Mathematicians don’t quit, they fade away [closed]

Edit: This question is now closed for being not related to math, but many people pointed out that becoming an actuary is one of the most viable career path for someone with skills in pure math.

Noone I’ve ever talked to knows what mathematicians do when they drop out of grad school or fail a postdoc or don’t get tenure. That’s because professors are exactly the people that didn’t experience those things, and don’t seem to keep in contact with those that do.

I went to an AMS research session for recent grads over the summer, and they admitted that they don’t know either, and that they are planning to do a study or two to find out.

My question is this: for those who planned on a career in pure math and then stopped at some point by choice or otherwise, what do you do now?

I’d also be interested in anecdotes about friends and other students you know or knew, and also other related stories.

As for my stories, I have a friend with a PhD in pure math who teaches at a cool private high school, but everyone else I know is at a teaching college or a postdoc or still in school.


I completed 2 years of a Mathematics Ph.D. program, and after several discussions with my advisor, decided that a tenure-track path devoted to research was probably not a good one for me. My work ethic was average and I had a huge hill to climb with a limited background in Math studies that was based largely in the U.S.

I decided to leave the program before starting the dissertation work and entered into the business world working for a small, local insurance company with the goal of becoming an actuary. My advisor told me that if I didn’t like the business world and wanted to come back to try Pure Mathematics again, they would welcome me back.

Nearly ten years later, I’ve completed all exams to become a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and now happily lead a team of ten people as a Second Vice President at a large U.S. Insurer. Sometimes late at night I wonder what might have been, and secretly long to solve original, advanced problems, but overall I am very happy and glad to have found this alternative career path.

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Chad Wilson

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