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Careers in Mathematics

Okay. So what can you do with a degree in mathematics? Actually, just about anything. No really, we mean it.

Studying mathematics seriously prepares you for almost any career (not just high-school or college teaching or pure mathematics research). Here are some links to check out which support this theme with actual data and reasoning:

For pretty much any list you can make of aspects you'd like in a job (dress up? just jeans? work with people? work on your own? etc.), there's some mathematical career that's right for you. One of the reasons that mathematically-trained people are needed in almost every field is that we are known for our excellent problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

According to multiple ratings, many of the most desirable careers are technical in nature and require some expertise in the mathematical sciences:

Some of the career opportunities available to a major in mathematics include:

Actuarial Mathematics -- The application of mathematics, particularly probability and statistics, to the insurance industry. For more info, check out Be An Actuary, which is supported and maintained by the actuarial professional societies and some major employers. The Princeton Review has an Actuarial Career Profile. Here is also an actuarial job recruiting site and a European actuarial job search site and an actuarial info and jobs site.
A related career to that of an actuary is that of a Research Analyst. They research compensation trends and problems internally and externally; perform statistical analyses and predictive modeling on current and proposed compensation scenarios; measure performace of field sales (insurance reps) against established goals; model and track incentive and bonus programs; determine economic impact of various scenarios on the company and the individual. This job specifically requires a mathematics degree.

Applied Mathematics -- Often this means working on problems in physics, chemistry, geology, and engineering from a mathematical perspective. There are seemingly endless possibilities, ranging from being a climate analyst who models long-term changes in global weather to working as a forensic analyst who investigates data collected at crime scenes to being a population ecologist who works to prevent species from becoming endangered. For more info, check the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics' career site, especially their pages on Thinking of a Career in Applied Mathematics?. Most government jobs, such as with Sandia, Argonne, or Oak Ridge National Labs, NASA, or the Jet Propulsion Lab, NIST, or the Dept. of Agriculture are within applied mathematics. Some positions at the National Security Agency are applied mathematics and some are pure mathematics. Here's a report from a 1998 workshop on how mathematics is used in industry. Courses in mathematical modeling are helpful in preparing for a career in applied mathematics.

Biomathematics -- The application of mathematics in the health sciences. It's an up-and-coming field, and has been a big trend within mathematics in recent years. The Society for Mathematical Biology lists undergraduate and graduate programs. Biomathematics includes bioinformatics, a sort of cs/math/biology hybrid field. The Bioinformatics Organization has job listings in bioinformatics. There's plenty of information at colorbasepair.

Biostatistics -- The application of statistics in the health sciences. Here are the ASA and UIowa and UWash biostatistics careers pages.

Computer Science -- This is a field on its own, with lots of research subfields that are almost indistinguishable from mathematics. One of the mathiest practical parts is graphics and animation. Here, a great example is Pixar, where employees publish research papers involving things like using differential equations to make sure animated clothing doesn't intersect itself. Another especially mathy part is the cryptography involved in network security; think e-commerce and mathematical algorithms like RSA and Rijndael. Here's a detailed overview of cryptography for networks from Gary Kessler. A high level of mathematical ability and background is needed. Consider a double major.

Financial Mathematics (or Mathematical Finance, also known as Quantitative Finance) -- Mathematics used on Wall Street, for mortgage backing, financial derivatives, and stock market analysis. Sometimes people in this profession are referred to as "quants." Stony Brook has excellent information.  Here's a short book list and a long book list. There are lots of professional master's programs (see google and google). There are plenty of mathematics graduates who are traders, working with stocks, commodities, or with foreign exchange.

Knitwear -- Higher mathematics is rarely used directly in the knitwear industry, but the types of abstraction and rigorous thinking in which mathematicians are trained are used all the time. Kate Atherley is a technical editor of knitting patterns. Sandy Black is a professor of knitwear design (interview). Lynne Barr (interview) creates technically innovative designs. Or, do it all: Amy Herzog has dual careers as knitwear designer and cybersecurity researcher (here are two recent papers).

Law or Medicine -- A major in mathematics is a good preparation for law or medical school. Here are a law testimonial and a medicine testimonial.

Music -- It's not a common or easy career, but you can do it; witness Jennifer Parkin (Ayria), who earned her math degree from UWaterloo. Straddling the math/music line are Carl McTague, Ph.D. mathematician and composer, and Kit Armstrong, professional composer and pianist with a master's degree in mathematics.

Operations Research -- The application of mathematics to problems of optimization and decision-making, especially for large-scale or complex problems and often in the field of business. In other words, OR people attack every practical problem you've ever thought of, from economic impact of airline safety measures to relocating endangered species of plants. The discipline is sometimes called Management Science or Industrial Engineering. For more info, check out What is Operations Research? (INFORMS) and What is Operations Research? (ORIE Cornell) and What O.R. Is and the INFORMS Career FAQ on Is a Career in OR / Analytics Right for You? and the US News best-jobs description of a career as an Operations Research Analyst.

Public Health and Epidemiology --  Epidemiologists study the spread of diseases and model how to respond to epidemics. A basic introduction to mathematical epidemiology can be found in Chapter 1 of Calculus in Context.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employ statisticians and mathematicians to model disease and study preventions and interventions. The University of British Columbia Med School's Centre for Disease Control has a Division of Mathematical Modeling. Here are two descriptions of public health informatics.

Public Policy -- A mathematics degree can lead to advisory positions in educational and/or science policy as well as work in quantitative public policy. Gillian Brunet used her mathematics major to work in public policy. Here is the program for a recent AMS Special Session on Mathematics and Public Policy. A master's degree in public policy is useful for a public policy career (see google to find programs).

Research Mathematics -- The study of mathematics for its own sake. Just about any mathematics faculty member will be more than happy to chat with you about this. As a career, this almost always requires graduate school; to investigate the possibilities, think about doing something during the summer.

Statistics -- The study of methods for collecting, classifying, analyzing and making inferences from data. There are tons of jobs in statistics. For more info, check the  Career Center at the American Statistical Association's website. Here are a few statistics job sites... UFlorida, ASA jobweb, statistics.com, SASjobs ...

Teaching -- At all levels. Here is EducationWorld's state certification listing and USC's Certification Map. To teach at the community college level, you should get a Master's degree in mathematics or a Master of Arts in Teaching; to teach at the college level, you should get a Ph.D. (in mathematics, mathematics education, applied mathematics, or statistics). Here's an annotated list of K--12 math sites.

Technical Writing -- This includes everything from science reporting for periodicals to writing documentation for computer software to editing textbooks. For more info, check out Careers in Science Writing or Careers in Technical Writing. Here's a technical writing jobs site. Also check out this mini-biography of Allyn Jackson (scroll down), who is a technical writer with the American Mathematical Society. (Not in the mini-bio: she's trained in modern dance as well...) See also Erica Klarreich, Dana Mackenzie (bio here), and Evelyn Lamb.

More career options are listed at Duane Kouba's Mathematics-Related Professions site.

For examples of career paths and advice from professionals in many of the above fields (and more!), check out Career Profiles (Part of the AMS-MAA-SIAM Mathematical Sciences Career Information Project)

Advice on preparing for jobs in industry or the business world:

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