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Is a B.S in applied math employable?

  1. Mar 3, 2014 #1
    A little background about myself: I was admitted as Biochemical engineering major at UCD out of high school. I had no confidence in my mathematical ability at the time, but i applied for engineering because i believed I wouldn't be employable otherwise, which I still believe to this day. Anyways, to make a long story short, emotional problems + lack of confidence + poor studying habits got me dismissed from UCD by the end of freshmen year. It is now supposedly my third year of college, which i have spent the last 1.5 years of at a community college. Last year (my second year of college), i only took 3 classes: statistics, calc 1, calc 2. This year, i took english, public speaking, accounting,and am currently taking calc based physics, poli sci, and art history.

    The dilemma is that i don't know if I should choose mechanical engineering or applied math major. Applied math major is appealing to me because the major is really short (about 48 units). Since i'm already kind of late to the game. it is very appealing to me. If i were 18, i would get do engineering since it is employable but my parents are rushing me to graduate, and engineering has so many units. I've heard that applied math is a bit more challenging while engineering is a lot more work. If i were to do engineering, it would take me at least another 4.5 years to graduate! With applied math, my chances of dropping out are smaller since the program is less rigorous and is much shorter. I could perhaps finish within 3 more years.

    But how employable is an applied math major? Surely it would be more employable than a history, english, pure math, or even a pure science degree, right? Is it likely that i would work at mc donalds with an applied math degree ( with emphasis in operations research, probability, and computer sci)? Should I major in mech E instead, since applied math is so unemployable? afterall, its "engineering or would you like fries with that," right?

    I will not be returning to UCD since my local CSU (SF State) will be letting me attend college for free. so yeah it's a degree from a mediocre college.

    Also, I am really interested in classical physics because i like to 1). apply math to solve problems 2). enjoy learning how the world works. I also enjoy things to do with strategy and optimization, which is why if i major in applied math, i would take operations research and probability.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2014
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  3. Mar 3, 2014 #2
    If you develop programming skills, you will probably be very employable. If you want to do mathematical work though, at least in Maryland, a masters is preferable. Most of them work for the federal government.
  4. Mar 3, 2014 #3
    I second taking a lot of programming courses. It will make you much more employable. In fact, is some kind of programming degree such as Computer Science or Software Engineering out of the picture for you?
  5. Mar 3, 2014 #4
    Well the applied math program at SFSU has you choose a "package", one being a "Computer science package". I'm going to choose that one. The package has three classes:Assembly Language Programming, Data Structures, Analysis of Algorithms I. Would these classes suffice? The applied math major itself also requires you to take a class of C++.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2014
  6. Mar 3, 2014 #5
    If possible, I would like to avoid IT as a profession since it is evolving at an explosive rate and would make me very vulnerable to age discrimination.

    CS degree has almost as many units as Engineering. If i were to do CS, i think i'd rather do engineering.
  7. Mar 3, 2014 #6


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    Depends what you mean by employable. Could you find a job that pays well with a math degree? Sure. Will it necessarily be a STEM field? Probably not. Instead of working 'foward' and picking a degree and then finding a job you can do with it, work backwards, try to find a job you would like to do and see what is required. Even if it requires more time in school, I feel as it would be better to do, then graduate and wonder 'Well what now?"

    I also suggest looking into statistics or actuary as a career field :). Along with learning to programming.
  8. Mar 3, 2014 #7
    I did a lot of applied maths courses and found them really tough compared to my other courses. But they were mostly traditional courses: "calculus of variations", "solving PDE's", that kind of thing. I did end up doing a lot of programming in "real world jobs", for which I was mostly self taught (those were the early days!) So, yeah, definitely go for the "Computer science package". Those courses look like exactly the type of thing that will get you a job, will not be be *too* hard, and hopefully you will enjoy them.
  9. Mar 3, 2014 #8
    Marnemath, i think those are pure words of wisdom. :)

    What i mean by employable would be ability to land ANY job that requires a college degree. Now, in theory, this would mean a degree in any major, but I have many friends who got english, history, poli sci degrees from UCD and UCB, and they are working at places like trader joe's and mc donalds -jobs that high school graduates could do.
  10. Mar 3, 2014 #9


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    Well, yes you'll be able to land a job that pays more than McDonald, but it doesn't just happen, especially not in this economy. You need to take action to make yourself attractive. If you want a job that doesn't have to be STEM, then you need to look at what everyone else who does get a job is doing. They are doing internships, volunteer work, organizing, taking leadership positions in campus organizations. Basically, proving to a business community they have the ability to be a productive members of a team.

    Nevertheless, you should spend some quality time laying down reasonable career expectations and working on a plan that will get you there. Deviations may occur, but having structure, at least in my experience, is a formula for success.
  11. Mar 3, 2014 #10

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    MarneMath has some good advice.

    I would suggest you think about things from the potential employers' point of view - she wants to know what you learned in college that can earn her money. A lot of students seem to think that the most important thing they left college with was the sheepskin - and that couldn't be farther from the truth.
  12. Mar 5, 2014 #11
    would a B.S in statistics be more employable than a B.S in applied math (with emphasis in Computer sci)? (At CSUs, they call their statistics major "statistics", although they have the curriculum as those of applied statistics degrees)
  13. Mar 5, 2014 #12


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    I can't comment on employable of a b.s. in statistics vs applied math. I never had to look for work without a masters in Statistics. I've hired people with Statistics degrees though, and the key aspect I look from them is the ability to use SPSS, SAS, or R, programming, and competency in the basic assumptions best into common test. So regardless, of which path you decide, I think your best bet towards employment is being able to program WELL and efficiently while at the same time having proficiency in understanding the overall structure of whatever you are programming.
  14. Mar 5, 2014 #13


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    If you find a profession where you won't be vulnerable due to age discrimination, please let us know.
  15. Mar 6, 2014 #14
    Public sector... in the UK at least (!) Once you're a school teacher, or University IT person, you're "in", until you retire on a good pension.

    Difficult to say about whether taking the Statistics option would be better.

    If you want to avoid the competition, and "non jobs", be most wary of the "Brian Cox effect." He's made lots of youngsters want to think about "the origins of time" and such stuff, and there's about one job a year offered to do that kind of thing.

    So is statistics sexy? Maybe the "Freakanomics" series has made it a highly competitive field? There is a thread "where jobs go a begging" somewhere on here, I'd dig that out and see what Zapperz et. al. have to say about jobs they just can't fill.

    In my experience, almost any University programming job has very few applicants - the programmers seeking serious money go work for Google et. al. So, if you're happy with the kind of wage an average physics lecturer gets, then University programming/IT jobs are an easy option. After some years experience you might even get that Google job...

    The key thing is to learn how to program. It doesn't matter what you program (statistics, finite difference, interfaces,...)

    P.S. Old guys can easily learn the latest tricks, C++ isn't that different from Fortran, all serious computer languages are Turing complete, so things don't changed at all really :)
  16. Mar 6, 2014 #15
    This. Basically, the only fields that are immune to age discrimination are medicine and academia. In these fields, age and experience are assets. Quite the opposite in high tech, imo. You have something called "temporary knowledge capital", since technology evolves so quickly and what you have experience in grows obsolete. Employers often can't justify paying older people more when younger applicants know the latest technology and are willing to work for less money.

    Last edited: Mar 6, 2014
  17. Mar 6, 2014 #16
    I think your opinion is unfounded, and itself an example of age discrimination. There are many older people working in IT. I was one until I took my experience and made lots of dosh in the private sector. You need to learn to value older people, opinions like this are unlikely to land you a job, 'cause not only are older people technically able, they also run the show! (Except in unusual places, like some silicon valley startups, where the CEO doesn't want to boss around people who look like his dad...)
  18. Mar 7, 2014 #17


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    I don't buy the "temporary knowledge capital" business. It's not like your brain gets filled during college, and nothing more enters it once you're in the workforce. Many companies make significant investments in their employees to keep them up on new developments in technology. In addition, there are lots of ways to keep up with technology via books, online classes, and the internet.

    I recently retired from a large software firm where I had been working well past the usual age for retirement. The choice to retire was entirely my own - I could have stayed on if I had wanted to. And my manager also wanted to know if I would be interested in doing contract work in the future.

    Having said that, there is some truth in what you said about the cost of existing employees vs. new employees. That's why it's so important to keep abreast of new developments in your techical area.
  19. Mar 7, 2014 #18


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    homeomorphic your posts about your problems getting a job have been moved to a new thread in career guidance so that this thread stays on topic.
  20. Mar 7, 2014 #19
    it's not about if you buy the "temporary knowledge capital" business,but rather if you buy that employers buy it. I buy that experience in any field should be valued, but I also buy that employers are gonna prefer money over experience in the field of high tech, especially IT.
  21. Mar 7, 2014 #20
    this is not my opinion, but rather my opinion of employers' opinions. I don't think older people should be discriminated, but I do think they are discriminated against. I do think with age comes wisdom and experience, but i also think that employers don't agree with this. At least not enough to pay much more for an experienced person when a kid fresh out of school knows the latest technology and would work for less $.
  22. Mar 10, 2014 #21
    'Sell the sizzle, not the sausage'. So selling: 'Degree in X' is not very tempting. Selling: 'Skills in X' that tie into the role-related business needs is a lot more tempting.

    I got offered a sweet technology job (post-economic crisis) on the back of two philosophy degrees, competing against tech post/grads.

    I got this because I really researched everything (the role, interviews, assessment centres, the company, the industry etc.) and I really tied the skills - that I just happened to get from philosophy - directly to the job.

    Even being able to see the conceptual ties is something I got from the degree (knowing the historical connections, for example, between philosophy and computer science via logic, or current work by Google's Director of Engineering in philosophy of mind and language, gave me something to talk about convincingly).

    So for example, the assessment day was: group work, interview, presentation.

    Well 'group work' was obviously going to be a 'moral dilemma' debate. Bread and butter for philosophy majors from day one. I breezed through.

    Interview - like many arts graduates, I spent my degree learning to research a topic and construct arguments to be given to a sceptical human listener, so that wasn't too hard to make the case.

    Presentation - I spent years in amateur theatre so knew it'd be a strength of mine to get up and control the room. Others there were nervous, red faced, sweating etc. This was pure luck.

    I'm not being down about tech degrees or saying go do an arts degree or anything like that. I knew less about tech than anyone else in the room. Everyone else in the room was smart. No doubt some - many - were smarter than me. The point is: I turned every possible thing to my advantage, from hobbies on stage, to experience of moral dilemmas, anticipating objections to arguments (learned from writing essays) etc.

    Now you might struggle to even get to interview (where you will shine) if your degree has the wrong name; but I specifically applied to a job with a good training package since I knew I could not compete with tech grads for a job that wants you doing stuff from day one. But this, again, is all about researching your own strengths and weaknesses, and picking good targets.

    So I think it does not matter (too much) what your degree is called, if you have no plans to enter a vocation like medicine, say. What matters is what you can (prove that you can) do, and this could come from anywhere.
  23. Mar 10, 2014 #22
    Your story confirms my point of view. If you are a wiz at job-searching, you can do what you want. However, if you are NOT a wiz at job searching, it behooves you to study something like engineering, rather than philosophy or even math. Or else become a wiz at job searching. But for some people, that's much more difficult than just studying engineering. My dad is a professor of EE and reports that it is almost trivial for his students to get jobs.
  24. Mar 10, 2014 #23
    In the interest of fairness (and in case my first post reads as arrogant) I should say I also have many stories of never making it to interview to get the chance to make my case. I even had one recruiter (IT) reply to, essentially, mock me and tell me I was wasting my time, and why on earth would I be interested in software, or they in hiring me? That was fun.
  25. Mar 11, 2014 #24
    Why not just do engineering? What's another 1.5 years of your parents nagging as opposed to getting a random degree and hoping you get a job? They will really be nagging then, because you won't be able to find employment. Besides engineering allows you to apply math to solve real problems, you learn how things work and how to design things for real world usage, it's much more practical than a pure science degree like math or physics. You also get a taste of everything over the curriculum, for example you will get basic physics courses, basic economics, extensive mathematics, basic courses in manufacturing process and operations and programming courses, you also get some chemistry and material science courses, and of course design courses.The core mechanical engineering courses are just application oriented versions of physics courses, thermodynamics, heat transfer and fluid dynamics are all covered in dedicated physics courses although the focus is on more theory rather than application. Statics and dynamics is an application of classical physics, in fact I first learned what a moment was in university physics 1. So to me that is a lot more you can offer an employer because the degree offers practical skills and knowledge and it covers a broad range of fields. With mechanical engineering you can go into aerospace, nuclear, manufacturing, environmental, research, it's almost limitless. Couple that degree with an MBA and you'll be very employable. My advice go for the engineering degree and get something you know is employable.
  26. Mar 11, 2014 #25
    I'd tend to agree, of course, but in some cases, if they are not at all interested in it, they probably shouldn't do it.

    Of course, it's good to be open-minded about what you could get interested in. I'm now interested in stuff like finance and actuarial science that I never thought I would be interested in at all.
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