Ivory Tower Easy Street

Why does anyone want to get a PhD?

It’s TONS of hard work.  Usually means NO social life until your mid 30s.  Your ONLY friends are similar masochists who are NOT competing with you in your field.

Finally, IF you manage to get through the feudal slave system called graduate work, and are “awarded” your higher degree of philosophy, are your dreams realized?


The nightmare begins.

No matter what the discipline, you must now scamper for funding, for post-doc work, for anything related to your dream, your passion.

Yes, it’s why you started this crazy process back when you were SO YOUNG.  You dreamed.  You had a passion.  A passion for learning.  A passion for a subject.


For a select few, the highest of the high, the luckiest of the luck, they land some form of academic job.  Not just any academic job, but a “tenured” job.  Of course, publishing and researching to the point of making tenure is yet another stressful round.  But once they make that benchmark, that holy grail, that nirvana, what does that academic do?

They can (mostly) relax.

And that’s the vision misleading our young, passionate, intensely curious dreamer who strives for the PhD.

And of all the PhD in academia, who has it the easiest?

Go ahead and guess.  I’ll wait.



You never would have guessed, would you?

Of all the academic professions, mathematicians are allowed to operate in the realm of pure creativity.  No, not the creativity of oil paints or clay.  Not even the creativity of “post-reconstructionist-logical-positivism” or “economic drivers in the mid-level artificial carbon credit markets.”  No, their creativity is pure, and focused.

For in math, there is no ambiguity, there are no loopholes in logic or proofs that are allowed, as in every other possible profession.  In this sense, it makes things harder because you can’t get by merely by the force of your personality.  Mostly.

Your papers might take years before they are approved.  Or rejected.  And the only thing worse than having your enemies find a flaw in your work (and they will) is having your FRIENDS find them first.

But the work you do, the progress you make, and how you contribute to the sum total of knowledge that is Science will be solid.  That is something very difficult to do in any of the hard sciences, much harder in the biological sciences, and virtually impossible in ANY of the social “sciences.”

In sum, if you’re a dreamer who loves learning and wants to make a difference, but also wants to live on easy street the rest of your life, then math is your path.  Yes, it’ll be hard, and you will leave many bodies behind as you prove yourself, but that’s life.

But in the end, isn’t that much better than getting a PhD in, well, ANYTHING else?

Good luck!