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Math Career opportunities after a degree in math

  1. Apr 14, 2012 #1
    Hi all, I'm just looking for some advice. So, here's the situation: I just finished my first year in university and am currently enrolled in the honours maths program (having switched over from physics :tongue:). I just had an introductory analysis course and I loved it enough to attend the second year analysis course. I'm doing a reading course with the analysis prof this summer and I'll be studying some cool stuff leading up to Baire's category theorem. So, let's just say that there is no lack of enthusiasm on my part.
    But..........I also need to think what I want to do after my degree. I was thinking of taking the actuary exams in summer '13 since I'm taking probability and stats next year. I was also thinking about maybe getting a minor in stats or econ just to better my employment prospects after graduation. Right now, I think I want to go for grad school afterwards and all the actuary and stats stuff is something to fall back on in case things don't pan out.
    I'm not really very aware of things you can do with a math degree and I sincerely apologise for my naivete. But I figured that the time to think about this stuff is right now. So, my questions:
    (i) What courses do you recommend I take so that I have decent job prospects after graduation?
    (ii) What options exist in the job market for someone with just a B.S. in pure maths?
    (iii) What can I do if I don't/can't go to grad school?
    These are a lot of difficult questions I realise. I would greatly appreciate responses from people in math or who have a degree in math. Sorry for the long post and thanks for reading.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 14, 2012 #2
    It can be tough. Here are some common options:

    1) Maths/science teacher in high school
    2) Pick up some programming courses, do a few CS courses, and sell yourself as a software developer, especially if applied to some more 'numerical' subfields (i.e. not web app development but numerical methods, embedded computing, control systems, etc.)
    3) Do a masters in quantitative finance and work at a bank in risk management
    4) Actuary
    5) Something completely different (i.e. sales, etc.)
  4. Apr 15, 2012 #3


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    Here are some additional options as well:

    6) Finish your masters in statistics or biostatistics and work as a biostatistician in the pharmaceutical/biotech industries, clinical research organization (CRO for short -- basically independent contractors for the pharmaceutical/biotech industries), or the health care sector

    7) Finish your masters in statistics and work in business analytics.
  5. Apr 15, 2012 #4
    Summary: if you're OK learning statistics, physics, CS or some engineering, your mathematics background can launch you a lot of places. If you don't do anything but pure mathematics (and don't have additional skills), it may be hard to find a job outside of the teaching and pure research world. The best bet outside those two would be to try applying for applied mathematics research (either a PhD or outside academia entirely) and see how your luck turns out.
  6. Apr 15, 2012 #5
    Ok, so do you guys think that a minor in stats will be a good option? Also, I'm studying in Canada and I'm registered for the co-op program as part of my degree. But I talked to a prof of mine and she said that its better to do summer research rather than co-op because the co-op totally screws up the course sequence and throws things out of sync. However, I think it might be a good option to get a footing in industry. At the same time, I want to take all the cool courses. Any thoughts?
  7. Apr 15, 2012 #6
    If you are good at math you can do anything. I was never good really good and had little interest in it in college but many years later I regret not learning as much as I could at that time. Math is vital in everything.
  8. Apr 15, 2012 #7


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    Which university in Canada are you studying? Because my assumption would be that courses are often structured in such a way that students registered in the co-op program would not be disrupted in their schedule (I know that is how the co-op program at the University of Waterloo is organized). Besides, having industry experience will tend to look really good on a resume.

    That being said, summer research experience is also invaluable, especially if you are considering graduate school. I have had experience in a summer internship, and that experience alone has opened up many doors for me.
  9. Apr 15, 2012 #8


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    Hey skhan172 and welcome to the forums.

    One thing I wanted to really tell you is that actuarial work is not 'a fallback' position.

    Lots of people want to be actuaries but not many get through all the exams, and if you don't get through the exams and someone else does, they will be hired over you.

    If I were you and are genuinely interested in the actuarial profession, I would download both a copy of the syllabus and some previous exams and go from there. You will need to spend a lot of time on the exams and they are most likely not going to be a carbon copy of your final year exams you take in a normal science based course, however they may reflect the kind of course you would find in say an engineering course of some kind. I'm not saying that you can't prepare by taking the normal year long sequence provided by the math department, but the thing is with actuarial mathematics, you will be learning a tonne of stuff at a quick rate and you won't have time to derive everything and understand everything at a deep theoretical level and you will piled up with problem sets.

    Again I would say it's more like engineering or physics than mathematics and for your own benefit, I would strongly urge you to get the syllabus and some past exams off the respective actuarial society website.
  10. Apr 16, 2012 #9
    I'm at uOttawa.
    Perhaps I should clarify what I meant about disrupting my schedule: If I do co-op, then I wil have to take courses in the summer that I would typically do in fall or winter. While this is not a problem in itself, its just that you get a ton of electives in your last two years and most of the exciting courses are taught in fall or winter. In the summer, they mostly just offer 'service' courses and this kind of cuts my options to explore different areas of math. Also, it's better to take courses in a particular sequence. For instance, it's way better to take differential geometry before tensor analysis even though the prereqs for the two courses are identical. Doing co-op, I won't have the freedom to structure my courses so nicely. But, of course, I still have the option of doing research over the summer and maybe that's better.
    StatGuy2000: is it possible to get a summer internship in math? If you don't mind me asking, what program are/were you in? Was your internship part of co-op or did you scout it out?
    Thanks for the response, BTW.
  11. Apr 16, 2012 #10
    Thank you very much for the welcome and your reply.
    I've taken a look at the syllabus for the SOA's P1 probability exam and I think I'll have to wait till maybe third year to get a solid background in the stuff covered. So, I'm probably not taking the exams anytime soon. I was not aware that actuarial science was closer to engineering than math. I'm reconsidering my options. Again, does it help to have a minor in something like stats? Also, to add a new question:
    (iv) What 'fallback' options, if any, exist for a math student at my level?
    Some people suggested doing a master in Stats or something similar. So, I'm taking a close look at my school's stats programs.
  12. Apr 16, 2012 #11
    My opinion is that a minor in stats has little to no value, but some experience actually working with statistics could have a lot of value. If you can gain the latter while getting the former it would be worth it. If all you end up with is a line on a piece of paper that says you have a statistics minor, it won't mean anything.

    Never forget that (almost?) nobody outside academia cares what you got your degree in. They care what skills you learned while earning it. Many will assume you picked up no skills of value to them without evidence otherwise.
  13. Apr 17, 2012 #12


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    Yes, a summer internship in math is possible. You should check or consult with your math department to see if the NSERC Undergraduate Research Award is available and if any of your professors are willing to take on interns.

    To answer your question about me, I had graduated with a joint Bsc in Mathematics and Statistics and a Msc in Statistics, both at the University of Toronto, and during 3rd year in undergrad, I was awarded the NSERC Undergraduate Research Award in Statistics.

    U of T doesn't specifically offer a co-op program, but it does offer what is referred to as a Professional Experience Year (PEY), basically a one year paid work-experience in the field of your interest (I can't tell you that much more about it, as I did not pursue this). Now for my internship, there were ads listed on both the math and stats department bulletin boards, and I spoke to the department about it and applied. However, the application procedures may have changed since that time, so it's worth that you speak to someone at U Ottawa about this.
  14. Apr 17, 2012 #13
    I've talked to a couple of profs and they are actually quite willing to take on undergrads or they know people who are. The NSERC USRA is indeed available. So is the UROP and my analysis prof told that he'd be willing to UROP with me in the fall. Bit of good news there, I guess. As for the co-op, I've decided to at least try it out for the first work term and see how that goes (I think Locrian makes a good point). The first term won't disrupt anything and it doesn't hurt to take a shot. I might still take a minor in stats but I don't have to worry too much about it till next year. I'll do some thinking over the summer and talk to a couple more people in the department and let's see how my reading course turns out. Anyways, thanks a lot for all the advice guys! Really appreciate it.
  15. Apr 22, 2012 #14


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    I have seen lots of similar suggestions like this, but taking exactly how many or what courses will I be able to sell myself as a software engineer? For instance, our school offers core CS courses like operating systems, algorithms, computer organizations, data structures, object-oriented programming, and etc. Do I need to take all of these or, since I am also remotely considering a quant position, OOP will be enough?

    Do I need a degree in CS or EE to become a software architect? or will sufficient knowledge and experience be ok?

  16. Apr 22, 2012 #15


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    I can tell you that you will not become a software architect straight out of uni whether its a bachelors, masters, or PhD.

    You will have to work your way up and really understand the domain, the repository that you will be dealing with (most likely extremely complex) and also everything about the context of your application. It will probably take you a decade minimum to get to this position (seriously) and even then I don't think this is accurate.

    Also if you are a quant developer of some sort you will really need to know what you're doing in terms of code and I reckon you will need experience in real world development: twofish-quant can elaborate on this. Real software development involves many hundreds of thousands of lines of code and not the thousands of lines of code you do in uni projects. You also have to read other peoples code and debug it as well which will really test if you want to do software development.

    My thoughts are that if you get dumped a task to do with API's that you have never used before but have documentation for the interface, data structures, execution pipeline and other info about issues relating to range of data values and so on and are comfortable to take the task head on, then you are ready for a real dev job. Also I would add that if you can also put up with trying to debug the damn thing, then you are even more prepared (usually open source libraries, but sometimes unfortunately not).
  17. May 7, 2012 #16
    Actually, mathematics has practical application in many fields. I'm now a retired Master Mariner that started with a 4 year math degree. Navigation is simply 'spherical trigonometry'. :)

    Stability problems aren't much more complicated.
    It's not a career that theoreticians would find challenging, but it pays well, has 'travel' benefits, and enjoys many quiet hours on long nightwatches, to contemplate mysteries, as your eyes search an empty horizon. :)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2012
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