Careers in the Mathematical Sciences
CareerCast rated the 10 best jobs of 2014 based on criteria such as income, projected job growth, and more. The top 5 were:
- University Professor (Tenured)
Notice that significant mathematical and/or statistical skills could help land four of these five jobs!
While there are many jobs that require mathematical skills, there are few that carry the official title Mathematician. Mathematics majors may end up in a job with a title such as Engineer or Analyst.
Career opportunities in the mathematical sciences fall into two broad categories, Educators and Practitioners:
A Ph.D. degree in mathematics is required for this position. A university professor of mathematics teaches courses, mentors students, and provides service to the institution and the community. A university professor can also be considered a practitioner to the extent that he/she conducts research and develops new mathematical knowledge. A university professor may also engage in consulting activities.
College mathematics teachers may have a master's degree or a Ph.D., depending on the level and nature of the institution. Responsibilities may be exclusively instruction-related, as in the case of a community college, or may include some research.
High School Teacher
Well-qualified mathematics teachers are in high demand. A bachelor's degree is the minumum requirement for teaching in secondary schools. State requirements for certification, which usually include courses in education, must also be met. The traditional areas of secondary school mathematics—algebra, geometry, and trigonometry—have been augmented in many schools by analytic geometry and calculus and other courses that are intended to meet diverse student needs. Newer curricula include computer programming, probability and statistics, linear algebra, and applications. The prospective teacher who is familiar with these latter areas will have a competitive advantage.
Actuaries are hired by insurance companies (life, health, casualty, etc.), pension plans, businesses, consulting firms (business and actuarial), and government agencies. To become an actuary (Associate or Fellow), one must pass a series of examinations. These may be administered by the Society of Actuaries, Casualty Actuarial Society, or another organization. The initial exams are primarily mathematics, including probability and statistics, and can be taken while still an undergraduate student. Because actuarial science is a mixture of mathemetics and business, the student should speak with an advisor about other course work needed to prepare for this career. University of Arizona students can request a subscription to our Actuarial Interest listserv. We also have a page devoted to careers in actuarial science.
A computational scientist is an applied mathematician who interprets problems arising from the physical sciences and engineering in mathematical form and develops mathematical solutions to these problems. Very large and sophisticated computers are used intensively. Potential employers include government laboratories, the chemical industry, and the biotech industry.
Operations Research Analyst
Also called management science analysts, operations research analysts help organizations coordinate activities and operate in the most efficient manner, by applying scientific methods and mathematical principles to organizational problems. Computers are used extensively in their work. Students interested in this career path should minor in Computer Engineering (COE) or Systems and Industrial Engineering (SIE).
Systems Engineer or Systems Analyst
A systems engineer or analyst usually has substantial course work in engineering or another technical field. This enables him/her to apply mathematical techniques to solve the problems unique to the industry of their employer. Students interested in this career path should consider minoring in Systems and Industrial Engineering (SIE).
The scientific publishing industry has a need for scientifically trained individuals for sales and editing. Excellent writing and oral communication skills are essential in this career field. Accurate and understandable technical writing is widely needed.
Software Engineer or Software Consultant
A software engineer generally designs and writes software that performs nonnumerical functions, such as graphics. A background in math and computer science is needed. Employers include consulting firms and large corporations which do their own software development. There is also room in this field for the entrepreneur or consultant.
Statistics is both a very applied field and also a theoretical one. Many, but not all, statisticians are active in both applications and the development of new theory, but the greatest potential in terms of jobs is in applied statistics. Statisticians generally work with people in other fields, therefore communication skills are very important. Statistical applications nearly always include the analysis of data and hence some knowledge and experience in computing is very important. There are opportunities for statisticians in the government, in industry, business, medicine, and in academia.
In non-academic positions, research mathematicians conduct mathematical research in areas of interest to large corporations and various departments of government. These include the Department of Energy, various branches of the military, and security agencies. While the demand for non-academic research mathematicians has been shrinking in recent years, there still are positions available at national laboratories, the National Security Agency (NSA), and other government entities, as well as some large corporations. An advanced degree is usually required for these positions.
Data Scientist or Data Engineer
Data is collected constantly, from NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft mapping the surface of the asteroid Bennu to your grocery store's loyalty card program. In many cases, the collections of data are too large to be handled by traditional means, or even to be stored on a single computer. The challenges inherent in working with and extracting meaning from big data ensure that skilled data scientists and engineers will continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future. One of our alumni is now working as a data scientist after completing the intensive post-doctoral Insight Data Science Fellows program. Insight also has a Data Engineering Fellows program.
Undergraduates interested in Data Science are welcome to attend weekly meetings of UA-TRIPODS.
Looking for more career-related information?
The University of Arizona Career Services office can help you with all stages of the job search process, from interest inventories, to finding internships and jobs, writing resumes, practicing interview skills, and more.