A Ph.D. in mathematics is a gateway to a career in teaching or research at the university level. While someone with a master's degree may be able to get jobs teaching at a community college, a Ph.D. will make candidates more competitive for those jobs, as well. The amount of time it takes to complete a Ph.D. in mathematics depends on a number of variables, including the program, the research project and the individual pace of student work. However, most programs are completed in five to six years -- and that's in addition to the four years that most students take to complete an undergraduate degree.
The coursework for a Ph.D. program in mathematics focuses on higher-order mathematics and mathematical theory. Many programs also require that students take a language class and demonstrate some proficiency in that language. The number of credit hours required varies by program, but typically, coursework takes two to three years to complete. Some of the required credit hours can usually be applied to dissertation work or time spent as a teaching assistant.
Completing the dissertation will take up the bulk of the time dedicated to finishing your Ph.D. A dissertation must include original research, and it is typically a book-length manuscript. Students who have a good idea of the research they would like to conduct before the program begins will usually be able to finish their work faster and graduate sooner. However, many students explore ideas through their coursework and their discussions with professors before deciding on a dissertation topic.
The final step to completing a Ph.D. program in mathematics is completing qualifying exams. These include both written and oral exams. In some programs, you may have to take several written exams, often at the end of each year of coursework. Oral exams usually involving defending the dissertation, though there may be separate oral exams that test your understanding of the subject matter. There may be other requirements for completing the Ph.D. program, as well, including a minimum GPA, the presentation of research or work as a teaching assistant.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs for mathematicians will grow about as fast as average for other industries by 2020. The agency predicts a growth of 500 jobs, or an increase of about 16 percent. The median pay for mathematicians was $99,380 in 2010. The bureau also notes that mathematicians earning only a master's degree have job opportunities in government agencies and private organizations.
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images