I will get back to talking about communism and other fun things soon enough, but meanwhile, something of possible interest to mathematicians. I’ve been appointed to the Web Editorial Group of the American Mathematical Society, starting this February. In case you don’t feel like clicking, this is a small committee charged with providing advice and suggestions regarding the AMS webpage. (The WEG doesn’t actually maintain the page. The AMS has staff responsible for that.)
I’ve been considering what I’d like to do in that capacity. I’m sure that other stuff will come up, but right now, I’m thinking of the math graduates and postdocs who talked with me about looking for jobs outside of academia. Our system is geared towards pushing students and graduates up the academic ladder, then averting our eyes politely when they fall off and pretending that they never existed in the first place. We can make it feel like a failure when someone quits academia, even when they’re genuinely happier doing something else.
Honestly, I’ve never understood this. There are not, and never have been, enough academic jobs for all of our graduates. I don’t see why everybody should want one, either. Academic jobs can be rewarding, but there’s a price to pay even in the best circumstances; likewise, any other job will have its own rewards, disadvantages, and limitations. Of course the balance will be different for different people. I’m still in academia myself, but I’ve been at the crossroads a number of times and it’s very easy for me to imagine other outcomes.
Anyway. The students and postdocs I talked to were often at a loss as to how to go about the transition. They didn’t know what other jobs might be available to them, how to go about applying, or what additional qualifications might help. Which brings us back to the AMS webpage. Right now, the career information page focuses on academic jobs, with only two articles about “the non-academic job market.” One of these articles is by Cathy O’Neil, who has since supplemented it with additional posts on her own website. The other article suggests networking – except that most graduate students and postdocs in mathematics have very little access to networking outside of academia, and the usual sequence of long-distance moves in postdoc years might as well have been designed to keep us unrooted from the wider community.
I’d like for this proportion to change. I’m looking for suggestions as to what kind of advice on non-academic jobs could be useful, and where to get it. Should we try to solicit more articles? Should we link to blog posts describing relevant experiences? Should there be some community-based resource such as a wiki? I’m cross-posting this on Google+ so that people could comment there. Email comments are also welcome. This is just a call for ideas; ultimately, I will be only making suggestions, and the actual decisions about the website content are made by the AMS. But first, I’d like to get a better idea what to ask for.