According to the latest JobsRated listing released today, the best job in the US is that of mathematician. Pay is good, stress is low, and you don’t have to get your hands dirty, but can sit in front of a computer monitor all day. Nice work if you can get it. The job of physicist is significantly less desirable: down at number 13, not quite as good as working as a philosopher (number 12), but a bit better than being a parole officer (number 14).

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Cute! If you have tenure, sure, being a mathematician (or theoretical physicist, the day-to-day routine isn’t very different) is a sublime job.

A postdoc position, on the other hand, well I’d guess that would come much further down the list! Pay is OK, stress — mostly from agonising over where the next postdoc is coming from — is high, and you have to get your hands dirty working on trendy stuff you don’t really care about in order to get noticed. I’ve got a heacache just thinking about it.

“Pay is good, stress is low, and you don’t have to get your hands dirty, but can sit in front of a computer monitor all day.”

They forget to say that there are high chances you get obsessed with what you are doing, and that actually what you are working on never leaves you alone…

Parole officer? I think that tells us a little about this study…

Stress is low? Bull. Like A. points out, that only goes if you’ve got tenure. The job market is horrific this year.

Looking into their methodology indicates that the mathematician’s “mid-level” income is quoted as $94K, with a “growth potential” (span from low to high income) of “160%”, for whatever that means.

I don’t think this is intended as describing academic mathematics, but mathematics as a wider occupation. I’d say academics should be listed separately.

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For information on academic math pay-scales, see

http://www.ams.org/employment/facsal.html

$94K would be a typical salary of a tenured person at a university with doctoral programs. Liberal arts and other colleges pay less. Math jobs in the financial industry pay quite a bit more,

Being a mathematician sounds to me to be about the most stressful job around. Sure, you get paid, and you get to sit around in a nice warm office, but you risk spending years of your life on something that never works out. Or on proving something that someone else, with different tools and insights, proves in 5 minutes.

Most jobs have a built-in worthwhileness indicator that gives you some sort of an answer to “have I been wasting my time today / this week / this month / this year?”. Mathematics doesn’t.

Nugae,

Mathematicians outside of academia are often working on things that quickly get evaluated as to their “worthwhileness”. My friends who build models used by hedge funds in their trading strategies are an example. As for academics, you forget that a big part of the job is to teach students. And, with every test they take, you see whether you are doing a good job.

Pure math research may not work out, or may be hard to evaluate, but one of the main reasons that people do it is that they enjoy the process. You learn new things as you go, even if you don’t end up where you had hoped.

If you’re a math major and want a secure high-paying job, be an actuary or a biostatistician. Mathematics research is not a job; it’s a vocation, a calling — like monkhood.

Hi Peter,

Does this mean that Quant jobs are no longer worth pursuing?

Regards

“Pure math research may not work out, or may be hard to evaluate, but one of the main reasons that people do it is that they enjoy the process. You learn new things as you go, even if you don’t end up where you had hoped.”

I agree. The problem is when things don’t end up anywhere, and it happens quite often…

John,

From what I hear, people are still getting quant jobs, but they are quite a bit harder to get. Then again, all jobs are harder to get right now….

I was a math major who ended up doing all kinds of work (mostly in electrical field) & have ended up acquiring and analyzing data & writing technical papers with a job with good pay & benefits. (I dropped out of grad school.) My oldest son, who is very gifted mathematically (invented his own form of integral calculus) chose Computer Science & does well (very good pay). My brother became a high school math teacher. So there are many ways to go for math guys. And you can always do pure research on your own for the pure pleasure of it.

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Many people love working in a work place. I appreciate your honesty in this blog.