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Computational Mathematics?

  1. Apr 1, 2006 #1
    I'm currently a second-semester student at a Penn State branch campus and am kind of at a crossroads as far as my major is concerned. I consider myself pretty talented in mathematics and am very interested in math in general (and possibly teaching at the high school level or maybe at the college level if I decide to take my interest that far), but I'm also somewhat interested in the software development aspect of computer science (i.e. writing the actual software).

    Recently, I've been considering a Computational Mathematics major; it seems like this major will provide me with a broader variety of opportunities than, say, a conventional Computer Science degree. I've been getting into programming on my own, and while I find it interesting, I'm obviously just messing with the basics and I don't know if I'd really like to make sitting in a cubicle staring at code every single day my career objective.

    After reading all that, you're probably wondering what the point of my post is. Well, I'd just like to know what types of jobs are avaible to someone with a Computational Math degree. If I got a Computational Math degree, what would I have to do at that point to be able to teach math at the high school level? Would the fact that I got a Computational Math degree hinder my chances of becoming a teacher as opposed to getting a general Math degree? Also, if I got a Computational Math degree and became proficient in programming on my own, would it be plausible for me to obtain a software development job if I decide I want one?

    One more question: :redface: What other types of work could a person get with a Comp. Math degree? I'd like to have a few options available to me after I graduate, although I realize I'll probably have to go to graduate school to take advantage of additional job opportunities. Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and I look forward to hearing your responses!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2006 #2


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    Where I live (Massachusetts) there is a shortage of math and science teachers for high schools. If you're certified to teach math or science, apparently they'll take you. There's an ad on the buses around here that offers a big scholarship, $10,000 or $20,000 a year, for math or science students who want to become teachers (though they then have to follow up and actually become teachers).

    I myself am going to do Mathematics, maybe with a Computing concentration (but likely with a Statistics concentration), and finish a Computer Science degree at the same time. Maybe you could become an actuary. I may do that.
  4. Apr 5, 2006 #3
    Well, I spent a while researching the actuary position and I know that it's definitely not for me. Too much studying for exams and whatnot; plus, it seems that not a lot of math is used in the actual job anyway.

    If I were to look for a software development job, would I be looked down upon if I had a Computational Math major rather than a regular CS major? The main reason I'm interested in Computational Math is that I think it could broaden my career prospects, but if that's not the case, I may just have to stick with Comp. Sci. and abandon my mathematics aspirations... :frown:
  5. Apr 5, 2006 #4
    no people with math skills are usually more highly looked upon.
  6. Apr 5, 2006 #5

    As for a software development job goes it depends on 2 things the experience in your resume and what languages/api's you know. Most programmer jobs I have done are business related with a lot of database crap. So most of the time I am not doing any math and if I had to do math it was just doing simple calculations I could do in my head.

    You make a hell of a lot of money in programming compared to academia but you will spend most of your time pre-management working on business type applications. Yes, you will eventually want to go into mangement because the money is way too temping. I mean why make less money writing the application when you can make over that being either a project manager or anytype of IT manager. Hell I knew a programmer who got a job managing tech support staff and he had not worked in that field in 6 years. You do not have to but most of my friends who I went to school with and graduated in 2001 with a BS in Computer Science / Math are making between 50 - 85K.

    Even with a gov't career 9 to 5 you can pull down some bank. The problems is that in some private industries they do not respect gov't workers. But you will work hard and learn stuff cause gov't is filled with political hacks so you will definitally earn your salary.

    If you burn out you can become a system admin or do tech support. They require no special skills but learning how to fix or manage systems. While doing programming you will learn enough about these jobs to be able to walk into them but you may need a certification to show you know what your doing. Certifications are a joke I could go on for hours about my experiences but just know if you want the cert you study and you will get it.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2006
  7. Apr 6, 2006 #6


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    Not a lot of math as an actuary? I really doubt that. Of course I don't have any firsthand experience but I understand it's very math-heavy, with a business flavor. A couple days ago I went to see a actuary vice president give a seminar on her career and the career of actuary in general. Actuaries make business-related mathematical models and explain them to others in business.

    Maybe you think you wouldn't like the tests now but when you're guaranteed a pay raise with every test you pass (which is typical, it seems) see what you think then.

    Not that I'm trying to sell you on it, it just seems to me an easy way to make lucrative use of strong math skills. My tune might change after a while on the job.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2006
  8. Apr 6, 2006 #7
    From what I've heard, a lot of the actual calculations are now done with software, and the actuary pretty much just supplies the data and analyzes the result. I'm not saying I'm right, but I don't have a hard time believing that. I still just don't think it's the right fit for me, though. :redface:

    What about working for the govenment developing algorithms or something? Is there any sort of demand for those types of jobs?
  9. Apr 6, 2006 #8


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    Much of science and engineering involves computation, e.g. Computational Physics, Finite Element Analysis, Computational Fluid Dynamics, etc.

    Usually however, the person doing such calculations has a degree in Physics or the appropriate engineering discipline, with perhaps some additional background (course work) in mathematics or applied math.

    Certainly there are opportunities for applied mathematicians (or perhaps computational mathematicians). Companies, which produce the codes which scientists and engineers use, would likely hire applied or computational mathematicians.

    Look at the companies which produce Mathcad or Mathematica (Wolfram Research - http://www.wolfram.com/ ), or FEM programs (www.abaqus.com or www.ansys.com).
  10. Apr 16, 2006 #9


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    One math/computational speciality that has broad applicability in research/education/industry is statistics. I have a friend who is a Statistics Professor at a very well known U.S. university, and through his research and consulting he has gained intimate understanding of very diverse fields/industries. If he decided to leave the university (not likely), he'd have people lined around the corner to hire him. The colleagues he went to school with work in areas such as pharmaceuticals, internet search engines, reliability engineers. It can be very computationally intensive, especially if you get into optimization involving hundreds or thousands of variables. Something to consider.
  11. Apr 18, 2006 #10
    Thanks for the input guys! At Penn State, there are 7 different mathematics BS degree options. These include:

    Actuarial Math - Forget that; it's most likely too specialized and I don't want to be an actuary anyway.
    Applied Analysis - Seems interesting; you can choose a certain field and take 4 courses related to the field you want to apply your math skills towards.
    Computational Math - I'm kind of interested in this one; mostly algorithms and computational math courses are taught, including some computer science.
    General Math - This one might be the best choice, because you basically pick and choose your own math curriculum, although I'm not sure what I would choose!
    Graduate Study - Basically prepares you for grad school; I'm not sure this would be the best option for me though.
    Systems Analysis - Supposedly this degree is to prepare me for problem solving and analysis in different fields. Not sure what to think of this one.
    Teacher Certification - Like the actuarial option, forget it; too specialized.

    All the information I got was from this page. Does the computational math major seem to offer a broad enough math education, or should I try the general math option? I'm going to get a business/liberal arts minor to broaden my skill set/make myself a little more marketable should I decide to enter industry.
  12. Apr 18, 2006 #11


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    I would try writing a simple program first. If that doesn't immediatly get you high pondering about all the things that you can do with this beautiful technology, then you ought to rethink computer science. :smile: I mean, you ought to pick a field that you really like, rather than the one that you will get the most money out of, otherwise your lack of interest in the major will produce a bad academic performance, you won't learn much, you won't get much money and you will definitely be unhappy because CS courses are not the easiest.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2006
  13. Apr 19, 2006 #12
    Well, I already know some basic C++ (if statements, loops, arrays, pointers, functions, etc.) and I like programming, but I don't know if I'd be good at extremely complex real-world stuff or if I would like coding every day. I really like math, and I did well all through high school. I figure that with a math degree, I can take classes on a subject I really enjoy and if I wanted to do some programming, I still might be able to get a job like that.

    Right now I'm teaching myself C++ from the book C++ Primer Plus, and as soon as I'm done with that I'm going to learn PHP and MySQL for my own entertainment/knowledge. Like I said, I enjoy programming, but I don't know if I could do it every day or if I would even be that good at it. Basically, I want to keep my career options open.
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