I am starting my PhD this Fall in Math Education. I would like to either teach math at a university or work in a curriculum and instruction department doing research and teaching for a university. For this reason, I have included many graduate level math classes in my program of study along with the required curriculum and instruction courses.

Obviously, when I get done with my PhD I would like to have as good of prospects as possible to find a job at a university. I want to research something I'm passionate about, but I also want ideas on hot topics in math education research currently. If my dissertation research aligns with what some others in the field are researching then this may increase my chances of future employment. Currently I'm interested in studying the detrimental effects of using a calculator on mathematical thinking. I don't know how interesting this is to others in my field so I am looking for some suggestions. What are some hot topics in math education research currently?

  • $\begingroup$ My dissertation was partly about a possible explanation for the high performance of East Asian students in recent international mathematics tests. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2017 at 3:21
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    $\begingroup$ You can search DigitalDissertations to see recent PhD theses in Math Education. You can sign up for Jerry Becker's listserv (cf) to see who is hiring: this will let you see what they are looking for, and -- if you follow up later -- you can see who filled those jobs, and check their areas of research. You can check popular math journals (cf) to see what is being written about. And you can check NCTM, AERA, PME(NA), AMTE, etc for what is being presented on at recent math ed conferences. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2017 at 5:17
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    $\begingroup$ I would discuss this with your (potential) supervisor. He should know better than most what are currently interesting topics and what would be a good one for you, given your interests. He might also be able to point out things to do to increase your chances of getting a university position, how to point out that it is not a problem at all that you don't graduate in pure/theoretical mathematics, etc. Furthermore, he will be aware of regulations in your specific country, while right now, we can only give you general advise. $\endgroup$
    – Dirk
    Aug 23, 2017 at 9:11
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    $\begingroup$ This might interest you: matheducators.stackexchange.com/q/12774/77 $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2017 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ If you had to choose between something that you are passionately interested in and something which is a "hot topic" -- I would say stick to your passionate interest. It is much more likely that your dissertation will then be a good dissertation, and that might be more significant for your career than having a mediocre dissertation in a hot field. This is assuming, of course, that your passionate interest is a reasonable topic. Something like 19th century methods for teaching slide rule use might be a bit too odd. $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2017 at 17:35

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I hope you won't mind if I suggest a different approach. Rather than worrying about what will be trendy 5 years from now, identify a professor in your department whose advisees consistently graduate, whom you find approachable and easy to talk to, and see if you can get (genuinely) interested in that person's research program. Find out what you can about your candidate from some of the more experienced graduate students before making a commitment!

If you choose a boring dissertation topic, the top-tier schools may not be interested in hiring you -- but if you choose a bad advisor, you will not finish your Ph.D.

[Background: I have a Ph.D. in math, and regularly serve on hiring committees for tenure-track faculty positions in mathematics at a public university in the United States.]


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