Mathematical Sciences Program Sabbaticals

Each year, some of the nation's leading mathematicians take on an extraordinary challenge: they go to work for the National Security Agency (NSA). NSA's Sabbatical Program in Mathematics offers an opportunity to work on a short-term basis with the leading employer of mathematicians in the United States. A sabbatical tour offers a personal challenge to develop skills in directions that would be impossible anywhere else.

Sabbatical employees have the choice to work on a variety of different mathematical problems during their stay at NSA. Sabbatical work may involve cryptology, signals analysis, algebra, probability, statistics, number theory, discrete mathematics, or analysis of data sets, among other topics. Throughout the course of a one-year sabbatical detail, a mathematician would typically have the chance to work in one or two different offices at the NSA in order to experience the full breadth of our work at the agency. History shows that visiting mathematicians quickly learn and contribute to problems under study, even when the problem areas are unfamiliar.

Frequently Asked Questions

Collapse All Expand All

The National Security Agency makes a vital contribution to an informed and secure environment for our nation's policymakers. Established by presidential directive in 1952, it is the Department of Defense agency responsible for producing foreign intelligence information. It also safeguards our government's vital communications and sets standards for computer security throughout the federal government. These missions require the use of the most advanced technologies and techniques, often years before their commercial use. The NSA is located halfway between Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., an area rich in scenery, history, and culture.

Mathematicians at the NSA enjoy the type of dynamic environment that only the largest employer of mathematicians in the country can offer. In addition to our own in-house publications, we offer summer workshop programs, continuing colloquia, cooperative education programs, and occasional meetings that provide opportunities to interact with mathematicians both within and outside the agency. The NSA also awards grants for research in the mathematical sciences. Sabbatical employees enjoy the same in-house support services as our full-time NSA mathematicians, such as computer support services, and technical courses only offered at NSA.

The successful candidate should have a strong record of publication in his or her field of expertise. Candidates should also demonstrate a familiarity with a computer programming language (preferably C, although this is not absolutely required) and other software packages such as MATLAB, Maple, Mathematica, Magma, or Sage.

Publishing is important to all serious mathematicians. The NSA provides ample opportunity to inform your NSA colleagues about your work. However, because of the nature of the work, publications outside the NSA community must be cleared through our Public Affairs Office. For work directly related to your research at NSA, this is also true after you leave our employ. And of course, any classified techniques you are involved with cannot be disseminated in the outside literature or discussed externally.

Typical sabbatical tours run for 12 months, but they can range from nine to 24 months. We are flexible with these arrangements.

During academic months, the NSA pays half the cost of the sabbatical employee's salary and benefits. NSA pays 100% of salary and benefits during any summer months the sabbatical employee works at NSA. 

The applicant must participate in a thorough and extensive screening process involving mathematical screening and security screening. During the mathematical portion of the screening, the applicant will be invited to give a research talk on a topic of his or her choice. Following the talk, the applicant will have a chance to meet with the Director of the Mathematical Sciences Program and other NSA mathematicians to learn more about the sabbatical program and to discuss where the applicant might fit in best at the NSA. The Security screening that takes place at NSA involves a polygraph exam and personnel interviews. A complete background investigation is also conducted. For this reason, it is necessary for sabbatical applicants to begin the process at least one year prior to the time they want their sabbatical tour to commence.

U.S. citizenship is required for the applicant and his or her immediate family members.

  1. Cover Letter: The applicant should describe his or her intent to apply for the sabbatical program in mathematics and include the dates of the intended sabbatical in detail. The letter should also contain:

    1. a brief description of the applicant's principal area of research.

    2. a brief description of the applicant's computer and technical skills.

    3. a description of how the proposed sabbatical assignment will affect the applicant's teaching and research upon return to academia.

  2. Curriculum Vita: The CV must include all degrees awarded and the dates awarded, along with a complete list of publications and any other relevant information. Email us the completed application packet.


For more information, contact the Program Director or the Program Administrator on the Mathematical Sciences Program page. The NSA is an equal opportunity employer.