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Career Prospects in BSc Math vs MSc Mathematical Physics

  1. Dec 6, 2014 #1
    Hi guys,

    I'm at the tail end of my BSc degree major in math, minor in physics and I am considering grad school in mathematical physics. I am looking for input on career prospects with a BSc in Math vs. MSc in Mathematical Physics. I am also wondering about entry level positions that one could apply for straight out of University with either a BSc or MSc. I know that the program that I am in will open lots of doors to me, I just want to know which ones....

    Thanks guys!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2014 #2
    I think the most lucrative career for maths undergrads/Msc grads is actuarial science. May not be the most exciting job field but it pays well. I wouldn't advise doing mathematical physics unless you are willing to go all the way through the PhD as there are not many jobs for non-Phd physicists in the private sector. There aren't many physics related jobs in the private sector period, besides engineering. But it would be better to just do an engineering degree if you wanted to do that. You sound like you are from the UK (calling them BSc and MSc instead of BS and MS)? If you're interested in mathematical physics why not apply for some PhD programs?
  4. Dec 6, 2014 #3

    George Jones

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    Or Canada.
  5. Dec 6, 2014 #4
    As a physics major from a theoretical programme I am headed out of the field. The job prospects are far too shaky. I have my physics library to read at my leisure, and am two years away from my power engineering ticket.

    I would encourage you to get some sort of supplementary training, be it actuarial work, statistics, an MBA, an MSc in CS...something that is extremely practical, but will benefit from a strong foundation in mathematics.
  6. Dec 7, 2014 #5
    Actuarial work seems to come up quite often. Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is it relies very heavily on calculus and statistics, and it would be the type of job where you are chained to a desk.

    And by the way, I am Canadian.
  7. Dec 7, 2014 #6
    I am Canadian as well.

    Actuarial work comes up so often because in the west you had actually have to go through a rather demanding course of study and certification.


    Also, I would imagine that for the majority of people who enter mathematics from the POV of science (like I imagine you did since you minored in physics), spending another few years of your life studying how to compute risk of investments for banks or premiums for insurance companies is not satisfying. It is however an extremely stable career with a very large salary. I personally would not go down that path, but I do not have an interest the business/finance/insurance world.

    Since you are Canadian, I would encourage you to look at the trade of "power engineering". It's a regulated trade in Canada that is essentially a subfield of mechanical engineering. In short, whenever a boiler above a certain output is used in any residential/commercial/industrial setting, you are legally required to have a power engineer to operate and maintain it. They are especially in demand in the oil sands projects since we mine the bitumen using steam-assisted gravity drainage, and such projects cannot be run without ticket holders.
  8. Dec 7, 2014 #7
    With regards to power engineering, my dad holds a second class steam engineering ticket and worked as a shift engineer for over 10 years before starting his own business. I brought up the idea of power engineering with him after I graduate, and he was saying that it involves shift work for a good portion of your life. But he suggested looking into instrument technology since it is usually a 9-5 job and it requires analytical thinking and problem solving.

    I'm having a difficult time committing to one career path or another because my interests in study are mainly theoretical, not applied. So the big question I am going to face when I finish school is whether to peruse a PhD or not...
  9. Dec 7, 2014 #8
    It is true that power engineering is largely shift based unless you have your first/second class ticket or are the chief engineer at some place, but with shift work comes lots of down time. A typical shift set-up in the city I am in in 7-7 with two day shifts, followed by two night shifts, with four days offs.

    I understand what you mean when you say that your interests are mainly theoretical. Mine are too, but I'm in a place where I am thinking about the earnings and career, and less about the knowledge because I am in a significant amount of debt from being in school for so long.
  10. Dec 7, 2014 #9


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    To the OP:

    Welcome to PF! I am also a Canadian as well, and wanted to ask you a few other questions:

    (1) Did you take any significant level of programming courses as part of your Bsc in math? What is your overall level of programming skill?
    (2) Have you taken any courses in statistics?
    (3) Have you taken any courses in economics?
    (4) What type of elective courses have you taken outside of math and physics?
    (5) Have you pursued any internships, co-op positions, or summer jobs providing you with actual work experience?

    The answers to any of these questions will determine what types of jobs will be available to you either with a Bsc only or a Msc. I myself have a Bsc in math and a Msc in statistics, and can tell you that there are numerous opportunities available for those with a Msc in that field, particular with the growth of "data science" type jobs. If you have significant programming skills, of course various types of IT jobs are available.

    If you've taken both statistics and economics courses as electives, actuarial jobs may be open to you, once you have actually written some of the actuarial exams. Another possibility you may want to consider is to pursue a masters degree in operations research (OR), which can often serve as a lead in for numerous positions in business. Both the University of Waterloo and U of T have OR Masters programs available (in the case of U of T, you would have to apply to the Industrial Engineering MAsc or MEng program).

    Anyways, I hope you find these tips useful.
  11. Dec 7, 2014 #10
    I would at least get an MSc while you're younger. Once you're working/etc it can be a bit harder. It's also helpful if you want to get into analytics especially if it's applied.

    Like statguy said, there are many positions for data scientists/analysts in a wide range of sectors. There seems to be a bias towards having a MSc in applied math/stats/CS, but there are still many jobs that don't require one.

    In general, I think it would be useful to pick up a programming language or few, and in learning how to build things is seldom a bad idea.
  12. Dec 7, 2014 #11
    To StatGuy2000,

    1. I have taken two introductory programming classes. We programmed in Java so I would say I have a basic knowledge of programming.
    2. I have not taken any courses in statistics
    3. I have quite a few classes in economics, I am enrolled in a Money and Banking class next semester.
    4. As for option classes, I've only taken Earth and Atmospheric sciences and Economics at the senior level
    5. As for summer work, last year I worked in a planar mill and was responsible for operating a wrap and strap line (lumber). The year before I worked as a radio dispatcher for Alberta Wildfires. I was also asked if I was interested in a research position with my physics prof next semester. It would involve learning some programming in order to compare images for his research. I will be taking him up on that offer, but I have not started it yet.

    For clarification, my minor is declared as physics but I am not 100% decided on it. In this upcoming semester I will be taking a senior level physics class (Mechanics) and a senior level economics class (Money and Banking) before I make my final decision.

    To omgwtfbyobbq,
    I agree that it would be ideal to go to grad school soon after finishing my undergrad. I am just at a crossroads as to what it will be in, and what career prospects it will give me.
  13. Dec 8, 2014 #12


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    I would highly recommend that you add a few statistics courses in your degree if at all possible, as this would add further options in terms of possible graduate programs that could be open for you that would enhance your marketability (e.g. Msc in statistics, operations research), as well as being useful to know in your own right as a math major.

    Since you've mentioned that you've taken several economics classes as electives, knowing statistics in addition will open up the possibility of graduate studies in economics (I have a friend who earned his Bsc in math, with minors in economics and statistics and finished his PhD in economics and is now working as an economic advisor in Dubai). The actuarial option will also go smoother if you have developed at least somewhat of a statistics background.

    As far as taking introductory programming classes, that's a good place to start but I would also recommend practicing some programming on your own, perhaps developing some simple projects on your own time to get more comfortable, as many quantitative positions will involve some programming.
  14. Dec 8, 2014 #13
    Thanks for the insight, that makes a lot of sense. Is there a specific language that would be especially beneficial to practice in?

    Also, do you know what kind of summer jobs that would count towards applicabe experience in the math/stats/data analysis field?
  15. Dec 8, 2014 #14


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    Since you already have a background in Java, I would also recommend practicing programming in C or its variants C++ or C#. I've often been told that Python is also a good language to practice with. I would also continue to practice with Java and maybe work on a few projects with it. For the data analysis field that I've talked about, try to see if you can learn SQL, SAS and R. If you can't find courses to take in your school time, try looking at online courses on places like Coursera or EDx.

    I know that there are various data analyst-type positions open, for example, in marketing companies, banks, insurance companies, hospitals, etc. Anything that would include basic stats and computing should help you out. Workopolis or Indeed should have some listings available; I would also suggest what is available either at the Career Centre at your university or of job postings at the math or stats departments.
  16. Dec 8, 2014 #15
    I am quite familiar with python and its libraries as I did a project in image manipulation in it with my intro class. I haven't touched C yet but I do have friends in the computer science department that can point me in the right direction with learning C and its variants. As for the data analysis, are there ways for me to practice with them without having to purchase the software?
  17. Dec 8, 2014 #16


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    My suggestion would be to practice data analysis using R, which is a freeware software that you don't need to purchase. Take a look at the following website:


    The link above should provide both the software package as well as various sources of documentation on the R language itself. You should be able to find sample datasets pretty much anywhere on the Internet for you to practice with. Once I find some good sites, I can PM you some links.

    I believe there are freeware version of SQL as well, although I don't know of any offhand.
  18. Dec 8, 2014 #17
    I just logged onto a computer at the university and it has R, but not SQL or SAS. It also has Maple16 which I will be using next year in ODE's and MATLAB if it's worth playing around with those as well.

    That would be great if you could do that so I can get started on some projects.
  19. Dec 8, 2014 #18
    A few notes on actuarial work,

    I work as an actuary in the States and really like it. I feel my work has value and I find it very rewarding on personal and professional levels.

    However, it is an especially difficult profession to break into in Canada. Most employers in Canada hire actuaries that already have 4 or more exams completed from actuarial science programs. The students accomplish this by getting actuarial science BS or masters. If you decide that path is of interest to you, looking into the big Canadian masters programs is advised.

    I second all suggestions for data science. I believe there's a student version of SAS that's not expensive. More importantly, you can perform SQL queries in SAS, and so learning SQL gets you a long way in SAS. You should be able to find cheap or free SQL programs online, if you look.
  20. Dec 8, 2014 #19
    You'll do lots of calculus in the exams, and none on the job. For one thing, almost all units in the business world are ultimately discrete. More importantly, these days computers do calculus. Humans program them.

    Actuaries do have desks. Personally, I'm not chained to mine.
  21. Dec 8, 2014 #20
    To Locrian,

    If I choose to go into data science, but not with the intent to be an actuary, can I do so without a masters degree? Or would it be pertinent to get a masters before entering the work force?

    This is good to know. Calculus is not my favorite thing ever, but it's not a problem for me.
  22. Dec 8, 2014 #21
    Well "data science" is a pretty broad phrase, and I've heard it used to include some mundane things and some awesome things. My opinion is that you'd get to the awesome stuff quicker with a grad degree. Getting any job that made use of SQL, databases and report creation would go a long way though, even without the additional education.
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