Employment in the Mathematical Sciences

“What are you going to do with a math major?” No doubt, you have heard this far too often throughout your years in college. You hear it so often that if you don’t already have a clear picture of your desired career, you may start to believe that job prospects are dim and wonder why you chose to study math in the first place.

While not many jobs are specifically referred to as company mathematician, a large number of employers are seeking individuals with BA degrees in mathematics. When planning your undergraduate program, it is very useful to look ahead toward what sorts of jobs are available and what sorts of skills are required. A good place to start is on the Internet. For example, the American Mathematical Society provides a great deal of information concerning mathematics-related employment for both BA and MA/PhD holders. The American Statistical Association provides similar information for graduates in statistics. Finally, the Society of Actuaries provides information on the actuarial profession and the actuarial exams.

Even a cursory review of the materials available indicates that while there are many job opportunities available for BAs in mathematics, there are some clear hints concerning what candidates will be most successful. They are:

  1. Familiarity with computers and facility in their use is required by most employers (in the same way you will be expected to use the telephone—it is only unusual if you don’t know how).
  2. Communication skills are of fundamental importance (i.e., don’t neglect the liberal arts courses).
  3. Breadth of interest and adaptability are very valuable. Take advantage of the availability of courses in many different areas of engineering and science.

Students interested in continuing their formal schooling in graduate school should inform their advisor. The skills valuable for the job market are also important for graduate school, but there are additional courses and skills which graduate schools seek. Also, not all graduate schools are equal. Your advisor can help you come up with an appropriate list.

In addition, the MAA provides many resources to help you select a career or find out more information about a specific career. Professor Emma Previato has many of these materials and others can be ordered free-of-charge or for a nominal fee from the MAA.