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What Can I Do With a Degree in Mathematics?

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Math is the invisible infrastructure of the universe, and it literally has infinite applications. So while some parents may push their children to study law or medicine, a degree in mathematics opens the door to more possibilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, openings for people in the mathematical sciences are projected to increase 28 percent between 2016 and 2026—a rate that’s nearly quadruple the national average for all professions.

Some might say that the field of mathematics has big data to thank for its rapid growth, but in reality, it’s the other way around. Mathematics gave the world big data, and big data requires yet more mathematics to turn its informational resources into actionable insights. This is a need that cuts across practically every industry, including applications in healthcare, business, finance, engineering, research, and government. And big data isn’t the only area that’s fueled by mathematics. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing all run on complex mathematical and statistical models. In these ways and more, mathematics is effectively building the future.

By any estimation, the field of mathematics is growing at a rapid rate, and it hasn’t come close to hitting its peak potential yet. A degree in mathematics can open up a door to the future of what’s possible. If you’re ready to see what’s on the other side, read on to learn about ten careers you can pursue with a degree in mathematics.

Please note that all salary data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2019.

Become an Actuary

Actuaries use mathematics to calculate the financial costs of risk and uncertainty. Often employed by insurance companies or financial institutions, actuaries have two primary responsibilities: 1) estimating the economic costs and statistical likelihood of hypothetical events, and 2) designing financial strategies (insurance policies, pension plans, capital investments) to mitigate those costs and risks.

In addition to a rigorous mathematical education, actuaries seeking full-professional status will need to be certified by one of two professional associations: the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS), which covers the property and casualty field, or the Society of Actuaries (SOA), which deals with life, health, and pension benefits. Certification in either pathway (first as an associate, and then as a fellow) can take up to ten years and demands numerous, intensive exams. But the reward is high: according to the BLS, actuaries are one of the most in-demand professions of the next decade.

  • Possible Educational Program: The MS in actuarial science at Arizona State University has been recognized by the CAS as doing exemplary work in preparing students for careers in the property and casualty insurance industry.
  • Median Salary: $102,880 per year (BLS)

Become an Applied Mathematician

Applied mathematicians use their mathematical and statistical techniques to solve real-world problems. Since math has applications in practically every arena, applied mathematicians can work in several industries: marketing, healthcare, engineering, manufacturing, research, government, academia, and more.

The influx of big data means that practically every sector now needs expert mathematicians on its payroll, and, as such, the BLS projects that the need for mathematicians will grow by 30 percent during the decade preceding 2026.

  • Possible Educational Program: The University of Washington has a top-ranked MS in applied mathematics program that can be completed entirely online, and it covers mathematical models that undergird the biological, engineering, and physical sciences.
  • Median Salary: $101,900 (BLS).

Become a Biostatistician

Sometimes math saves lives. Biostatisticians, as the name implies, analyze data and statistics related to biology, with specific applications in fields like neuroscience, genomics, genetics, and medicine.

Using fundamental research design principles, biostatisticians can address public health problems, oversee clinical trials, and inform broader policy decisions. Biostatisticians typically work in academia, government, and the medical industry. While math and statistics lay at the core of what they do, some graduate-level education in biology, biostatistics, public health, and epidemiology is often required.

  • Possible Educational Program: The University of Pittsburgh has an MS in biostatistics program designed for students with a strong background in mathematics and an interest in biology and public health.
  • Median Salary: $75,731 (PayScale)

Become a Climatologist

Climatologists use math and atmospheric science to study the Earth’s climate. By collecting and analyzing data from the past and present, they extrapolate future changes and patterns in the shared environment. Climatologists can work for both the public and private sector, in academic research and in industrial research.

While some graduate study of atmospheric science is preferred, an undergraduate degree in mathematics is an excellent stepping stone for an interdisciplinary profession that combines multiple forms of science and computation. Due to the increase in the amount of available data, and legitimate concerns over the impact of industrialization on the climate, the BLS projects the need for climatologists to grow 12 percent in the decade before 2026.

  • Possible Educational Program: Colorado State University has an MS in atmospheric science that offers its students numerous areas of study foci, from air quality to climate change, climate dynamics, and more.
  • Median Salary: $94,110 per year (BLS)

Become a Computer and Information Research Scientist

Computer and information research scientists push the boundaries of what is possible with computing by finding innovative uses for existing tech and researching entirely new approaches.

They can generally work in two areas: industry, where they’ll design new tech and protocols; or research, where they’ll extrapolate theoretical knowledge to push the industry forward. While a mathematics degree provides several of the core competencies necessary, foundational coursework in computer engineering is essential for admittance to graduate-level educational courses.

Especially with the advent of promising new frontiers like quantum computing, the need for computer and information research scientists is likely to increase. And the BLS agrees, projecting the profession to grow by nearly 20 percent over a ten-year period (2016-26).

Become a Data Scientist

Data scientists study massive amounts of data in order to sift out correlations and patterns in the search for qualitative and quantitative insights. Unlike operational research analysts, data scientists often work without pre-planned experimentation. Their work can be seen as more exploratory and finding new directions. This is a profession that relies heavily on statistics.

Data scientists can work in any industry that deals with massive amounts of data and are especially needed in areas like IT, healthcare, and business. While there are no official, industry-wide certifications for data scientists, the profession demands a strong statistical background as well as fluency in computational systems. Data science is a somewhat new term, but the profession as a whole is growing at the speed of big data: according to a LinkedIn report, the number of data scientist job openings grew by 56 percent in the last year.

  • Possible Educational Program: The Center for Data Science at NYU has a highly-selective MS in data science program designed for students with a strong mathematical background.
  • Median Salary: $92,864 per year (PayScale)

Become a High School Math Teacher

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in mathematics, then you probably have at least one high school math teacher to thank. This is a job for someone who truly enjoys math for the sake of math, and also enjoys the task of showing their work—even though many high school students may not appreciate how much time goes into designing tests, building lesson plans, grading homework, and getting that kid at the back of the class to sit up and pay attention. High school professors don’t work at the theoretical fringe of number theory, and they don’t make the money of a quantitative financial analyst, but they do go to sleep at night knowing that they’re building a better, more capable future.

All public school teachers are required to be certified and/or licensed by state. Requirements for this vary, but generally include a subject-specific degree, a general exam, supervised teaching experience, and a preparatory program. Specific information on state requirements can be found at Teach.org.

  • Possible Educational Program: The University of San Diego has an online master of education degree program with a specialization in STEM education that focuses on 21st-century educational theory and Common Core Standards.
  • Median Salary: $60,320 (BLS)

Become a Mathematical Physicist

Mathematical physicists use math to help understand our world and the way it works. Since Isaac Newton, the findings of mathematical physicists have solved a variety of physics-related questions, and, much more recently, have been fundamental in the development of entirely new models like those of quantum computing.

Often working for universities, research labs, or the federal government, mathematical physicists will spend most of their time working with deep theory, both publishing and critiquing research papers. While it’s possible to get work in applied mathematics with a master’s degree, almost all mathematical physicists have a PhD. This is a career for only the most dedicated of mathematicians, the ones bound by a compulsive curiosity for puzzles and exploration.

  • Possible Educational Program: Indiana University Bloomington has a PhD in mathematical physics program that bridges mathematics, theoretical physics, and their applications into a unified, research-based point of view.
  • Median Salary: $120,950 per year (BLS)

Become an Operations Research Analyst

Operations research analysts use complex mathematical models to optimize logistical processes and make more efficient strategic decisions. They can work in the financial industry, in the healthcare field, in manufacturing and supply chain management, or for the federal government.

Simply put, their typical responsibilities include collecting data, analyzing it, and advising decision-makers on how best to proceed on a specific problem. But to do that effectively requires an understanding of probability, machine learning, statistics, and optimization, and their work can have massive impacts on the industries that they serve.

While certification is not required to practice, the Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) designation provides a mark of distinction for experienced research analysts who have proven their ability to transform data into insights and action. And that type of qualification is in high demand: as a profession, operations research analysis is projected to grow by 27 percent (2016-26), adding over 31,000 new jobs.

  • Possible Educational Program: The Operations Research Center (ORC) at MIT offers a master’s degree (SM) in operations research that prepares graduates to put their skills to use in a variety of fields.
  • Median Salary: $83,390 per year (BLS)

Become a Quantitative Financial Analyst

Quantitative financial analysts apply complex mathematical and statistical models to financial frameworks and risk management problems. Unlike actuaries, who are more inclined to limit one’s exposure to risk in order to reduce costs, quantitative financial analysts may seek enticing opportunities of risk in order to maximize profits. They may use algorithmic trading, quantitative investment management, and statistical arbitrage to make math pay healthy dividends.

While many contemporary forms of quantitative financial analysis are dependent upon a shrewd understanding of data science, mathematical expertise remains the undergirding framework of the profession.

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