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What does a Math Professor do?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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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.

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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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By Feryll — On Jul 04, 2014

@Animandel - You should be more worried that your daughter may not be able to find a job as a grade school math teacher when she is old enough. I think schools are going to be much different in the future and students will have more contact with computers and math spread sheets than teachers.

Even if she can find a position as a math teacher I imagine it will be much different from what she is dreaming of.

By Sporkasia — On Jul 04, 2014

@Animandel - I wouldn't be concerned too much about my daughter if she wanted to be a grade school math teacher. My mother was a school teacher for over 30 year. I'm sure she would agree with you that teaching can be a tough profession, but I am also sure that she wouldn't have wanted any other job.

Maybe your daughter has a better idea than you know about what being a teacher will be like. And maybe she has found her calling early in life. Some people simply know early in life what they are meant to do.

By Animandel — On Jul 03, 2014

My daughter says she wants to be a math teacher when she grows up so she can be like her 6th grade math teacher, who she absolutely loves. I like that she has strong role models in her life, but I am afraid she will be disappointed if she actually sticks with this dream of hers.

I'm not saying that she shouldn't want to be a grade school teacher. However, I am worried that she might go through college and get a degree to teach and then find a job at a grade school and find out that being a teacher is not what she expected.

We all know that school teachers are under paid and under appreciated, and the jobs are tough in the best of schools. I can only imagine what it would be like if she got a job at a school where she has to deal with uncooperative students and parents, or where the school system cannot afford adequate materials for the classroom.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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