Thursday, June 17, 2010

Alternative Careers for Logicians

(Will post on Complexity next week. I am waiting until the invited talks have their slides online so that I can point to them.)

Let's say you just got a PhD in Logic. (ASIDE- my spell check program flagged PhD, but it gets 54,000,000 hits on Google so it has to be correct.) The job market is not so good. That is, the academic job market is not so good. I have recently been alerted to two alternative career paths one could take.
  1. Get a job on Wall Street! You are probably thinking Oh, they want people that are good at math and can program. While that is true, they actually want people who know about ordinals! Ordinals? Yes Ordinals! See here.
  2. Peter Cholak is a logician at Notre Dame who has had seven PhD students finish. Two of them went then went to Catholic seminary and become Catholic priests.
What to make of this? In American there is a priest shortage (see here for an article about it that mentions the law of large numbers). Hence the priesthood is a good job market. Are there other logicians-turned-priests? In this day and age I suspect there are not that many. In an earlier time when neither field required the kind of training they do now, there may have been more.

The job market for Protestant Ministers and Rabbis is not very good (See Protestant Ministers and Rabbis.) I was unable to find out how the job market is for Imam's.

I suspect that the decision to go into any of these fields is more of a calling than having a keen eye on the job market. Peter Cholak's two logician-turned-priest students just got their calling a bit late. They were both at the Fifth Conference on Logic, Computability, and Randomness so they are both trying to keep up some with logic. That may be hard; however, they may have help from up above.


  1. As a recent logic PhD (model theory, and in fact GASARCH was on my committee) I can attest that the statement about the academic job market is indeed tough and I would say especially for logicians, even in pursuit of the teaching avenue. In part I think it is related to a misunderstanding about what mathematical logic really is. In my interviews for teaching jobs this winter, a lot of them could afford to be choosy and restricted their search to specific fields; I encountered a lot of interviewers who espoused some skepticism about whether or not I could teach an undergraduate algebra or analysis course. The same people mentioned that they do have a logic sequence, but it's taught in the philosophy department. Both of those statements sort of miss the point about what modern logic and model theory cares about - applied math it is not, but what I do is much more algebra and analysis than it is philosophy. It still says math on my diploma....

  2. Lets --> Let's

  3. How is the academic market for PhD graduates in general? For example, how many students graduated from your CS department this year and how many of them got positions in academia?

  4. PhD -> Ph.D.

    "In American" -> "In America"

  5. I think this is a very biased view/post. There are lots of positions in Europe for logicians. The point is you should be accepting. In US there are positions from database systems, formal methods and programming languages in SE to KR in AI ... there are lots of possibilities, maybe not for those who want to stay in pure logic but for those who are ready to go a little bit further and learn new stuff and use the tools they have in new areas. The same is true in math, if you want a math job, focus on applications of logical tools in other areas.

    For logic in CS, take a look at table 2 in:

    And remember that many theorems in complexity are proven by logicians, or people with logic background (Bill, do you want me to list them?). It is like the same thing that happens in Nobel Prize in Economics, (for some unknown reason!!) pure math Ph.D. holders outfit those with a Ph.D. in Economics.

  6. I am slightly uneasy about the last option: What if I am a Secular Humanist? Or perhaps worse still, a non-theist Hindu?

  7. Ordinals? Yes Ordinals! See here.

    For those who aren't in on the joke, let me just point out that the blog post this refers to (about logicians on Wall Street) is complete nonsense.

  8. "In American there is a priest shortage "

    How can there be a shortage of something unnecessary? Is there are shortage of unicorn hunters? There are not very many of them around.

  9. I encountered a lot of interviewers who espoused some skepticism about whether or not I could teach an undergraduate algebra or analysis course.

    Why 'espoused' and not 'expressed'?

    Better: "My interviewers were adherents of partial differential equationism: the philosophy (or should I say, prejudice) which holds that the closer a subject is to to the study of partial differential equations, the more mathematical it is. They were skeptical whether I--a stable model theorist--could teach an undergraduate algebra or analysis course."

  10. To those interviewers you might mention the work of Abraham Robinson on nonstandard analysis, or Ax and Kochen on zeros of homogeneous polynomials over p-adic numbers. Surely your interlocutors, as highly cultivated and discriminating connoisseurs of mathematical history, would be aware of these fifty-year-old results.

  11. Just a suggestion, but thanks to the new trend for domain engineering the special-purpose compiler business is having a bit of a boom at the moment. If you have a head for engineering, people who can design type systems and optimisations can usually find a job.

  12. Anon 8 who says there is no priest shortage
    because priests.

    Let J be a job.
    If the number of job openings in J is
    X and the number of people who are qualified to do J is Y and X >> Y then
    there is a J-shortage.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with what you think of J or the people who hire people to do J.

    For the case at hand, YES the Catholic church is losing members so the demand for Priest is down, but the supply is
    down a lot more. And of course, job trends change over time so this may do.