Mathematician  What They Do

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Mathematicians Career Video

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dotFor mathematicians, career success truly is a numbers game. These math whizzes create new mathematical theories and techniques to solve economic, scientific, engineering and business problems.

Mathematicians aren't just found in universities. They can be found in a wide range of settings, doing the behind-the-scenes calculations that help us better understand the world.

"Mathematicians can work in universities, in different departments within the government, or in private companies," says mathematician Michel Couillard. "Mathematics can take you almost anywhere you want to go."

dotThere are two types of mathematics: theoretical (otherwise known as "pure" or "traditional" mathematics) and applied. Theoretical mathematicians develop new principles and find new relationships between existing principles. Although they don't necessarily use the practical applications of their research, the knowledge they provide is often used in science and engineering.

"It's important to emphasize that mathematics is a very collaborative discipline," says mathematician Jill Pipher. "The image of a mathematician as a solitary genius working alone on a difficult problem is not an accurate reflection of the way most mathematics is accomplished or discovered these days."

Applied mathematicians may analyze the most efficient way to schedule airline routes, or the effects of new drugs on disease. They use mathematical theories and techniques to address real-life problems in business, government, engineering and the social sciences. Cryptanalysts analyze and decipher encryption systems designed to transmit military, political, financial or law enforcement information.

Many other fields and disciplines also use applied mathematics. Engineering, computer science, astronomy, physics and economics are examples. Many mathematicians use computers extensively to assist them with their analytical tasks.

"There are so many powerful programming tools now that knowledge of programming is an asset, but it doesn't mean you need to be 100 percent a computer programmer, either," says Matt Davison, an applied mathematician.

"There are a lot of mathematical programming languages that allow you to do remarkable things quickly without worrying about all the little details. So, definitely programming's an asset, definitely statistic's an asset, and if you're going to work in industry, programming is a given."

dotMathematicians working for government agencies or private firms usually have structured work schedules. They often work as part of an interdisciplinary team with engineers, computer scientists, physicists and technicians.

"People work together, in pairs, and in teams, and it is a dynamic process," says Pipher. "Being a mathematician is both an intellectually and socially gratifying career."

Just the Facts

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At a Glance

Use math to solve economic, scientific, engineering and business problems

  • Computers are allowing mathematicians to make huge strides
  • Applied math in science and engineering is hot
  • The required education to work in private industry is often a PhD