I've heard many times that it's getting harder and harder each year to find a place in academia for scientists. Now I'm on the hunt of a post-doc and the "what about the future?" question arises.

So, by looking at mathjobs.org, I really get the impression there are lots of jobs! But after further inspection, I notice most of them are non-permanent positions, which begs the question: Are there people in a constant nomadic life? meaning that they are switching from non-permanent positions to another in their entire lives.

I would like to restrict the answers to applied mathematicians because I think we are a lucky group that has a higher possibility to shift to industry jobs if academy fails. I like to believe that because of it, there are fewer people fighting for academy positions.

Maybe another related question is, at which point one is too old to switch from academy to industry?

  • Related: Non academic career options for PhD in Math – Cape Code Nov 16 '17 at 17:32
  • I think we are a lucky group that has a higher possibility to shift to industry jobs if academy fails. -- The same applies to engineering and computer science, too. – Mad Jack Nov 16 '17 at 18:48
  • Are there people in a constant nomadic life, switching from non-permanent positions to another in their entire lives? -- Yes, there are people who do this, but I'm not sure how this answer helps you. – Mad Jack Nov 16 '17 at 18:56
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    Your posting consists of one unclear question(something about the job market in applied mathematics) and one clear question (the last part about "when is one too old.") Please break these apart and rewrite the first question clearly. Before you repost, please also check for previous questions related to these. I believe you'll find that both of your questions have already been addressed. – Brian Borchers Nov 16 '17 at 19:04
  • I rewrote the first question in (I hope) a clearer way. – pancho Nov 17 '17 at 0:21

I'm a pure mathematician, so take what I say with a grain of salt. My sense is that "constant nomadic life" is not a particularly accurate view of things. I think it is true that the number of years of postdoc people often do is slowly increasing (or maybe more accurately, the sort of research track-record that's required is increasing, and it takes most people more years of postdoc to achieve that record), but I mean that taking 4 or 5 years after Ph.D. to get a permanent job is quite common, rather than 2 or 3. Those 4 or 5 years might mean two multi-year postdocs, or a 3 year postdoc and a year or two at institutes like Max Planck or MSRI; after that time, it will get hard to get temporary jobs. I think a fair number of people get through 1 or 2 postdocs and then decide to get a non-academic job, but I suspect most do not have reasonable options for continuing in academia in temporary positions (sometimes they have permanent options they decide are not worth it).

If you look at the job listings on mathjobs, there are currently about 500 TT jobs, 170 postdocs (which will generally not want to hire someone after more than 1 postdoc), and 120 "non-tenure-track" positions which is a big grab bag of things, mostly an equal mix of mislabeled postdocs and teaching positions (many of which are continuing). If you figure TT jobs are hiring for 20-30 years, and the postdocs generally for 1-3, the disparity isn't THAT bad.

As an editorial note, I will mention that I think too much funding has gone into postdocs at the expense of TT jobs in the past few years. I know it sounds really good to help the next generation of scientists train, etc. it would also help them a lot if they could just settle down and stop moving. However, I think things have not gotten quite as dystopian as you suggest.

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  • not gotten quite as dystopian as you suggest -- thank you for giving us all hope! – Austin Henley Nov 17 '17 at 0:15
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    Well, I'm glad you think of 5 years of postdoc is hopeful! I mean for some people, it's great, but having to move 2 or 3 times is a lot to ask of people! – Ben Webster Nov 17 '17 at 1:13
  • The AMS produces an annual survey of new doctorates in mathematics (and applied math and statistics) and their employment. It's an objective (and quite comprehensive) report. – Brian Borchers Nov 17 '17 at 2:52
  • @BrianBorchers I've spent plenty of time looking at these reports. Of course, they are useful information, but they lack a lot of the info you would really want to understand this stuff: they only capture what someone's first job is (what's important is what happens after that first postdoc) and they don't really capture people's intentions (how many of the people who took non-academic jobs wanted academic ones and vice versa). So in particular they don't point in either direction on my (totally anecdotal) sense that people are doing more time in postdocs. – Ben Webster Nov 17 '17 at 3:05
  • I agree that I haven't seen any published data on how much time people are spending in postdocs are what percentage of those who want academic careers ultimately end up in tenure track positions. Anecdotally, most of the postdocs I've spoken to recently are extremely stressed out about this, and many are opting to look for non-academic positions even though they'd really prefer academic positions. – Brian Borchers Nov 17 '17 at 3:11

"at which point one is too old to switch from academy to industry?" Long before you become too old in any absolute sense you might become too old in a temperamental sense. After 10 - 20 years of living on an academic schedule in an academic setting, something which is more of a 9-5 job under an active manager becomes almost impossible to imagine. I periodically wonder if I should try to get a job in industry as a programmer, but realize that at this stage in my life (I have been teaching at the university level for 25 years) any such change would be too extreme.

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