More Old Fartes telling Young ‘uns what they should be doing (and a short diatribe on the necessity of calculus for premeds & bio majors).

This op-ed in the New Scientist has its heart in the right place. It’s telling mathematicians not to work for the NSA. Other mathematicians want to cut all ties to the NSA. They want math departments to cut ties to the NSA. The NSA hires more mathematicians, they say, then any place else in the world.

I wonder how many young math PhDs have their only job offer at the NSA? Or how many take a job there, opening up an academic position for someone else?

When I was in grad school (probably before you were born) I shared a house with two math PhD students. Their job search strategy was a lot different than mine. They picked where they wanted to go  (NYC as it turned out). There were multiple jobs at every Ivy League school, every major Inst of Technology. These weren’t tenure track – they were “instructors”, aka glorified postdocs. They were there to do research and teach calculus to the unwashed masses of bio and chem majors. In my day these jobs were even  called Ast. Prof jobs.

I have a friend in the math dept and she (yes, she) suggests that things are not much different. (But feel free to slap me upside the head and say its not this way). Today they tend to be “fellows” or even “postdocs”. Math depts teach a lot of a calculus to non-majors (aside on calculus to follow) – this is their bread and butter. There are usually not a lot of math majors, relative to all the various Bio majors and even Chemistry.The crunch for these guys comes after the fellowship, or postdoc. My sense is that this is now much closer to what life sciences PhDs perceive.

Its lovely that the old guys can tell the young guys not to take a job. Are any of them giving up their tenured (or even tenure track) jobs so that the new PhDs have an alternative to the NSA? What about the ones who don’t get tenure, willing to step down so they can have a job? Hmmm… not seeing a lot of hands here.


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