If you are at all interested in numbers, problem solving and mathematical concepts, then you should consider getting a degree in mathematics. It’s great preparation for some of the world’s most cutting-edge professions. Central to technological advancement and innovation, a solid foundation in math will make you an excellent candidate in a number of careers.
This guide will introduce you to both career and education options in the field of math, and provide you with some practical advice to land you in the profession of your dreams.
Math itself is a big, broad term that encompasses many different concepts, methods and terms. Just about any industry, government and service uses math in some capacity, but there are some specific ways you can structure your education depending on how you want to apply math in the career of your choice.
There are two basic types of mathematicians, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Mathematicians often work with formulas and existing mathematical principles to expand the mathematical concepts we use today. Computer codes and computational methods are commonly required, as is experience with observations, experiments and making inferences from available data.
Job opportunities for mathematicians are wide ranging. Many go into scientific research, scientific management, technical consulting services and engineering. Some find work in government positions, particularly in the Department of Defense, which employs 81 percent of mathematicians at the federal level, according to the (BLS).
Teaching is also an option, at all levels of the education system. The BLS warns that math majors who continue up the ladder in search of a position as a professor in higher education face some pretty stiff competition — the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded in mathematics continues to exceed the number of available university positions. There is, however, a teaching shortage for math teachers in the K-12 system. There are many state and national initiatives aimed at reforming science and math education in the public system in order to engage more students, and increase the number of graduates who can work in the field and go onto pursue higher education.
Regardless of what you choose as a long-term career, an undergraduate degree in mathematics is a solid foundation for any one of the STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — career fields. Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs. STEM workers are often on the cutting edge of technology and competitiveness on both the national and international scale — these professions generate innovation, new ideas, new companies and new industries.
The BLS also estimates that job opportunities for statisticians will increase by about 16 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Technological advancements are continuing to allow for improved data collection and processing, which is expanding the need for mathematicians to analyze that data for a range of purposes.
A nice, big paycheck is a benefit of the hard work mathematicians put into their education. The median annual wage of mathematicians was $99,380 in May 2010, according to the BLS. A 2009 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey found that math skills and training were among the ranks of the top 15 highest earning college degrees. Actuaries, mathematicians and statisticians rank near the top of the country’s 200 best jobs when it comes to job environment, income, outlook, physical demands and stress, according to a 2012 survey by CareerCast.
Job prospects are best in industry or government, and better yet for those who have a strong background of math and a related discipline—such as engineering, computer science, physics, or operations research.
To become a mathematician you are going to need a lot of schooling. The minimum requirement is typically a graduate degree, but that all depends on the position. About 42 percent of mathematicians have a doctoral degree, 38 percent have a master’s degree and 21 percent have a bachelor’s degree, according to O*Net.
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Selecting a path for education is just a portion of the work you need to do in order to land a position in your projected career. Especially with a field as broad as math, it is important to get real-world experience to help narrow doing your job options. Here are a few suggestions to help you do so.
Professional societies such as the American Mathematical Society are a great way to get engaged and involved with your educational community. The AMS has programs for high-school, undergraduate and graduate students, which provide networking opportunities and the ability to get direct experience in the field.
Internships are another great way to get experience and there are opportunities to do so in just about every sector, from government to private industry and laboratories. This AMS list features internship options from Boeing, AT&T and the U.S. Department of Energy. Working in an industry will help you decide if that is where you can see yourself long-term.
Consider adding a summer research program to your curriculum. There are a number of research experiences at universities across the country — especially if you take an online route, this would be a great way to get in the classroom and do some networking. This is a great way to see how far you want to go in your education. If research isn’t quite what you imagined, then the PhD route might not be for you.
As a student you also have the ability to get engaged in academia early with different math clubs, societies and research journals. Getting involved with these extra-curricular activities not only demonstrate initiative and effort on your resume, but they can also help you get more references, experiences and networking opportunities — who you know can matter just as much as WHAT you know.
The world of mathematics can take you just about anywhere you can go. The STEM fields are in need of the best and brightest as global competition, innovation and technology continue to drive economies into the future.
If you’ve got a passion for math then you are bound to have an exciting career (and a nice paycheck!) awaiting you at the end of your hard work, education and training. That is when the real fun can begin.