees can be reasonably sure of getting decent enrollment levels. I think you're going to find that it's very difficult, if not impossible, to find a decent program in a relatively low demand subject like math. (I have a masters in math from the University of Florida so I'm not just taking cheap shots at the math guys.)

It's also worth noting to those who are suggesting that such a degree would only be useful in academia that a PhD does have value in other fields. Some school districts base salaries (scroll down to page 13 for an example) on the highest degree earned by the employee so a PhD can have direct monetary benefit outside of academia.


I'd say it's not impossible, but it is challenging to find an opportunity. I myself am about to complete the final hurdle (the viva) to my PhD. My field is Artificial Life/Artificial Intelligence, not Mathematics, but my experience may be helpful to you.

At the age of 49, I decided to do an MSc by research just for my own personal satisfaction. As an experienced software engineer in Ireland who doesn't want to live in a city, I had zero expectation that the MSc would increase my earning potential or lead to a more interesting job. I just wanted to do it. I worked part time during the MSc and also had a scholarship, so the money was OK. The scholarship allowed me to pursue any topic I wanted as long as it was related to data science. I chose a research project that I had in the back of my mind for years, but thought I would have to wait until I retired to pursue it.

After completing the MSc, the company that gave me the scholarship hired me as a researcher. Like many large companies, they have an education programme that pays tuition for employees who want to continue their education. Normally that would mean working full time while trying to do a PhD. However, they were interested in my project, so they allowed me to continue working on the project during a large part of my work day. This was ideal for me, of course. And it worked out OK for them as they got a few patentable ideas out of it, and some new product ideas. And within a few months I expect to be awarded a PhD.

I've been incredibly lucky, but I think there are some practical steps you can take. I'm reading between the lines of your post, but I suspect what's most important to you is learning. And learning on your own has never been easier, with eBooks and videos and online courses. So I suggest you pursue that in your spare time. That will be its own reward, even if you go no further.

At the same time, look for opportunities to use what you've learned in your work, either in this job or another one. Also look for opportunities to get a master's if you don't already have one, even if it isn't in Maths. Maybe you can do research in an area that involves Maths. (This is what I did; I have incorporated a fair amount of Maths into my own project.) Again, all of this will be its own reward.

All of this may lead to unexpected opportunities for a PhD. Good luck.


Some of the other answers seem to have a rather narrow view of how a PhD operates, so let me share some observations.

In the first place, in countries such as the UK and Ireland there is often no coursework so that the degree is awarded solely on the basis of the thesis and the oral examination on it. (Of course the oral may also examine various things which a PhD in the relevant area should know.)

Moreover it is common for at least part of a PhD to be done part time. Many people study full time for a PhD for the first three years, say, and then finish it part time if their funding runs out.

I also know of least two examples where someone started a PhD in pure mathematics when they were over 40, pursued it part time for the full duration of their doctoral studies, and emerged victorious with a PhD. Both people I have in mind worked full time while doing the PhD. (They also had an MSc when they started the PhD.)

So I guess this a positive answer to the question

Do I still have a chance to study for a PhD with a full time job?

though of course it depends on your circumstances, and it's a far from easy task.

Separately, I know of someone who did a distance learning PhD through the Open University, and went on to have a successful academic career. Having said that, I just looked at the OU website (http://www.openuniversity.edu/), and didn't see PhDs among the degrees offered.

Let me also observe that being accepted into a PhD programme in certain countries can be quite separate from being funded to do the PhD. So while it certainly wise to be wary of potentially predatory institutions, it can be perfectly normal to be charged for tuition.


It depends...

I know a few people who have done or are doing a PhD part time in my institution. One was retired, and got his PhD aged 80! (and no, did not plan to go on to a career in academia); and one is working part time for the same institution. Closer to your situation, however, a third is simultaneously working full-time at a lower-tier educational institution; a final one was working part-time for a public-sector organisation.

Relevant features:

  • This is in the UK. PhD programmes here typically don't have (lots of) coursework, and don't have PhD qualifying exams.
  • This is a perfectly good institution! We're no degree mill.
  • None of these was part of an advertised ‘part-time PhD’ programme, I don't think. Googling my own university's website, I can see that we support this mode (and more so in some areas than others) but don't much promote it.
  • In each case, the students were living in the same city, or nearby, so had/have opportunities for personal interaction. That is, this wasn't an ‘online PhD’, and I think that would be challenging to manage.
  • I'm not sure exactly how each was was set up, but I think each emerged from a personal approach or a pre-existing relationship – such as having known the supervisor as an undergraduate – which ended up with a supervisor agreeing to take the student on, and sorting out the paperwork at that point. With us, the time-limits for part-time PhD study are obviously longer than for full-time, but they're not indefinite, and I think in each case the workload is/was pretty full-on.
  • The first three of these happened to be in the humanities, which tends to have more flexible arrangements for PhDs, and which (for various reasons) is pretty relaxed about people starting or finishing their PhDs part-time. The last was in astronomy, though.

I think this wouldn't have been possible, or at least not easy, if there were significant coursework requirements. I doubt that it would have worked if there wasn't the possibility of regular face-to-face meetings, but who knows. Certainly I know of PhDs finishing largely online, when a student has had to move away for one or other reason, but that was when a personal relationship had been solidly established. Googling my own university's website, I can see that we support this mode (and more so in some areas than others) but don't much promote it.

So the answer to your question is: maybe, and there's no generic answer. There's no deep reason why this can't work, but you'd need to persuade a potential supervisor that you wouldn't be a waste of their time (how: exercise for the reader), and it'd need to be at a university where this was administratively possible.

The answers to the one or two very similar questions seem to have useful further advice.


Online PhD is impossible, no university would allow you that. It's important for you to communicate with the experts in your field, and you can't do that by just emails.

@jmite mentions in his answer that you shouldn't do a PhD if you want to keep your salary. However, I'd argue there is absolutely nothing wrong with keeping your paycheck while studying. Why do you have to give up your job for a degree? Why the MBA students can keep their jobs? They are in the top 1% income brackets. Many PhD students do that simply they are fresh graduates and thus have nothing to protect.

Why not a part-time PhD? It's not uncommon to study PhD although it'll be quite intensive and challenging.

While it's possible to keep your job while studying for a PhD, it can't be online. Prepare for the huge workloads.

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    An MBA is not a PhD. A full-time PhD takes as much or more time as a full-time job. "Nothing wrong" with doing both, sure, but that makes them the only things the person will be doing besides sleep and eat - and the latter are optional.
    – Nij
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 0:45
  • @Nij Full time study takes as much time as a full-time job. MBA or PhD. I don't see your point.
    – SmallChess
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 3:09
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    MBA is a master's degree, which is typically coursework and doesn't require anywhere near as much commitment or time as an original research degree i.e. PhD would. And if you don't see the problem with 80+ hours a week of just study and work, well done for not requiring sleep or having a life outside them.
    – Nij
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 3:52

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