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What Does a Math Professor Do?

University-level math professors typically hold a Ph.D in mathematics.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 April 2014
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A math professor is a teacher who works at the junior college, four-year college or university level and tends to possess, at the very least, a master’s degree. At universities, these teachers more often have a Ph.D in mathematics. What a math professor could do depends on teaching environment, personal strengths, interests, and training.

In junior colleges, the math professor may teach a number of classes that can begin to move past rudimentary topics like calculus and trigonometry and might form the beginning of advanced training in mathematics. Yet, many times junior colleges also have remedial math courses. The math professor might take or be assigned some classes at the remedial level, and teach topics like beginning or advanced algebra.

This gives students an opportunity to catch up prior to studying at more advanced levels. There are also math courses designed for non-math majors to meet liberal arts math requirements, and sometimes the math professor will either design or teach these courses. They often have a language-based approach to math and sensitive teachers may volunteer to take these classes since students taking them can suffer from math anxiety or from histories of repeated failure in math topics.

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In four year and above college settings, the job of the math professor could be slightly different. There are fewer remedial courses but there are still many introductory level classes to be taught. These are only the beginning, though, and professors may teach classes designed for math majors, which get increasingly complex. Math professors can also be responsible for teaching material like statistics that may be used by people majoring in other areas, such as business or accounting.

College and university settings typically require the math professor to teach fewer courses. In junior colleges, professors who are full-time tend to teach five classes a semester. In other universities this number could be dropped to four or three.

If there are graduate programs, students may be expected to do part of the teaching, and professors could employ them or supervise them as part of their work. Professors who teach graduate classes may have other supervisory roles with graduate students. They may work as thesis or dissertation advisors and be required to determine pass or failure when graduate students finish these final projects.

Lots of universities require that the math professor be involved in research or study to further the profession and gain the university additional credibility. Lower number of classes taught helps ensure that teachers have time for these pursuits. Research is usually not undertaken fully alone, and, here again, teachers might employ graduate students as assistants.

Given the practical applications of mathematics, the discipline touches many majors. Professors in math could spend time helping to develop needed curricula for other departments, such as science, pre-med, public health, statistics, business, and many others, where a certain skill level in math is required, Sometimes professors in more than one discipline work together to design or teach courses that overlap two majors, or math professors work in a department that is not the mathematics department.

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