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Math Would it be possible for a mathematician to do this?

  1. Oct 15, 2012 #1
    So last year i was in grade 11....and i wanted to be a mathematician, i figured id start out with undergrad in a mathematics program and eventually work my way up to a phd in mathematics and become a mathematician....however i read a joke on these forums which i sort of took to heart and became somewhat discouraged..the joke was:

    "What is the difference between a mathematician and a large pizza?"

    "A large pizza can feed a family of four"

    I am now in grade 12, about half way through my advanced functions course, and next i will be taking calculus.
    Since then i have learned more and enough to not take that joke too seriously...since that obviously cant be very accurate....

    anyways i was thinking of going into mathematics....but i am not EXACTLY sure as to what i want to do...initially i was thinking something along the lines of engineering...finance was also a potential option...i kept thinking of different possible careers and then i realized that all these careers had a 'common factor' if you will...they all required (some more than others) a decent(if not good/deep and thorough) understanding of mathematics...and then it hit me....at the center of it all was mathematics...weather one wants to become a physicist.....an engineer.... a chemist....a person in finance...or in programming..they all require at different levels, competence in mathematics...so i thought to myself, hey why not just go into mathematics? Im good at it, i enjoy studying it, i certainly have the grades for it..i was originally considering it anyway..so i might as well go into it as well

    but as i said im not exactly sure as to what i want to do...i dont have it down to a specific yet.....now on to the question and the read for this post...would it be possible for me to go into mathematics...a few years and hard work down the line....becoming a mathematician and going into a technical field or technical line of work? Say do an engineers job as a mathematician...or a technical position in a field?

    I know that mathematicians/physicists/engineers in large numbers go to work in finance/wall street/insurance/baking/programming as well

    i know its a long and somewhat of an unorganized post, but thanks for bearing with me :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 15, 2012 #2
    If you get to calculus in high school, your ahead of most students. You could do math + engineering, science, or a business field. I doubt you'll regret it.

    All of my best college math professors did not have Ph.D's in math, but then again they weren't teaching at the Ivy Leagues.

    I heard accountants have the highest suicide rate though. I'd stay away from that branch.
  4. Oct 16, 2012 #3


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    If you really like math AND you want to feed a family of four, I suggest you check out becoming an actuary. My high school calc teacher (who did have a PhD in math) had a brother who was an actuary. The teacher said his brother had to take more math (including much statistical analysis) than he, the teacher did, to become an actuary.

    At least by becoming an actuary, you will know whether accountants have the highest suicide rate.
  5. Oct 16, 2012 #4


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    Well, I can say your teacher lied to you if he said his brother had to take more math than a PhD in mathematics. The amount of mathematics a person who majors in math with a focus on actuary are pretty similiar, except they split somewhere around the third year. At my school, it's the difference between taking Real Analysis II or Theory of Interest, Partial Differential Equations, or Multivariate Analysis.

    I can say that it is hard work becoming an actuary and the ones I knew were all smart, hard working people. If you enjoy making money (yay!), working hard (boo!) and stress over test (yay i mean boo!), then it's definitely a field worth looking into, especially if like math, money, and business.

    As for the OP original question, is it possible to become a mathematician and then work in a tehcnical field, yes it is possible, but why take the long way towards it? I'm not entirely sure if you know what it means to be a mathematician. It's the subtle (but hard) difference between using Calculus to find velocity versus proving that the limit of some function exist. It'll take more than a few years of hard work to call yourself a mathematician. It isn't like an engineering degree, where you go to school, get a degree, get hired by company, and become an engineer for all intent and purposes. The truth is there is a reason why engineering exist as an engineering major. It trains people to look at problems a certain way, to know certain things, to do certain things, and any math program you go to will not teach you this. You'll learn all about rings, fields, and domains, very little about heat transfer, fluid, isentropic flow, myriad of other things engineers have spent the last 4 years becoming good friends with.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2012
  6. Oct 16, 2012 #5
    An advantage to the actuarial career path in the US (most places in the world aren't quite like this) is that your undergrad major is not particularly important. In fact, I would advise you NOT to get an actuarial science degree or masters in the US. Just get a degree in whatever you want and then pass a few exams.

    I do think having a mathematically strong undergrad helps, but it's not necessary.

    The (large) accounting department where I work has not suffered any suicides. However, if I had one of their jobs instead of mine, I'd throw myself in a wood chipper.
  7. Oct 16, 2012 #6
    hm... so what is an actuary? Is it like an advanced version of an accountant?

    Also the reasoning behind me going into strictly mathematics is not that i want to do technical work...it is that mathematics is at the center of everything...from engineering to physics...to finance etc....

    sure a mathematician may not be familiar with heat transfer and the other things you mentioned, but i bet a large part of their curriculum will be related to mathematics...and they apply that mathematics they learn to problem solve concepts...in physics...

    in other words they use the mathematics to find the heat transfers...and deal with fluid transfers etc etc..

    the way i think about it is...mathematics is the paint....the paint brush...the canvas...and the like...whereas the painting itself is done by an engineer...or a physicist...

    so they use the tools provided by mathematics in their work...ofcourse a mathematician wouldnt be familiar with their work...but it wouldnt be far fetched for a mathematician to look over and become familiarized with those concepts..
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2012
  8. Oct 16, 2012 #7
    Actuaries estimate future contingent liabilities. They use that information to maintain the solvency of their company and stay in compliance with State and Federal regulations. They are often involved in other endeavors, such as financial forecasting and asset valuation.
  9. Oct 16, 2012 #8
    so what is the difference between a mathematician and an actuary? Identical training and stuff? Could i be an actuary if i am a mathematician with a phd?

    in terms of becoming an actuary...what is the career path one takes through school??

    for instance for a mathematician they would have to get

    undergrad in mathematics >>>masters>>>phd in mathematics...

    how does this work for an actuary?
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2012
  10. Oct 16, 2012 #9
    The education might be similar up to a certain point, but the training is very different.

    Actuaries are a member of a profession, and so are better compared to Doctors, Lawyers and Engineers. You are not an actuary until you are a member of an appropriate actuarial organization. In the US these are typically the Society of Actuaries, the Casualty Actuarial Society and the American Academy of Actuaries.

    Anyone who meets the requirements and is accepted into one of the organizations listed above is an actuary (some might say the AAA membership is critical, but it probably isn’t). None of those organizations require a certain degree. Most actuaries in the US have a BS in math, but there are a lot of exceptions. I have an MS in physics. If you look, you’ll find actuaries with music and English degrees. What matters is whether you can pass the exams required to become a member.

    So you can become an actuary with a PhD in math. I wouldn’t suggest it, though. That’s a lot of suffering for very, very little gain. The PhD might even be counterproductive.

    Determining who is a “mathematician” is more difficult – how much math do you have to do each day to consider yourself one?

    The most important difference between an actuary and a mathematician (whatever that is), is that actuarial work is not primarily mathematical in nature. Actuarial work is business work that requires the understanding of a peculiar type of mathematics, not math work you do at a business.
  11. Oct 16, 2012 #10
    Just to be clear the way this works for an actuary is:

    1) Get a college degree
    2) Pass exams
    3) Get an entry level job ("Actuarial Analyst")
    4) Pass enough exams to be credentialed ("Actuary")

    You can start on the exams in college (in fact, I'd recommend it).
  12. Oct 16, 2012 #11
    hm...so you say that most actuaries have an undergrad degree in mathematics?
  13. Oct 16, 2012 #12
    I don't have hard statistics, but that's my experience and my understanding based on discussions elsewhere.

    It takes 4 - 12 years to get throught he actuarial exams. They aren't trivial. Piling graduate work on top of that isn't particularly useful.
  14. Oct 16, 2012 #13
    @supernova. People who come out of mathematics alone are usually not well suited for technical jobs like engineering. Not to mention all of the competition. It does vary of what mathematics you specialize in and what other electives you may take in college.

    That is, for technical jobs, you're better off doing applied mathematics, statistics ,and programming if you're looking forward to these kinds of careers.

    Becoming a professional on the job mathematician (research, professor, etc) is also very competitive.

    Furthermore. Do you see yourself doing math as a career? A hobby? Both?

    If it is because you see it as a hobby. You may find it best to double major, minor, or just take the most interesting math courses when you can.

    You may be interested in math now but seeing as you're in pre-calc (I pressume), you still have a bit to go until you see real mathematics. Both the proof based and the applied/computational side. You may want to wait to begin focusing on a major until a bit after.

    @somewhere else: Nowadays. Taking calculus in high school isn't really being ahead of the game. More accurately, in these cases, those who take calculus in high school are still prettyclose to most other students that make it to and major in STEM, etc in college.
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