As the question title suggests, should I apply to graduate school for mathematics? I am currently an undergraduate studying mathematics at some unnamed university in the world about to enter their last year. Here are some reasons why I think I shouldn't.

  1. I don't think I'd be happy doing mathematics all day long. I don't have a lot of discipline when it comes to "working", and I tend to get bored quite easily.

    I have strong interests in other areas as well. I could be doing something else with my life! Maybe I'd not be living up to my "true potential" if I decided to become a mathematician.

  2. I don't think I have what it takes to be a successful mathematician. I don't think I'm good enough. Also, I've been struggling with extreme depression for a while now, and there's no signs of it disappearing anytime soon. I think this will affect my ability to succeed in graduate school at the least.
  3. (Related to 1 above.) The "real world" is a terrible place, and I want to help make it better. Becoming a professional mathematician would detract from my (already quite limited) ability to make it better.
  4. The (senior-than-me part of the) mathematical community sucks. The few times I have managed to gather the chutzpah to talk to faculty and graduate students over the last few years at my school, quite a few of them just insulted me for various failings and were quite cold even if they didn't insult me.

    By comparison, the other undergraduates studying mathematics at my institution are, by in large, far more pleasant. But I still get this very empty feeling when talking to them.

    (On a related note, I have a lot of anxiety about talking about math in "real life" and in "real time". I'm very slow, compared with other undergraduates at my institution. Talking about mathematics in "real time" and assessment of mathematical ability/learning give me great displeasure. Sometimes, I feel as if my self-worth is deeply tied to my mathematical ability? Some related issues are discussed by the liberated mathematician somewhere on her website.)

    I don't really want to provide specifics, as it'll make it easier to ascertain my identity... I know for sure quite a number of folks from my institution peruse MSE regularly.

Here is a reason in favor of applying to graduate school for mathematics.

  1. Doing mathematics (and specifically, discovering and producing one's own mathematics) is the most pure form of Sartrean radical freedom, as stated with different wording perhaps, by quite a few practicing mathematicians.

And so I ask, should I apply to graduate school for mathematics?

(I have already discussed this somewhat with some family and friends, some of whom are also undergraduate mathematics students. But a lot of the discussion was unsatisfactory, so I would like to consult the opinion of informed strangers online.)

Also, for the few people who know/think they know my identity, I welcome you to contact me to talk about this, if you are comfortable with doing so. But please don't spread the word that "I", where "I" is replaced with my (speculated) real name, made a post of this sorts on MSE.



closed as off-topic by Thomas, Yuriy S, 6005, Claude Leibovici, Watson Sep 4 '16 at 11:15

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Seeking personal advice. Questions about choosing a course, academic program, career path, etc. are off-topic. Such questions should be directed to those employed by the institution in question, or other qualified individuals who know your specific circumstances." – Thomas, Yuriy S, 6005, Claude Leibovici, Watson
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ This is not really a soft question, this is asking for personal advice. Something this site is not really about. Maybe academia dot stack exchange would be more suitable. $\endgroup$ – mathreadler Sep 4 '16 at 10:34
  • $\begingroup$ As was said the question is clearly seeking personal advice. This is a specific reason for closure. $\endgroup$ – Yuriy S Sep 4 '16 at 10:39
  • $\begingroup$ A possibly more on-topic version of this question would ask, "How do I know if I should apply for grad school?" and then list possible general criteria that you'd like an answer to address. Currently this is personal advice essentially only for you -- and from internet users who don't know you well enough to say. So anyway, it's off-topic. $\endgroup$ – 6005 Sep 4 '16 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not a very big fan of closing questions. It almost never accomplishes what I aim to accomplish so to speak. I think it's often better to just inform. $\endgroup$ – mathreadler Sep 4 '16 at 11:14
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    $\begingroup$ @yoyostein: Good catch, I admit I hadn't thought to check the OP's previous posts. It is indeed an impressive list. I find it hard to believe that an undergraduate could be so knowledgeable on graduate-level topics without already devoting an enormous amount of time on a very regular basis. My own answer still has some relevance: If it is true that they don't enjoy mathematics to the extent their record seems to suggest they do, then they should do some thinking. On the other hand, they are clearly a capable and well-motivated candidate, so perhaps my answer should be taken with that in mind. $\endgroup$ – Will R Sep 4 '16 at 15:18

just my two cents worth opinion.

Regarding Point 2, I looked at some of your answers in Math SE, they are quite impressive for an undergraduate. Many undergraduates haven't even touched algebraic geometry while here you are solving questions that are definitely at graduate level.

Hence, you definitely have enough ability to do a graduate degree in math.

Hence, the main issue (in my opinion) is probably the psychological aspects, on whether you feel happy doing math / motivation / interpersonal relations, etc.

In the end, the ultimate decision lies in your hands.

Regarding point 4, do note that mathematicians can have personalities that are quite different from the average man on the street, but that doesn't mean they necessarily are bad people, or have something against you. The "coldness" you perceive may be due to introversion / other personality traits that probably are out of control of even the mathematician himself/herself. Again, there are many exceptions to this.

Good luck.


Due almost entirely to point 1 against, no, you shouldn't. The point of a graduate degree in mathematics is to train you to be able to do mathematical research, potentially for a living. If you wouldn't enjoy the end result then you wouldn't enjoy the degree; and if you'll enjoy neither, and the point of the degree if to prepare you for the end result, then there are probably much better ways you could spend your time.


I am not going to make this choice for you, but I can see a few thinks where I can maybe help. I should first mention that I know the anglo-saxon education system you are in, but I spend only 5 months of my life in it (it was in grad school).

  1. If you don't love maths, don't do it. However, it has nothing to do with your working ability. I am myself very lazy and a god of procrastination, and yet I can work a lot on something interesting and/or if I get kicked in the ass quite hard. Your working ability depends a lot on what you are working on.

Your point 1. in favor of doing it suggests to me that you would be very happy with doing mathematics all day. I can't really picture anyone that would say "Doing mathematics (and specifically, discovering and producing one's own mathematics) is the most pure form of Sartrean radical freedom" and not love doing maths all day. Somehow, it surprises me that you never did it. Besides, very good quote, I love Sartre.

  1. No one makes it mandatory for grad school students to become mathematicians. Actually, I think (am quite sure) some of the maths you will learn are very demanded for lots of jobs jobs in engineering (all kinds, bio-, mechanical, electrical, ...), finance, ... (I don't know your program, but I think you can find out the extent to which this is true)

  2. No one makes it mandatory for grad school students to become mathematicians. Also, I don't think being a mathematician is a bad position for trying to make the world a better place, it seems to be a quite convenient one. You would have lots of time to work on personal stuff, and be in a good position to accumulate knowledge on whatever you want to improve in our current world.

  3. Sorry. I hope they are not all like this, otherwise it will be very difficult to do it.