I am currently studying an M.Sc. in pure mathematics (my dissertation focuses on category/set theory)). However recently I have decided that I wish to transition to a much more applied field. During my undergrad I studied almost all pure courses, with only one statistics module.

I have enrolled in an M.Sc. in operational research for next year where I will be studying a mix of operational research and statistics courses.

All of this is in the UK.

My question is, should I choose to, will it be possible/realistic for me to apply to do a Ph.D. in some sort of statistics? Not only in terms of actually getting accepted but also getting funding/actually being able to do this?

Thanks for any help

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Economics might be another area to think about. Having a math degree would actually be a feather in your cap. $\endgroup$
    – dimitriy
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 22:53
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ In principle your background sounds suitable for a statistics Ph.D. In practice your chances of being accepted depend on the strength of your qualifications and your appeal as a potential student, not just having pertinent degrees. The question isn't really answerable in any but the vaguest of terms, even if we could see a CV (posting one would not be appropriate either). $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ Hello. I am currently doing a very similar MSc in the UK and have some relevant info. My email is [email protected]. Feel free to drop me a line. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 18:06

3 Answers 3


Well, I will answer because this is almost exactly what I have done.

My undergraduate degree was in pure mathematics with a thesis on the Lowenheim-Skolem theorem, and now I am in a funded PhD program in environmental science, where most of my work is in statistics (bio&geo). So clearly, it is possible, and you probably will have the requisite skills.

Whether you will enjoy the switch is a different matter. I still sometimes find statistics slightly intellectually creepy, but some of it can be fun.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, my UG thesis was on Skolem Paradox. Did you find the process particularly difficult or was it just a lot of work to make up the pre-requisite knowledge? Out of interest are you in America? $\endgroup$
    – hmmmm
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ I am still in the middle of learning it all, and I do study pretty hard. Most days I feel reasonably on top of it. I am definitely patching it all together, but consider: in any statistically oriented field besides actual Statistics, none of your classmates will have a stunning mastery either, and your ability to push through hard stuff, weird notation, and mental gymnastics will serve you well. Yes, I am in America. I also think it helped that I was honest upfront with my advisor about my pure-to-the-point-of-esoteric math background. $\endgroup$
    – J Kelly
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 1:35

I don't know what the requirements are in the UK, but many good American statistics and biostatistics graduate programs even accept and fund PhD students who only have an undergraduate degree in mathematics.


Hate to sound all sappy, but you can do anything you want to do! Your background will be very valuable in many situations. In others, you will notice that you are missing other skills that you'll have to develop. But that will be true of everyone. Work hard to fill in any gaps that you feel you have and pursue whatever direction you feel most interests you. The main question to ask yourself is not whether your background is right for some particular career direction but whether you are really passionate about that direction. If you are passionate about your chosen direction you will slowly overtake those who are initially better prepared but lack that passion. I have seen this happen over and over again.


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