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In an annual CareerCast.com survey of the best and worst occupations in the U.S., mathematicians often land in the top few spots. With an average annual income of about $95,000, enviable working conditions, and considerable autonomy, math majors don’t only rank high, but math-related careers occupy over a third of the top twenty careers. If math has been one of your favorite classes in high school and you love to solve problems, especially those with only one “right” answer, you might want to consider a major in math. Don’t see yourself as a mathematician? Look instead to a study of applied mathematics.
Applied mathematics is the study of the mathematical methods and modeling that are typically used in professions as varied as science, engineering, business, and industry. In this branch of mathematics, mathematicians work on practical problems rather than developing math theory. Although applied math majors spend much of their time studying pure math, they do so with an eye to using the skills they develop to prepare for a particular career or purpose. As an applied math major, you’ll take courses such as calculus, differential equations, linear algebra and discrete mathematics, but you’ll combine these studies with your career interests. For example, you might apply mathematical principles to problems studied in physics, computer science, statistics, systems design, engineering, probability theory, or computer programming.
What kinds of career paths are open to students who major in applied mathematics? Although many professions use math in their daily work, there are a host of careers for which a strong background in mathematics is a necessary prerequisite for success. According to the Society For Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), mathematicians and computational scientists may work in a variety of vastly different career areas.
A bachelor’s degree in applied math will prepare you for jobs in statistics, actuarial sciences, mathematical modeling, cryptography, and math education. You’ll apply your knowledge of mathematical principles to solve real-world problems. For example, mathematical modeling is used to make predictions based on statistical evidence. This can be applied in physiology to determine what will occur as blood pressure increases, in medicine to track outbreaks of epidemics, or in engineering to determine how quickly heat can be dissipated. Financial institutions such as banks, investment companies and hedge funds use mathematical modeling to explain and predict the behavior of financial markets.
Actuarial science takes math and statistics and applies these subjects to the finance and insurance industries. Actuaries rank among the top few careers in the U.S. for both job satisfaction and salaries.
Cryptography deals with the practice of hiding information. Once used to aid spies during wartime, cryptographers might now focus on protecting the security of credit cards and ATM machines.
Computer animation and digital imaging combine diverse fields of study such as math, computer science, fine art, traditional animation, physics and biomechanics. This knowledge can be applied to a variety of areas such as medical diagnostics, entertainment, and fine art.
Climatology uses simulations to understand the forces that control our climate. These simulations utilize data from satellites, ocean buoys and other monitoring equipment, and create mathematical models to predict future events.
You’ll find more careers for applied math majors at SIAM’s website at www.siam.org.
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