What do Mathematicians do?

As an A Level student preparing to go to university to study Mathematics I was frequently told that if I studied Maths I’d end up being a Maths teacher because that was the only job a mathematician could get. Well I guess the people who said this to me were partially correct (I am a Maths teacher after all) but that’s about all they got right.

As a mathematician graduating from university I found that lots of companies were interested in employing me and my friends who had also studied Maths. And although, as a teacher, I ended up with the best job in the world some of my friends ended up with pretty good jobs too!  

The Never Ending Math Problem

Maths career options...

Image by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/acidwashphotography / CC BY 2.0

The financial services industry is one of the biggest employers of mathematicians and several of my friends have ended up working in finance in a range of capacities. Some now work as accountants and actuaries (an actuary uses mathematics, particularly statistics, to help make financial predictions used in, for example, insurance and pension calculations) and work for a variety of different companies.

Others have ended up working in investment banks and big financial institutions, such as Barclay’s Bank, using mathematics to design and update software and to price new financial products.What I’ve found most interesting has been the wide variety of jobs that they do. Some of them, who seem happy with long working hours and lots of money, have found jobs using mathematics in which they work pretty hard but are also pretty well paid for.

Others, also attracted to the financial sector because of the generous pay levels, but who have wanted to do something more interesting using more innovative and creative mathematics, have also found jobs to suit them. And even though they’ve been affected by the recent recession, those of my friends with maths skills have always found themselves able to get a good job.

Working in the finance sector never interested me, but my PhD research could easily have led me into a career in the aeronautical and aerodynamics industries, helping to design helicopters and airplanes! Although I opted not to follow this particular route, another friend of mine now works for the maths division of a big engineering company.

No-one these days can be unaware of the environmental issues that we all face – growing pollution levels, possible global warming, rising sea levels, etc – and big multinational organisations, such as engineering companies, need to plan ahead to see how potential changes in climate might affect them in the future and mathematicians have the perfect range of knowledge and skills to model the implications of a warmer planet.

The ability to use mathematical and statistical techniques to make predictions and plan for the future means that mathematicians also make ideal operational analysts a job which involves using analytical methods to tackle important strategic issues – and another friend of mine now works for the government in this role. Other friends of mine decided to go into research, working at a university pursuing their own ideas in mathematics.  

Who knows where a career in Maths can lead! To the Large Hadron Collider in Cern?

Credit: CERN

In general I found that most employers valued mathematicians because we were seen as logical and highly numerate and because we were used to solving difficult problems in a precise way, all of which are attributes employers look for in potential new recruits. Mathematics might not be seen as a vocational subject in the same way that law or engineering is, but that doesn’t stop talented mathematicians being highly sought after.

So if you enjoy Mathematics and are thinking of studying maths at university please don’t be put off because you think you might not be very employable when you graduate – in my experience a degree in Mathematics will make you highly employable!

A talented student graduating with a degree in Mathematics will find they have plenty of career options available to them accountant, actuary, investment banker, pricing analyst, operational analyst, engineer, aeronautical designer, researcher and, of course, teacher, just to name but a few! Not only are these jobs all pretty interesting, you’ll also find that as a mathematician you’ll probably be pretty well paid too – except if you become a teacher of course!

Find out how you can study Maths, Engineering and Science at GCSE, A Level and Foundation at Bellerbys College.

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