Join 3,553 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

What are inter-disciplinary and atypical uses for math MSc?
July 28, 2014 5:02 AM   Subscribe

I have just completed my MSc in mathematics in Europe. I do enjoy math, but I spent my uni years feeling like a autodidact hippie marooned on an island full of Mr and Mrs I-Want-A-Good-Job. My main interests revolve around humanities (literature/history/anthropology) and economics (but not finance), and instead of starting a "stable" well-paying career I dream about something inter-disciplinary. I am very open to earning little money and relocating just to do kind of work that engages those skills. What are some random uses of my degree?

While I know that this might be kind of "have your cake and eat it too" scenario, I dream about utilising my core technical skills in an environment which doesn't stifle my humanistic interests but rather sees them as strengths. I am very open to studying more, but PhD programs that I find don't really cater to mathematicians who don't want to do pure math anymore. While this is very hopeful, math+analytic skills+statistics+coding are in-demand skills these days, so there must be opportunities there.

- I am mid-twenties. I am located in Europe (studied in Poland and Germany). I have no ties and can go anywhere, but highly US-specific info doesn't apply.
- I saved money and only need to earn for basic living needs, which are low.
- I am open to working short-term, half-time, trying as many new things as possible, travelling a lot to random places.
- I did most of my studying on probability/statistics and graph theory. I loved game theory. I learn fast.
- I have working experience in healthcare assessment (statistics) and I code (also in R and for web). It was pleasant, might do that some more, but I'd happily try something different.
- I am useless at googling things, my ability to search for jobs/opportunities is non-existent and I'm haplessly clueless about all this "selling yourself" business.

So, in a nutshell: random, low-paying, humanities and soft/life sciences, uni work, weird places, inter-disciplinary PhDs (?).
Not my cup of tea: marketing, business, actuarial science, engineering, pure programming, big companies.

As a very dim example, I loved reading about Cliodynamics (historical modelling). My main inspirations (intellectually) are Jacob Bronowski and Douglas Hofstaedter. I adore Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolution.

I realise this is a long shot, but it can't harm to ask and google around. You are welcome to be as random as you want.
posted by desultory_banyan to Work & Money (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
For future reference, here is a topic with plenty of more "stable" ideas.

(I actually liked some of those, although lot of more interesting were US-specific.)
posted by desultory_banyan at 5:04 AM on July 28

Have you looked at statistics or biostats PhDs (or jobs for now)? There are plenty of people with stats PhDs who are working in support of researchers in other fields, which might be something that appeals to you.

(I kind of had a similar quandary, but I'm coming from pure math and am giving this data science thing a go.)
posted by hoyland at 6:08 AM on July 28

Husbunny is an actuary. That is a very specific use for mathematics. He loves it.

NGO and Government agencies use mathematicians, economists and statisticians, I think you'll find the intersection of your skill in math with an agency that have a common good in their charter.

United Nations

Governments use mathematicians, for example in the US it would be the Centers for Disease Control, but there may be other governments who could use your skills.

The Economist has all kinds of interesting jobs that may suit you.

Study and intellectual pursuits are fun, and you can certainly pursue them in your leisure. You can use that fine brain of yours for good things in the world.

Ask for help in preparing your CV, pay someone to do it for you (it's money well-spent) as for "selling yourself" don't sneer. If you don't believe in your skills and talents, why should anyone else? You have been blessed with an intelligence that few possess. It's in the interest of the world if you share it in a worthy endeavor. Failing that, have a few sessions with a career coach to hone your interviewing skills.

I have a friend who once the world discovered he was available for a job, the world beat a path to his door. He's now being moved to the coast to start work on a very prestigious project.

So sort out the kind of thing you'd like to do, and do it! The world is your oyster.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:16 AM on July 28

An actuary might be good for you but keep in mind that the math isn't really that high level, at least on the tests. Its basically Calc I, II, III and calculus based probability.

Why not a econ PhD? You can do a lot of applied research on game theory. Or even poli sci, if you go to a place like Rochester or NYU.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:20 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]

I don't really know much about it, so am not sure if it would be a good fit for you or not, but you might want to try looking into "Digital Humanities."
posted by snorkmaiden at 6:41 AM on July 28

I would strongly encourage you to look at the field of information studies or information science (disclaimer...I'm getting a PhD in it myself right now in the US). It is inherently interdisciplinary, and as such, tends sometimes to not be taken too seriously as a "discipline" by some (if that kind of thing bothers doesn't me). BUT, the upside is that it attracts humanists, scientists, math types, programmers, literature scholars, and loads of people who are self-taught and interested in a wide variety of things.

A couple of European scholars I've met at conferences whose work might be a decent reference for you as to what information studies people do:

Loet Leydesdorff at the University of Amsterdam. He specializes in a area loosely called "scientometrics" -- using "big data" tools to look at scholarly publishing output to see how researchers are collaborating, how and where new knowledge is emerging, and how these changes provoke bigger social/economic questions.

You might look also look at the work of George Buchanan at City University London. He works at an intersection of human concerns/math/digital stuff that might be interesting to you.

Good luck!
posted by pantarei70 at 7:53 AM on July 28

Check your Memail.
posted by biffa at 7:55 AM on July 28

Seconding/thirding information studies / 'digital humanities'. I work with a statistician-turned-journalist, and having a strong math/statistics/programming background and using it to grab data and visualize/conceptualize/argue spatial/political concerns is really interesting.
posted by suedehead at 11:24 AM on July 28

You might find this article relevant (but it's a little US-focused): If you get a PhD, get an economics PhD.
Reason 3: You get intellectual fulfillment.

Econ is not as intellectually deep as some fields, like physics, math, or literature. But it's deep enough to keep you intellectually engaged. Econ allows you to think about human interactions, and social phenomena, in a number of different intellectually rigorous ways (e.g. game theory, incentives, decision theory, quantification of norms and values, bounded rationality, etc.). That's cool stuff.

And economists, even if their research is highly specialized, are encouraged to think about all different kinds of topics in the field, and encouraged to think freely and originally. That's something few people appreciate. In a lab science, in contrast, you are encouraged to burrow down in your area of hyper-specialization.

In econ, furthermore, you get exposed to a bunch of different disciplines; you get to learn some statistics, a little math, some sociology, a bit of psychology, and maybe even some history.

Also, as an economist, your status as an intellectual will not disappear when you get a job. Even if you go to work as a consultant or a financier, your thoughts will be welcomed and considered by economists in the blogosphere. And you can even publish econ papers as a non-academic.

In fact, it's also worth pointing out that econ is a field in which outsiders and mavericks are able to challenge the status quo. This is in spite of the econ profession's well-known deference to intellectual authority figures. The simple fact is that econ, you don't need money to advance new ideas, as you do in biology or chemistry. And you don't need math wizardry either, as you would if you wanted to introduce new ideas in physics.
posted by rollick at 12:05 PM on July 28

I read a quote from one of the Google founders to the effect that search is a determinant. Who knew?

Of course, the are lots of uses for statistics in the humanities. But how would a historian make use of calculus? I'll have to think on that.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:41 PM on July 28

a lot of statistics uses calculus
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:58 PM on July 28

Wow, those answers are wonderful. I posted with slight trepidation that my question is perhaps poorly articulated and a bit "do it all for me", and got so many wonderful answers. Each one of those (apart from actuarial science) really got me jumping with glee.

Especially econ PhD, which is something that I considered for some time, then got a bit anxious at my lack of economic basis. If anyone has any extra information/recommendations on the math -> econ route, then I'd love to hear it.

MetaFites, you never disappoint!
posted by desultory_banyan at 4:19 AM on July 29

« Older I have a battery operated NOAA...   |  Are there any? The only possib... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments