There are many career opportunities in the world of mathematics. Some people get into this field because they find it interesting while others take up this field because they find it challenging. The fact that there are lots of career opportunities available in mathematics makes it a worthwhile field to pursue.
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Overview of Careers for mathematicians
Studying maths helps you develop skills in logical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making, which are valued by employers across many job sectors.
|Jobs directly related to your degree include:
|Jobs where your degree would be useful include:
Remember that many employers accept applications from graduates with any degree subject, so don’t restrict your thinking to the jobs listed here.
What have other mathematicians done?
Six months after graduating almost two-thirds of mathematics graduates are in employment or combining work and further study.
The top two jobs for mathematics graduates are finance and investment analyst and adviser, and chartered or certified accountant. Other roles in the top five include programmer, software developer and actuary.
A fifth of mathematics graduates are in further study. Of these, 40% continue their education in mathematics and a further 30% are trainee teachers.
Less obvious choices. There are many other career areas which don’t necessarily require a maths or even a numerate degree. Many are open to graduates from any degree discipline, for example roles in the media, marketing, management, human resources, procurement, or sales. Over 50% of the vacancies we advertise on our website are for any degree discipline.
Part III is a 9 month taught masters course, leading to an MMath degree for those students who are undergraduates at Cambridge, and to an MASt (Master of Advanced Study) for students who join from other universities.
Part III is intended for advanced students with a high level of self-motivation and the capacity for independent study.
What can you do with a mathematics degree?
Why should you study maths at college, what jobs can you get, and how hard is it to get a place?
What is mathematics?
In education systems across the globe, from primary to higher education learning institutions, there is one constant subject, a language universally spoken: mathematics.
A basic definition of mathematics (or maths, or math, depending where you are in the world) is that it is an education in numeric sciences, using a range of different approaches including algebra, calculus and basic arithmetic. While mathematics is a key element of subjects ranging from economics to physics, maths as a university subject often focuses on understanding and testing theories in mathematical and scientific discourse – or so-called “pure mathematics”.
Mathematicians can come to both an understanding of the universe’s building blocks in fields such as quantum mechanics, and have the chance to be educated in fascinating theorems and abstract concepts, which teach students a number of applicable skills that are transferable across a number of professional fields.
What do you learn on a mathematics degree?
Within a maths degree, a student may expect to find a higher level of contact hours in the first year of study, as tutors work with students to ensure an understanding of the core modules and concepts being discussed in lectures and seminars.
A typical course for a first year undergraduate will be an introduction to abstract algebra, as well as fields such as non-linear differential equations. Later years in the degree will see a greater level of freedom as students will pick from a wider selection of modules and explore in greater depth the areas of mathematics that appeal to them.
Maths degrees are increasingly digitally based, interlinking with computer science through modules such as symbolic computation and automated theorem proving.
Maths is also an ideal joint honours subject, for its teachings can be a foundation for study in computer science, engineering and statistics among others. For an undergraduate course, a typical course length would be three years, though this may be four in educational systems such as the United States, or if the course includes a year abroad study or a sandwich work placement.
What should I study if I want to study mathematics?
Maths is not a subject to simply fall into, and will be taught on the assumption that students will have a concrete understanding of basic concepts in maths and applied mathematics before beginning a course.
Universities typically accept students who have done well in maths at school and further education level before applying. Universities will look at aptitude in related school subjects such as the traditional sciences (such as chemistry).
It is also important that language and writing skills are not neglected, as many courses will include lengthy essay assignments.
What do people who study mathematics do after graduation?
While a maths graduate may spend a career exploring and teaching others theoretical mathematical knowledge, a qualification in the subject can also open doors to a wide range of professional fields.
Employers appreciate the skills of data analysis and the innovative, original thinking that can be taught in a maths degree. Maths graduates are ideal for positions in the finance sector such as an investment analyst or tax advisor.
In a position such as an actuary or chartered accountant, a mathematics degree is only a first step, as qualifications for these professions require years of further training and examination.
Maths is also a subject closely interlinked to statistical analysis. This presents job opportunities in social research such as the compilation of survey and polling data, as well as in scientific studies in fields such as geography and medical statistics. While this work can be a source of full time employment following a bachelor’s degree, many institutes also offer postdoctoral positions as a research fellow or equivalent.
There is also a clear pathway from the computer based skills learned in a mathematics degree to an IT or software development based career. Many video games programmers come from a maths background, combining creativity with technical aptitude to develop products in one of the fastest growing industries today. Security agencies will also employ a team of trained mathematicians, who will be using some of the most powerful computers in the world to develop cryptography and internet security.
Famous people who studied mathematics
Among the most well-known people ever to take a maths degree is Albert Einstein, who at the age of 17 was already on a mathematics teaching programme at Zurich Polytechnic.
Among many other notable maths pioneers is Emmy Noether, who studied the subject at Erlangen University and went on to make seminal contributions to physics and abstract algebra.
A maths degree can also be a springboard to entrepreneurial success, such as Sergey Brin who studied at the University of Maryland before co-founding Google and Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix, who has a bachelor’s degree in maths
from Stanford University.
Careers Advice for Maths Undergraduates
Mathematics Graduates are extremely sought after by employers. They have highly developed numerical and logical thinking skills, as well as the ability to analyse difficult problems.
Studies have shown that mathematics and computing graduates earn more over a lifetime than graduates of other degree subjects, but what type of career can a mathematics degree lead you to?
Deciding which career path you will embark on once you have graduated from university should not be taken lightly. Some people are lucky enough to already know what they want to do or have a job offer from the company where they spent their industrial placement year, but for others, with so many career options open to mathematics graduates, where do you begin?
This article will help you answer these questions, and make you think about what you want to do and the skills you have. It will also encourage you to research the careers open to you as the information is out there. This is your future, nobody else will do this for you. Being a mathematics undergraduate, you shouldn’t have any problems doing this in a logical and organised way!
What career can a mathematics degree lead you to?
There are very few jobs titled ‘Mathematician’. On the other hand, you may be feeling that you never want to see second-order partial differential equations or Lagrangian mechanics ever again! Fear not; a mathematics degree can open the door to a wide range of exciting careers, not just in the well-known areas of finance, banking and teaching. The skills gained from a mathematics degree are highly sought after in many different areas of employment, and the collection of career profiles on the MathsCareers website of people who studied mathematics highlights the fact that there is no ‘typical job’ for a mathematics graduate.
Who employs mathematics graduates?
Mathematics graduates, are in high demand from a diverse range of employers. While many large companies have their own recruiting programmes, many smaller, or less specifically mathematical, organisations and companies may also have roles which you may be suitable for.
Some things to remember about this list:
- This is far from being a complete list of the different types of roles open to a mathematics graduate.
- According to the Prospects website, having a degree in mathematics will increase your chances of obtaining most of these roles.
Misconception: I need to look for a maths focused company at a careers fair
Maths graduates work in a huge number of different sectors. This means that you can mix and match some of the jobs listed and the careers sectors. For example, you could be in a finance or data science role at an engineering company. When you visit a careers fair, make sure that you speak to a wide range of different companies, asking them about the types of roles which they have on offer. You might be surprised about what you find out.
Examples of careers sectors for mathematics graduates
Skills wanted by employers
What is it that employers are looking for from graduates? Thanks to the Education & Skills Survey 2008, we now know! When asked to select their top three factors they consider when recruiting graduates, board executives said:
1. Positive attitude and employability skills (see below).
2. Work experience or an industrial placement year.
3. Degree subject studied.
This means that being good at maths is only part of the picture when it comes to getting a job.
Employability skills (as defined in the Education & Skills Survey 2008)
- Self-management – Readiness to accept responsibility, flexibility, time management, readiness to improve own performance
- Team working – Respecting others, co-operating, negotiating/persuading, contributing to discussions
- Business and customer awareness – Basic understanding of the key drivers for business success and the need to provide customer satisfaction
- Problem solving – Analysing facts and circumstances and applying creative thinking to develop appropriate solutions
- Communication and literacy – Application of literacy, ability to produce clear, structured written work and oral literacy, including listening and questioning
- Application of numeracy – Manipulation of numbers, general mathematical awareness and its application in practical contexts
- Application of information technology – Programming skills can be extremely important for many jobs. Graduates who have good programming skills alongside a strong maths background will be in high demand. There are however some employers who will teach you programming once you start. Other IT skills are also important such as being competent at using Excel and Word.
Employers are also looking for graduates to have business awareness and knowledge of their chosen career. However, the report also tells us that employers are concerned about the quality of graduates, believing that too many graduates do not have adequate employability skills that all businesses need.
Also think about the type of employer you would like to work for. Would you like to work for a big organisation or a smaller company? Would you like to join a graduate development scheme? What about a career that uses the area of mathematics that you took during your degree that you enjoyed or were good at?
Professional Societies and Mathematics Organisations
Join a Professional Society
Professional societies can recognise experience and skills you have gained in your career by the different grades of membership they offer. This not only tells employers that you are qualified in your subject, but that you have also reached a certain benchmark in your career.
Interestingly, membership of a professional society and holding a professional qualification can help you earn more. Research commissioned by the Consultative Committee for Professional Management Organisations found that such individuals earn on average £152,000 more over a lifetime (£81,000 from holding a professional qualification and £71,000 from being a member of a professional society). Their chances of being employed also increase by 9% because of the transferable skills on offer. Just goes to show that employers value highly the skills developed by professional societies. You will also get the attraction of letters after your name and the benefit it will bring to your CV.
The main Professional Body for mathematicians working in business or industry is the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA). Many Academic mathematicians working in universities are also active members of the IMA.
What is the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA)?
All mathematics graduates, and individuals with an appreciation of mathematics, are welcome to join the IMA; the professional and learned society for qualified and practising mathematicians. The IMA promotes mathematics in commerce, education, industry, the public sector, and research. The IMA is the only organisation to award the Chartered Mathematician (CMath) designation.
Why should I join the IMA?
What better way to demonstrate your commitment to your career and mathematics than by joining a mathematics organisation.
The benefits for becoming a member of the IMA are:
- Recognition of qualifications and experience through the use of post nominals; designatory letters for Associate Members (AMIMA), Members (MIMA) and Fellows (FIMA).
- Stand out from the crowd by gaining the Chartered Mathematician designation.
- Help achieving the CMath designation through the Initial Professional Development Scheme, the Graduate Training Scheme and the Programme Approval scheme.
- Chartered Mathematics Teacher and Chartered Scientist designations also available.
- Keep up-to-date with developments in mathematics through the IMA’s publication Mathematics Today (six issues per year).
- Attend Early Career Mathematicians’ conferences.
- Engage with your local branch.
- Opportunity to record your continuing professional development.
- Reduced rates for members at IMA conferences and to IMA journal subscriptions.
What is the Chartered Mathematician designation?
Graduating from university doesn’t mean that your education ends there. To help you do your job better, you will need to stay up-to-date with developments in your field (known as professional development).
The CMath designation recognises not only your academic qualification but also your professional development.
Being a Chartered Mathematician will:
- Identify you as being at the forefront of your profession.
- Broaden your career options.
- Provide employers with an assurance of expertise and competence.
- Encapsulate standards of professional excellence across mathematics in the 21st
- Benchmark you at the same level as a Chartered Engineer.
The standard route to gaining the CMath designation is:
- An MMath honours degree; or,
- A BSc honours degree in mathematics followed by either a higher level taught or research degree, or subsequent training and experience through employment; and,
- At least five years postgraduate training and experience, requiring the application of mathematical knowledge.
What use is maths in getting a job?
What types of skills do employers look for? Problem solving, analysis, data handling and communication skills, to name just a few. These transferable skills are useful in any job, and you can get all of them from studying maths.
Think about answering a question in your maths lessons. It might be to triangulate a distance, calculate an area, anything. Whatever you’re asked, the approach is the same: pick out the important parts of the problem, work out the knowledge and skills you need to apply, and figure out the answer. Employers need people who know how to solve problems, and once you know how to do it in maths, you can do it in anything.
Once you’ve solved a problem, you need to tell people the answer. Maths helps you communicate complicated ideas in a clear and unambiguous way. People working in science, business and many other areas use maths to explain complex situations, like analysing a company’s profits or checking that a building will stay standing. Maths also teaches you how to handle and interpret data, sifting through the numbers to come up with a solution.
These skills – problem solving, logical thinking, conceptual ability, communication, data handling and interpretation, and research – are useful in any job, and employers recognise that you have them if you’ve studied maths. Apart from these general transferable skills, maths also equips you with a set of tools that are vital in many jobs.
Here is a selection of the wide variety exciting careers that you can do with a maths qualification.
Computer game designer and ICT
Creating the virtual worlds of video games and making the people that inhabit them and act as we’d expect involves a lot of maths. Everything in a game is a three-dimensional mathematical object, and these objects behave according to equations modelling the game’s physics. Maths is also widely used in other areas of ICT, including programming, designing hardware and project management.
- Andrew Wensley works as a computer games developer for Eidos, the creators of Lara Croft.
- Nick Gray has an MSc in maths and works as a computer games designer on the Havok physics engine.
- Steve Traylen is the computer systems administrator of maths education group Nrich.
Medical statistician and medical research
Medical statisticians design clinical trials to judge whether new medicines and medical treatments are effective. Maths is used throughout medical research to model tumour growth and the spread of disease, decide treatment dosages, and model the effects of illness on the human body.
- Rob Hemmings used to work as a statistician for a pharmaceutical company and now works for the government, regulating medicines.
- Read about the role of statisticians in healthcare, from designing medical trials to researching ways to get healthy.
- Learn about the maths of disease transmission.
- The Centre for Mathematical Medicine at the University of Nottingham uses maths to model many aspects of medicine and the biomedical sciences.
- The Royal Statistical Society guide to medical statistics has everything you need to know about a career as a medical statistician.
Audio software engineer and digital signal processing
Most of today’s music uses synthesisers and digital processors to correct pitch or add effects to the sound. These tools are created by audio software engineers who manipulate digital sounds using a mathematical technique called Fourier analysis. This kind of digital signal processing has many other applications including speech recognition, image enhancement and data compression.
- Skot MacDonald combines maths and music in his ideal career as an audio software engineer.
- Nick Collins is a computer music researcher who is building an artificial musician.
- Steve Smith, a specialist in X-ray imaging systems, has written a free online book about digital signal processing.
Meteorologist and climate prediction
Meteorologists use mathematics to model the weather and make short-term predictions. They also study how changes to our environment impacts the climate. They use numerical analysis and computer modelling techniques to produce results, from tomorrow’s weather forecast to long-term predictions of global climate change.
- Helen Hewson is a meteorologist at the Met Office working to develop our understanding of the weather.
- The Royal Statistical Society guide to environmental statistics has everything you need to know about a career as an environmental statistician.
Racing car designer and aerodynamics
A car’s speed is influenced by aerodynamics, the mathematical study of the motion of air. Using maths, racing car designers can know what affects the car’s performance, and tweak the car to get the best results. This area of maths is also used to understand flight and can even improve sporting performance.
- Christine Hogan is doing a PhD in fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, with the aim of working in racing car design.
- NASA’s beginners guide to aerodynamics has activities and problems, with some free software you can download.
Actuary and financial mathematics
Actuaries use maths and statistics to make financial sense of the future. For example, if an organisation is planning a large project, actuaries analyse the project, assess the financial risks and outcomes involved, and advise the organisation on the decisions to be made. Much of their work is on pensions, ensuring funds have enough money for when current workers have retired. They also work in insurance, making sure that premiums match the level of risk. Mathematics is used in many other areas of finance, like banking, stock trading, and economic forecasts.
- Actuary Kathy Byrne works in insurance – making financial sense of the future.
- The Institute of Actuaries careers guide explains what an actuary is, what the job entails and how to go about becoming one.
- The Royal Statistical Society guide to the actuarial profession has everything you need to know about a career as an actuary.
Avalanche researcher and fluid dynamics
Understanding how avalanches start and developing ways to predict when they might happen requires an area of maths called fluid mechanics. This is one of the most widely applied areas of mathematics and it is used in understanding volcanic eruptions, flight, ocean currents and even the stock market.
- Jim McElwaine combines his twin passions of maths and mountaineering in his career researching the causes of avalanches.
Statistical consultant and data analyst
Government departments and businesses call in statistical consultants to help solve complex problems. They apply their training to a wide range of areas, such as predicting future infrastructure requirements, improving manufacturing processes, and using information collected by businesses to make better decisions.
- John Henstridge and Jodie Thompson are consultant statisticians at Data Analysis Australia where they use maths to understand a wide range of real life problems.
- Our career profiles section has a special page on stmatistical careers.
- Have a look at our selection of statistical job descriptions.
- Check out some statistical consulting case studies.
Math: not just for mathematicians
All of the jobs featured on this page use maths, but few of them have the words maths or statistics in their titles. You don’t have to be called a mathematician to use maths – in fact, no matter what job you go into, you’ll end up using your mathematical skills.
Career Opportunities for Mathematics Majors
To Potential Employers of Our Majors
To reach our undergrads, there are two ways: you can email the Chief Undergraduate Advisor(link sends e-mail) or post your job to Handshake.(link is external) The former will reach all math majors immediately, while the latter will reach all undergraduates when they intiate a search for jobs and internships.
All students should join Handshake(link is external), which contains job and internship opportunities for UMass students and alumni.
Career Services for math majors is now handled mainly at the college-level (CNS). See the CNS Career Services webpage.(link is external) Students can make appointments with the professional advisors using SSC(link is external) or drop-in to meet with a peer advisor. Of particular interest on the webpage are new tools to help you hone your interview skills. Check out the CNS-specific internships that they post(link is external) on their webpage.
Central Career Services(link is external) still has many tools and resources to assist students in their career search. Located in 511 Goodell, Career Services offers counseling on resume writing and interviewing, coordinates on-campus job fairs and interviews, and keeps extensive listings of job openings and advertisements for all fields and majors via the Handshake(link is external) platform.
Every student should carefully consider the following five points when deciding on a course of studies during the undergraduate major.
- A balanced set of core courses in mathematics and statistics.
Of course, many of those courses will be determined by the major concentration, which in turn depends on the intended career path. But every student should be sure to take a good balance of courses. Especially, there should be some mix of mathematics with statistics, and of theoretical and pure courses with applied courses. This kind of balance is really crucial for those students who will pursue work in the non-academic world, and for students who intend to undertake interdisciplinary graduate studies. Even students who plan to enroll in graduate studies in mathematics or statistics, or will train to be secondary school teachers, should make sure that they have sufficient breadth at the undergraduate level in order to take full advantage of their later studies.
- An extensive exposure to computing.
One of the main reasons that mathematics and statistics are of such importance in the modern world is that they are so closely allied with computation of all sorts. In virtually every profession based on mathematical or statistical knowledge, computing plays a key role. For this reason, students should take enough courses in computer science, scientific computing or information technology to gain expertise with computational techniques and platforms.
- Some coherent studies in another related field.
It is highly desirable for a student to develop a base of knowledge in another field related to mathematics or statistics. For instance, a successful career might be built on a mathematics major together with a minor in computer science, finance, economics, physics, chemistry, biology, public health or a branch of engineering. If a minor is not feasible, then it is advisable to take a few related courses that complement the studies in the major.
- An array of “soft” skills.
Mathematics and statistics are “hard” sciences in the sense that their subject matter is technical and abstract. Consequently, their usefulness and relevance to the world is hugely dependent upon how well mathematicians and statisticians relate to their colleagues and coworkers. Employers often talk about how it is absolutely necessary for their technical staff to be able to communicate in writing and orally, to interact productively in teams and groups, and to be diligent, versatile and innovative. These people skills are equally necessary in the teaching professions. A good selection of General Education courses and other electives is one way to develop these skills, as are independent studies and projects, extracurricular activities and even hobbies.
- An internship, coop or summer research experience.
One of the best ways to procure a good job upon graduation is to have done an internship or coop beforehand. Employers like to have a chance to see a student in the actual work environment, and the student benefits by trying out the kind of work that the employer offers. For students considering graduate study, it is highly desirable to apply for summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) either at your home university or at sites elsewhere in the country. See the links on this page to the university offices on campus that coordinate internships and coops, and to the NSF, NSA and other agencies that offer summer research experiences.
Common Career Paths for Mathematics and Statistics Majors
In the course of his or her undergraduate studies, each student will naturally develop some preferences for the various subfields of mathematics or statistics, and those interests will largely determine the student’s choice of concentration within the major. Another element in this choice is the range of opportunities that the concentration presents for a subsequent career. While there is no fixed list of occupations that follow from a major in mathematics or statistics, the most common career paths of graduating students fall into some broad categories. The Department has designed the concentrations (and course requirements for each concentration) to help students prepare for a career in one of these main categories.
Here, in an unordered list, are some of the main career categories:
- Actuarial science.
- Data science.
- Information technology and computing.
- Business, management, consulting.
- Teaching at the elementary or secondary school level.
- Graduate study in mathematics or statistics, especially for an academic career.
- Graduate study in applied mathematics or statistics, for a career in industry, business or government.
- Graduate study in an interdisciplinary field related to the mathematical and statistical sciences.