Math Ph.D. Public Service Announcement

The following is a facetious public service announcement I wrote about what you can do with an advanced math degree. It dates from 1987, which explains the low dollar amounts and lack of a website.

Scene: A well-kept, expensive home in a posh neighborhood. A supertitle “Careers in Mathematics” is displayed for 2 seconds. A teenage boy walks along the sidewalk and up to the door as the voice over says:

Voice over: A lot of people wonder what someone with a doctorate in mathematics would do for a living. To help answer this question, we’re paying a visit today to the offices of Dr. Bernard McCutcheon, who got his Ph.D. in math from the University of Kentucky in 1971.

Scene: Camera zooms in as boy rings doorbell. A well-mannered man in a white medical jacket answers the door.

Boy: Dr. McCutcheon? You have a doctorate in math?

Doctor: (modestly) Uh, yes.

Boy: (hesitates) Well—I have this terrible itchy throat, and—

Doctor: (soothingly) I see. Come right in.

Scene: Doctor leads boy into a medical examining room whose walls are covered with large posters filled with equations and geometrical diagrams. Doctor sits boy down on an examining table and gets out a tongue depressor.

Doctor: Now open wide—

Boy: (opens mouth)

Doctor: (sticks in tongue depressor) —say ‘ah’.

Boy: Ahhhhhh—

Doctor: Fine. (pulls out tongue depressor) Just as I thought. The coefficient of the fifth-degree term is irrational.

Boy: (bewildered) Is that bad?

Doctor: Nothing these can’t fix. (hands him a bottle of pills)

Boy: (incredulously) “Algebra tablets”? (reads on) “Makes all problems solvable by linear equations. Take one hour after every meal.” (condescendingly) Come on, doc.

Doctor: Hey, you came to a Ph.D. in math, right? Last week I gave these to a 78-year-old woman with varicose veins. She had a matrix with irrational and imaginary entries. She took the tablets for two days. Pretty soon the entries were all rational, the determinant was integral, and her legs didn’t hurt any more. Or how about the guy with bronchitis two days ago. He had a double integral even the great Gauss couldn’t evaluate. After one day on these, plus a few Calculus Drops, it was a simple matter of applying Green’s Theorem, and, just like the bottle says, the integrand became linear, and he was fine. He still has a bit of mucus, though. I’ll probably have to translate his z-axis to get rid of that.

Boy: (doubts allayed, looks around respectfully at equations) All this stuff really works, huh?

Doctor: Of course. Do you think I could build up a practice and live in relative luxury if math didn’t work as a system of medicine? Oh, that reminds me—that’ll be $60, please.

Boy: (taken aback) What?

Doctor: $40 for the office visit, $20 for the pills.

Boy: (takes out cash resignedly) Okay, I’ll try it. (perks up) Hey, doc, this seems to be a pretty good business—how long does it take to get a Ph.D. in math?

Doctor: Three to four years after you get your bachelor’s. And there’s no internship or residency, either. You can start seeing people as soon as your thesis is accepted. (takes out sheet of paper, hands it to boy)

Boy: What’s this?

Doctor: A list of the top grad schools in math. Think about it.

Boy: (starts out door) Thanks, doc!

Doctor: Sure. And if you need any help with your math homework, let me know. I tutor people for $15 an hour.

Boy: Jeez, I never knew math was such a good way to make money. Thanks again, doc.

Doctor: No problem. Have a rational day.

Screen: Switches to words only:

Careers in Mathematics
Or See Your Guidance Counselor
Or Math Teacher

Voice over: To find out more about careers in mathematics, talk to your guidance counselor or math teacher today. Or call this toll-free number: 1-800-MATH-DOC. Mathematics—it could be your ticket to a profitable future.