Mathematician in Industry
Opportunities for math majors abound in many areas outside of academia. These include:
- engineering research, computer services, and software
- electronic, computers, aerospace, and transportation equipment
- financial, communication, and transportation services
- chemical, pharmaceutical, and petroleum-related organizations
In most of these situations, a mathematician is part of an interdisciplinary team working collaboratively to formulate and solve a problem. Let’s highlight a few interesting jobs you might want to consider. Two particularly good ones, that of actuary and statistician are described separately in more detail.
Government agencies hire math majors to fulfill a number of roles. The Federal government employs mathematicians in many different agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Defense (DOD). With the Forest Service you might analyze the impact of logging or wildfire on a particular ecosystem. At NOAA, you could be a team member helping to build a large-scale climate model. This often entails computer programming, simulation, numerical analysis, and differential equations using supercomputers. The DOD and the three armed services hire analysts in cryptography to break codes and create new ones. Others are employed to formulate national defense strategy through modeling and simulation of military scenarios while some conduct studies on the manpower needs of our armed forces. Problems in these areas often come under the topic of operations research. Federal civilian positions range from introductory to managerial levels with pay increases occurring every two years excluding cost of living increases.
The software industry hires math majors because you are trained to think abstractly, logically, and precisely. From the giants of the industry to the startup firms, the opportunities are endless if you are a creative problem-solver. Just think, you could be the project manager for Windows xx or the computer animator for the next DreamWorks hit film. Other areas with considerable promise are information systems and security. If you enjoy working with computers, don’t overlook these avenues. A little computer experience never hurts.
On the hardware side, companies are also interested in hiring employees with your basic skills. Semiconductor manufacturers are using simulation and modeling to reduce the cost of designing and prototyping the next-generation of chips. Systems designers look for team players who can develop models of abstract systems, work with many subsystems, communicate results, and identify connections. These generic traits are precisely the ones you are developing.
A vastly different arena where math majors can contribute is the financial world. From banking to securities, math majors are sought to perform analyses in the areas of asset allocation, credit lending, and financial engineering. These jobs are often quite lucrative but may require some business or economics experience.
Chemical companies also hire math majors. Mathematics plays an important role in the modeling of chemical reactions, particularly in the design of new compounds. These problems usually involve stiff ordinary differential equations and numerical methods. Working with chemists, mathematicians can help develop appropriate equations and apply sound numerical procedures to predict the behavior of new molecules.
The bottom line is that there is a wealth of opportunity for math majors in "industry". While some jobs may required additional education, your broad-based skills can put you in position to acquire a well compensated, challenging job that you will enjoy.