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I'm not sure what I want to do with my life

  1. Jul 10, 2012 #1
    I've always loved and been good at math, but I've never seen subjects that are taught in high school as very practical on their own. (If you like biology, you become a doctor; if you like English, you become an author?). Anyway, for me, if you like math, you become an engineer, so I applied to college as an electrical engineering major. (I'm a year in, by the way, but I'm going to community college, so I'm just working on GE requirements right now.) The only thing is that I'm not sure if I even like this application of math. Maybe I'm just really uninformed, but I'm scared to change my major to math because of the lack of job opportunities compared to engineering. I'd rather be miserable and employed, ultimately. Is it difficult to get a job with a B.S. in math? Enlighten me, please. Idon'teven...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 10, 2012 #2
    Have you ever thought about physics? Kinda a bridge between mathematics and engineering if you ask me. I am also a first year engineering major (Mechanical) but I like the application of math and physics to the real world.

    Someone once said, "Pick a career where if you didn't get paid you would still enjoy what you do. Then you never have to "work" a day in your life".

    Please do not pick a career based on money alone. Time is too precious for that.
  4. Jul 10, 2012 #3
    you like math, and so you go into finance. Two math majors I know now work for Credit Suisse.
  5. Jul 10, 2012 #4
    There are many careers that will be open to you.

    First of all, let's think about all those jobs that require a college degree not because of the specific materials that you learned, but because of what the degree says about you as a person. These are jobs like sales, for example, that can move you into higher positions. Also, consider things like "business analysts" who need quantitative skills, but who might need some OJT for the business stuff.

    Now, there are lots of areas that require a technical degree. Lot's of software companies will hire you if you are a math major (and of course know how to program.) You could go into actuarial stuff. You could work in a number of finance roles (though this might require a graduate degree.) Anytime someone needs data analysed, you can do that. The list goes on.
  6. Jul 11, 2012 #5
    I like physics, too, but I still face the same dilemma. What kinds of jobs can I get with a physics B.S. that are actually physics-type jobs.

    To clarify, I don't want to do any kind of finance or actuarial work. I'd rather do something that's really higher math-oriented. I don't want to be stuck doing arithmetic.
  7. Jul 12, 2012 #6
    Those jobs wouldn't have you "doing" arithmetic. People don't do arithmetic; computers do arithmetic. The same goes for multiplication, division, exponents, differential equations, etc.
  8. Jul 12, 2012 #7
    if you are really good in math you can have a major in "operational research" ie: mathematical programming, optimization, help of decision, production scheduling, graph theory. ect ...
  9. Jul 12, 2012 #8
    what about a professor in math ?
  10. Jul 12, 2012 #9
    like halifax12 said, math professor. If you truly truly enjoy math, and I mean really love it, and wouldn't mind devoting yourself to math alone, switch majors to mathematics, get into grad school, get your PhD, and apply as an attending professor at a university. The money isn't great, but who cares?
  11. Jul 13, 2012 #10
    If you're in the EE program, try taking a course in signal processing. There's tons of relatively sophisticated math required there (at least I thought so when I took it).
  12. Jul 13, 2012 #11
    This is exactly right. The "fun" part is a lot of the math is also used in pure Mathematics community and in Computer Science. But for some unknown reason, all three groups use different notation. You can imagine the joy in that.

    But seriously, if you take graduate signal processing and you go more toward the theory side of it that is quite the rabbit hole of applied math.

    I think my brain *still* hurts from when I took Random Signals and Processes 12 years ago!
  13. Jul 16, 2012 #12
    I don't think math is an impractical major. Depending on what kinds of math you study, you could eventually become a statistician, an actuary, a mathematician, a cryptanalyst, etc. I've also heard that businesses like to hire math majors because they know how to think logically and solve problems.
  14. Jul 17, 2012 #13
    Well, it's not clear that you will continue to like math, since at some point, it becomes a pretty different subject from what you've seen so far.

    Personally, I never liked math much until I got into engineering and physics at the end of high school and at the beginning of my undergrad. It then became much more interesting at higher levels. Many other people will experience the opposite, I think.

    There are very few people who belong in math. When I was an undergrad, I was running circles around my classmates. I probably had literally almost twice as high a homework grade as the next highest student in my first real analysis class. I thought I was ridiculously good at it, and it seemed clear that it was my calling. Something I was born to do. It seemed like a no-brainer that I should be a mathematician. That was 7 years ago. It turned out I was wrong. In grad school, I turned out to be fairly bad at it by the standards of professional mathematicians. I'm very disillusioned with math research now.

    It's a bit depressing to have to work so hard if you're not going to do something that's very useful to society. And with all the intense competition in academia, it gets to be more about working like a slave than it is about playing around with math and having fun. I hate the idea of competition in math. It really takes a lot of the fun out of it. But that's what you have to face if you go to grad school: eventually, you start to get this "publish or else" vibe. It's awful. Rather than publishing because you find something interesting, you might find yourself in a position where you're publishing just for the sake of publishing. But, I tried to do math because I enjoyed it, not because I wanted a big chore to do. To hell with that. If I don't have anything that I find interesting enough to work on enough to publish it, I don't want to publish anything. I just want to keep exploring. I always want to work on other things. My thesis is like a big obstacle in the way of me pursuing my interests. This sort of feeling is very common among math grad students. 90% of us never do any further research after the PhD.

    The only people who should go to grad school in math should belong in the following two categories:

    1) People who are WAY ahead of the game when they get there. Have most of your graduate classes out of the way already, so you can get the quals out of the way ASAP and start research. Also, get a head start on your thesis by mastering Latex, mathematical illustrations with Inkscape, and having some experience with writing large mathematical documents, and the horrendous editing process that goes with it. It's better not to have any of this stuff come as a nasty surprise, like it did for me. Also, learn as much math as you possibly can. By being ahead of the game, you have much more flexibility to try to do what interests you, rather than what you are forced to do because you need publications.

    2) People who really love math to a sort of unhealthy degree, almost to the point of appearing comical to non-mathematicians.

    Getting a job after a BS in math is something I haven't had to look into, but I'm sure it's doable. A double major is a good option, if you don't mind the extra time and effort it takes.
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