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Is a math major a jack-of-all-trades in terms of marketable

  1. Jun 23, 2015 #1

    If you got a B.S. in Math, you probably know some programming, but not enough to qualify you for a software engineering job; some statistics, but not enough to qualify you to be an actuary; and some data science-type stuff, but not enough to qualify you for a data analysis or database administrator job.

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  3. Jun 24, 2015 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Once you reach senior undergrad BS(c) level, you will be specializing in some particular branch of mathematics.
    Check out a college prospectus.
  4. Jun 24, 2015 #3


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    To Jamin2112,

    No I do not agree, in large part because you are making an assumption that a BS in math is uniformly the same across all schools, which is simply not the case. Beyond core courses (calculus, algebra, analysis, geometry, topology, differential equations, possibly number theory, probability, etc.) there is considerable variability in terms of course requirements in different programs, and also differing levels of flexibility in terms of courses to take.

    For example, in your example, you say that if you have a BS in math, you know some programming but not enough to quality for a software engineering job -- that would depend on how much programming or CS courses you take. Many BS students in math that I know of have taken many CS courses, often enough to either do the equivalent of double-majoring or minoring in the field, and they would have more than enough knowledge and qualifications for a software engineering job. Ditto for data science/statistics jobs.

    In your example about being an actuary -- actuarial qualifications depend crucially on internship experience and ability to pass the exams, which is independent of what is studied in a BS math program.

    In other words, how marketable a BS math is depends crucially on the student -- a math degree can be very employable or very unemployable, depending on how the individual student structures their course choices (not to mention internship opportunities and networking).

    [Aside: I take it that you are posting this because of your own bitter experiences in the job field that you posted here on PF, but your experiences aren't necessarily the norm.]
  5. Jun 24, 2015 #4
    In the US a math major is not a bad starting point for a path to actuarial work. I've known lots of math majors who decided to take exams and become actuaries. In other countries this is less often the case, and for Canada I think Statguy2000 stated things well.

    I've never heard of a math BS having any skills related to data science at all. I'm sure it happens, but it's definitely not the norm. I guess it depends on what one means by "data science", as it's not a well defined term. I typically think of it as encompasing statistical learning techniques, which are not typically taught in undergraduate math classes.

    In my opinion a math BS can lay down a pretty good foundation, but then you have to build on it somehow. In For math this is the nature of the subject; in physics undergrad degrees, the lack of employable skills is very much by design.
  6. Jun 25, 2015 #5


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    I would consider "data science" to incorporate not only statistical learning/machine learning techniques and principles, but also aspects of multivariate statistics, inference, database design, and optimization. Various aspects of these are taught in statistics, applied math, CS, or in operations research departments (where these departments are available), although to what extent any one of these departments cover (or should cover) the various aspects of "data science" can be debated.

    I would agree that in general, undergraduate math classes do not typically the material typically required for data science, but I would imagine it would be fairly easy for such students to take technical elective courses in CS, statistics, applied math, etc. which would cover such material.

    I would disagree with you that a physics degree cannot provide a good foundation in the same way that a math degree though, of which we've discussed at length.
  7. Jun 25, 2015 #6
    Yes, you are absolutely one of many people without a BS in physics who have come to this forum to tell people with BS in physics how much better it is than they think it is. We agree wholeheartedly that this is the state of our disagreement, and I'm glad you took another opportunity to bring it up, as it will no doubt contribute greatly to this thread.
  8. Jun 25, 2015 #7


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    I don't wish to hijack this thread, but as far as I'm aware, I have never told people how much better their BS in physics is than they apparently think. What I've stated before is that, IMHO, a BS in physics is much like a BS in mathematics -- it can be an employable degree or an unemployable degree, depending on how the individual student structures his/her courses, and what skills the said student develops or acquires. And given my experiences as someone who has an undergraduate degree in math, I feel that I am in a position to offer an opinion as to the marketability of a math degree that is not based on ignorance.

    At least at my alma mater, an undergraduate degree in physics is quite a flexible degree program, only slightly less flexible than an undergraduate degree in math (there are some degree programs like the joint specialist in math and physics which is not that flexible, but I am not considering those programs in this discussion). I don't believe my school is especially unique in this regard, and I find it hard to believe that other physics degree programs don't offer similar flexibility to allow students to customize their studies to acquire the skills that would make them more employable.
  9. Jul 1, 2015 #8


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    Look at a typical physics or math course outline and you'll see no programming or data science courses at all, unless it requires one for the sake of breadth. If you want those classes, you minor or double major. Non-vocational college degrees demonstrate that you have a certain level of competency. Nothing more. Physics and Math in particular teach you how to come up with creative solutions to problems. Fitting, since that's exactly what you'll have to do for the problem of finding a job.
  10. Jul 3, 2015 #9
    A BS in math with a 3.9 likely knows a lot more than many other degrees with a 3.0 GPA.

    But knowledge and skills also depend on the specific classes and research experiences. Applied research experiences make a BS in math more marketable than pure math research experiences.
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