What Does a PhD in Maths Involve?
Maths is a vast subject, both in breadth and in depth. As such, there’s a significant number of different areas you can research as a math student. These areas usually fall into one of three categories: pure mathematics, applied mathematics or statistics. Some examples of topics you can research are:
- Number theory
- Numerical analysis
- String theory
- Random matrix theory
- Graph theory
- Quantum mechanics
- Statistical forecasting
- Matroid theory
- Control theory
Besides this, because maths focuses on addressing interdisciplinary real-world problems, you may work and collaborate with other STEM researchers. For example, your research topic may relate to:
- Biomechanics and transport processes
- Evidence-based medicine
- Fluid dynamics
- Financial mathematics
- Machine learning
- Theoretical and Computational Optimisation
What you do day-to-day will largely depend on your specific research topic. However, you’ll likely:
- Continually read literature – This will be to help develop your knowledge and identify current gaps in the overall body of knowledge surrounding your research topic.
- Undertake research specific to your topic – This can include defining ideas, proving theorems and identifying relationships between models.
- Collect and analyse data – This could comprise developing computational models, running simulations and interpreting forecasts etc.
- Liaise with others – This could take many forms. For example, you may work shoulder-to-shoulder with individuals from different disciplines supporting your research, e.g. Computer scientists for machine learning-based projects. Alternatively, you may need frequent input from those who supplied the data for your research, e.g. Financial institutions or biological research colleagues.
- Attend a wide range of lectures, seminars and events.
How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Maths?
The average programme duration for a mathematics PhD in the UK is 3 to 4 years for a full-time studying. Although not all universities offer part-time maths PhD programmes, those that do have a typical programme duration of 5 to 7 years.
Again, although the exact arrangement will depend on the university, most maths doctorates will require you to first register for an MPhil. At the end of your first year, your supervisor will assess your progress to decide whether you should be registered for a PhD.
Additional Learning Modules
Some Mathematics departments will require you to enrol on to taught modules as part of your programme. These are to help improve your knowledge and understanding of broader subjects within your field, for example, Fourier Analysis, Differential Geometry and Riemann Surfaces. Even if taught modules aren’t compulsory in several universities, your supervisor will still encourage you to attend them for your development.
Most UK universities will also have access to specialised mathematical training courses. The most common of these include Pure Mathematics courses hosted by Mathematics Access Grid Conferencing (MAGIC) and London Taught Course Centre (LTCC) and Statistics courses hosted by Academy for PhD Training in Statistics (APTS).
What Are the Typical Entry Requirements for A PhD in Maths?
In the UK, the typical entry requirements for a Maths PhD is an upper second-class (2:1) Master’s degree (or international equivalent) in Mathematics or Statistics.
However, there is some variation on this. From writing, the lowest entry requirement is an upper second-class (2:1) Bachelor’s degree in any math-related subject. The highest entry requirement is a first-class (1st) honours Master’s degree in a Mathematics or Statistics degree only.
|Highest Requirements||Typical Requirements||Lowest Requirements|
|1st Class Honours Master’s degree. Degree must be in Mathematics or Statistics.||2:1 Master’s degree in Mathematics, Statistics or a closely related subject.||2:1 Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, Statistics or a closely related subject.|
It’s worth noting if you’re applying to a position which comes with funding provided directly by the Department, the entry requirements will usually be on the higher side because of their competitiveness.
In terms of English Language requirements, most mathematics departments require at least an overall IELTS (International English Language Testing System) score of 6.5, with no less than 6.0 in each individual subtest.
Tips to Consider when Making Your Application
When applying to any mathematics PhD, you’ll be expected to have a good understanding of both your subject field and the specific research topic you are applying to. To help show this, it’s advisable that you demonstrate recent engagement in your research topic. This could be by describing the significance of a research paper you recently read and outlining which parts interested you the most, and why. Additionally, you can discuss a recent mathematics event you attended and suggest ways in how what you learnt might apply to your research topic.
As with most STEM PhDs, most maths PhD professors prefer you to discuss your application with them directly before putting in a formal application. The benefits of this is two folds. First, you’ll get more information on what their department has to offer. Second, the supervisor can better discover your interest in the project and gauge whether you’d be a suitable candidate. Therefore, we encourage you to contact potential supervisors for positions you’re interested in before making any formal applications.
How Much Does a Maths PhD Typically Cost?
The typical tuition fee for a PhD in Maths in the UK is £4,407 per year for UK/EU students and £20,230 per year for international students. This, alongside the range in tuition fees you can expect, is summarised below:
|Situation||Typical Fee (Median)||Fee Range|
|UK/EU Full-Time||£4,407||£4,327 – £8,589|
|UK/EU Part-Time||£2,204||£2,164 – £4,295|
|International Full-Time||£20,230||£15,950 – £24,531|
|International Part-Time||£10,115||£7,975 – £12,266|
Note: The above tuition fees are based on 12 UK Universities for 2020/21 Mathematic PhD positions. The typical fee has been taken as the median value.
In addition to the above, it’s not unheard of for research students to be charged a bench fee. In case you’re unfamiliar with a bench fee, it’s an annual fee additional to your tuition, which covers the cost of specialist equipment or resources associated with your research. This can include the upkeep of supercomputers you may use, training in specialist analysis software, or travelling to conferences. The exact fee will depend on your specific research topic; however, it should be minimal for most mathematic projects.
What Specific Funding Opportunities Are There for A PhD in Mathematics?
Alongside the usual funding opportunities available to all PhD Research students such as doctoral loans, departmental scholarships, there are a few other sources of funding available to math PhD students. Examples of these include:
You can find more information on these funding sources here: DiscoverPhDs funding guide.
What Specific Skills Do You Gain from Doing a PhD in Mathematics?
A doctorate in Mathematics not only demonstrates your commitment to continuous learning, but it also provides you with highly marketable skills. Besides subject-specific skills, you’ll also gain many transferable skills which will prove useful in almost all industries. A sample of these skills is listed below.
- Logical ability to consider and analyse complex issues,
- Commitment and persistence towards reaching research goals,
- Outstanding verbal and written skills,
- Strong attention to detail,
- The ability to liaise with others from unique disciple backgrounds and work as part of a team
- Holistic deduction and reasoning skills,
- Forming and explaining mathematical and logical solutions to a wide range of real-world problems,
- Exceptional numeracy skills.
What Jobs Can You Get with A Maths PhD?
One of the greatest benefits maths PostDocs will have is the ability to pursue a wide range of career paths. This is because all sciences are built on core principles which, to varying extents, are supported by the core principles of mathematics. As a result, it’s not uncommon to ask students what path they intend to follow after completing their degree and receive entirely different answers. Although not extensive by any means, the most common career paths Math PostDocs take are listed below:
- Academia – Many individuals teach undergraduate students at the university they studied at or ones they gained ties to during their research. This path is usually the preferred among students who want to continue focusing on mathematical theories and concepts as part of their career.
- Postdoctoral Researcher – Others continue researching with their University or with an independent organisation. This can be a popular path because of the opportunities it provides in collaborative working, supervising others, undertaking research and attending conferences etc.
- Finance – Because of their deepened analytical skills, it’s no surprise that many PostDocs choose a career in finance. This involves working for some of the most significant players in the financial district in prime locations including London, Frankfurt and Hong Kong. Specific job titles can include Actuarial, Investment Analyst or Risk Modeller.
- Computer Programming – Some students whose research involves computational mathematics launch their career as a computer programmer. Due to their background, they’ll typically work on specialised projects which require high levels of understanding on the problem at hand. For example, they may work with physicists and biomedical engineers to develop a software package that supports their more complex research.
- Data Analyst – Those who enjoy number crunching and developing complex models often go into data analytics. This can involve various niches such as forecasting or optimisation, across various fields such as marketing and weather.
What Are Some of The Typical Employers Who Hire Maths PostDocs?
As mentioned above, there’s a high demand for skilled mathematicians and statisticians across a broad range of sectors. Some typical employers are:
- Education – All UK and international universities
- Governments – STFC and Department for Transport
- Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals – NHS, GSK, Pfizer
- Finance & Banking – e.g. Barclays Capital, PwC and J. P. Morgan
- Computing – IBM, Microsoft and Facebook
- Engineering – Boeing, Shell and Dyson
The above is only a small selection of employers. In reality, mathematic PostDocs can work in almost any industry, assuming the role is numerical-based or data-driven.
How Much Can You Earn with A PhD in Maths?
As a mathematics PhD PostDoc, your earning potential will mostly depend on your chosen career path. Due to the wide range of options, it’s impossible to provide an arbitrary value for the typical salary you can expect.
However, if you pursue one of the below paths or enter their respective industry, you can roughly expect to earn:
- Approximately £30,000 – £35,000 starting salary
- Approximately £40,000 with a few years experience
- Approximately £45,000 – £55,000 with 10 years experience
- Approximately £60,000 and over with significant experience and a leadership role. Certain academic positions can earn over £80,000 depending on the management duties.
Actuary or Finance
- Approximately £35,000 starting salary
- Approximately £45,000 – £55,000 with a few years experience
- Approximately £70,000 and over with 10 years experience
- Approximately £180,000 and above with significant experience and a leadership role.
Aerospace or Mechanical Engineering
- Approximately £28,000 starting salary
- Approximately £35,000 – £40,000 with a few years experience
- Approximately £60,000 and over with 10 years experience
- Approximately £35,000 starting salary
- Approximately £45,000 – £50,000 with a few years experience
- Approximately £60,000 and over with 10 years experience
- Approximately £90,000 and above with significant experience and a leadership role.
Again, we stress that the above are indicative values only. Actual salaries will depend on the specific organisation and position and responsibilities of the individual.
Facts and Statistics About Maths PhD Holders
The below chart provides useful insight into the destination of Math PostDocs after completing their PhD. The most popular career paths from other of highest to lowest is education, information and communication, finance and scientific research, manufacturing and government.
Note: The above chart is based on ‘UK Higher Education Leavers’ data between 2012/13 and 2016/17 and contains a data size of 200 PostDocs. The data was obtained from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).
Which Noteworthy People Hold a PhD in Maths?
Alan Turing was a British Mathematician, WW2 code-breaker and arguably the father of computer science. Alongside his lengthy list of achievements, Turning achieved a PhD in Mathematics at Princeton University, New Jersey. His thesis titled ‘Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals’ focused on the concepts of ordinal logic and relative computing; you can read it online here. To this day, Turning pioneering works continues to play a fundamental role in shaping the development of artificial intelligence (AI).
Ruth Lawrence is a famous British–Israeli Mathematician well known within the academic community. Lawrence earned her PhD in Mathematics from Oxford University at the young age of 17! Her work focused on algebraic topology and knot theory; you can read her interesting collection of research papers here. Among her many contributions to Maths, her most notable include the representation of the braid groups, more formally known as Lawrence–Krammer representations.
Emmy Noether was a German mathematician who received her PhD from the University of Erlangen, Germany. Her research has significantly contributed to both abstract algebra and theoretical physics. Additionally, she proved a groundbreaking theorem important to Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. In doing so, her theorem, Noether’s theorem, is regarded as one of the most influential developments in physics.
Other Useful Resources
Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) – IMA is the UK’s professional body for mathematicians. It contains a wide range of useful information, from the benefits of further education in Maths to details on grants and upcoming events.
Maths Careers – Math Careers is a site associated with IMA that provides a wide range of advice to mathematicians of all ages. It has a section dedicated to undergraduates and graduates and contains a handful of information about progressing into research.
Resources for Graduate Students – Produced by Dr Mak Tomford, this webpage contains an extensive collection of detailed advice for Mathematic PhD students. Although the site uses US terminology in places, don’t let that put you off as this resource will prove incredibly helpful in both applying to and undertaking your PhD.
Student Interviews – Still wondering whether a PhD is for you? If so, our collection of PhD interviews would be a great place to get an insider perspective. We’ve interviewed a wide range of PhD students across the UK to find out what doing a PhD is like, how it’s helped them and what advice they have for other prospective students who may be thinking of applying to one. You can read our insightful collection of interviews here.
 Universities used to determine the typical (median) and range of entry requirements and tuition fees for 2020/21 Mathematics PhD positions.
 Higher Education Leavers Statistics: UK, 2016/17 – Outcomes by subject studied – https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/28-06-2018/sfr250-higher-education-leaver-statistics-subjects
 Typical salaries have been extracted from a combination of the below resources. It should be noted that although every effort has been made to keep the reported salaries as relevant to Math PostDocs as possible (i.e. filtering for positions which specify a PhD qualification as one of their requirements/preferences), small inaccuracies may exist due to data availability.