What Major and Career Should I Look At If I Enjoy Math?
May 4, 2014 5:18 PM   Subscribe

In studying for my Behavioral Statistics final (it’s a statistics class dealing with psychology research methods) I’ve realized something. I actually kind of enjoy math. As long as I don’t have to memorize formulas (as long as they are right there as I’m going through the work) it’s actually kind of comforting and fun. In fact, every math class I’ve taken in college (I’ve taken two remedial algebras, college algebra, and regular statistics before this class) I’ve enjoyed and made an A in. I’m really struggling about what I want to major in (I’m in psychology but I don’t have it in the gas tank to get a PhD), but I know that a lot of people don’t like math. They don’t get it. I do, so I’ve got something there, right? The only problem is, I don’t know what to do with it. These are the parameters… maybe you can think of something that fits?

-I’ve been in college since 2007 floundering around in terms of what I want as a major. At the VERY MOST, I am willing to get a masters, but I’d rather just get a bachelors.

-I want to make around 60-70k a year at the least.

-I like people, and the idea of working in teams, but sometimes I suffer from social anxiety. I don’t want some high-pressure sales job.

-I like math because of its formulaic, step-by-step, one-thing-leads-to-another nature. It’s predictability in a world of chaos. I’m not a big fan of unpredictability and that’s why it’s comforting.

-I like discovering new things, but I’m not a trailblazer… I work as a follower, a team member.

-I’d rather not be behind a cubicle working on mundane paperwork. I want to do something that has meaning and excites me.

-I want to have time for my other hobbies such as family, friends, and being outside.

-It would be very nice if the job were in demand and not some extremely highly competitive field. I value security very very much, and the idea of graduating college and being lost again is terrifying.

-I know that every job can be stressful and unfun at times, but I’d prefer this job to be on the low-stress end of the spectrum. I don’t deal very well with stress.

I may be just being too picky here, and perhaps such a job that fits all of those requirements does not exist. But maybe there are careers out there that fit pretty well, if not perfectly.

The most important aspects are the salary, not getting the PhD, and a non dog-eat-dog gladiator ring of a competitive field. And I’d rather it be fun and engaging, not boring and soul-draining.

Does anyone have any ideas?
posted by ggp88 to Education (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I like math because of its formulaic, step-by-step, one-thing-leads-to-another nature.

If you are considering a math major, be advised that while the description above does indeed describe elementary math courses it doesn't reflect what happens in advanced math courses within a math major--at least the undergraduate programs I am familiar with.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:31 PM on May 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

I had an existential crisis about my career choices and in the end realized that I would always be unhappy if I wasn't doing some kind of math.

Here are a couple options I will throw out there:

- Entry level jobs that have the title "business analyst." These involve dealing with spreadsheets and quantitative analysis of business processes. "financial analyst" would fall into this category as well. There is a lot of work available that is about quantifying the impact of various business initiatives, and they need people who are good at math for that.

- there's a bit more education involved, but one interesting possibility is medical physicist-- the person who does a lot of the calculations and calibrations on medical radiotherapy devices and calculates radiation doses on patients depending on the nature of their condition.

- programming/systems engineering. There are lots of companies, particularly defense contractors, that are looking to "bring order to chaos" when it comes to system integration and cyber security. People with quantitative skills are valued and they need people willing to be good team members.

MeFi seems to have a lot of people with a statistics background. Hopefully they will chime in.
posted by deanc at 5:32 PM on May 4, 2014

Does your school have accounting courses? I will strongly echo Seymour Zamboni's comments that the upper level math courses you would take for an undergraduate math degree deviate from the "step by step, formulaic" feel of lower level courses, and I suspect you will not like it. Accounting, on the other hand, seems like it could fulfill many if not all of your requirements for a dream career. It has a reputation for being mundane, but I find that many of the people who do it really enjoy it (and the rest of us give it the "ew boring!" reputation). I would give it a try.
posted by telegraph at 5:41 PM on May 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


I have a b.s. in math, and I work for an insurance company. My current job actually fits your requirements pretty well.

I do work in a cube farm, but I like it. I would not enjoy being on the phone or in front of people all day. My official title is product analyst. It's pretty low stress, but a lot of that is the specific company/team I work for, my incredibly competent manager (seriously, she knows how to manage workflow and workload, and that's huge), and the fact that I am not angling for a promotion. I like what I do, and I have no interest in what the people above me do. I also have worked a lot on not giving a rat's ass about what other people think, which helps with the not-stressing.

The first company I worked for, similar role, was absolutely not a happy place. Very stressful, very puppy mill-esque, very chew em up spit em out mentality.

If you choose actuarial science, which is what a lot of my classmates did, be aware that consultants make oodles of money but do not have a great lifestyle. It requires exams, but not a masters degree. The exams can take all your spare time, which is one of the reasons I don't take them anymore. Passing two of them did get my foot in the door, though.

The most math-y thing I do now is algebra, and some pretty straightforward coding, but the thought process from math is pretty present in my job, which is why I suggest it. Feel free to memail with any specific questions.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:46 PM on May 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Software security or data scientist jobs come to mind. Both are in high demand and require math skills.
posted by deathpanels at 6:00 PM on May 4, 2014

I'm a math professor and I think you should be a math major. Not because I think you should be a mathematician, but because if you like math and are getting A's in the courses you're taking now, you are much more likely than most people to enjoy higher level courses. And graduating with a math major leaves you a lot of latitude in choice of careers. Something a lot of math majors do, that you might not have even heard of, is go into actuary. High-paying, low-stress, analytic job, and the people who think of it as dull are people who don't like math.

Of course, another career that hires tons of math majors and ticks all your requirements is working for the NSA. Some people are into that, some people aren't, but you should know it's an option.
posted by escabeche at 6:08 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe actuarial science. Depending on your school, future actuaries may be statistics majors, they may be math majors or they may have their own major. Proceed with caution if they're math majors--you probably won't like the standard upper level math courses, but there may be an actuarial track that avoids some of the standards. My impression is that actuaries make a fair bit of money and have a good work-life balance (fwiw, the chess coach when I was a kid was an actuary, which entailed being sure you could turn up somewhere by 6.30 every Wednesday). The qualifying exams take time and effort, but I think you're good to go once you do that (you take the exams over a few years while working, but doing the first one or two in undergrad is advantageous when it comes to getting a job).

(I'm a grad student in math. I only have a vague notion of being an actuary as a career option. Where I was an undergrad, all the future actuaries were statistics majors, so I don't really know people who went that route.)
posted by hoyland at 6:08 PM on May 4, 2014

For almost everyone, work is mostly doing the same thing over and over (for various definitions of "same thing"). This includes people who say every day is different. This can be comforting or boring depending on the individual.

Complicated math is now done by computer if only because it saves a lot of errors in arithmetic. You should strengthen your computer skills as best you can. You might look into learning databases and data mining.

To elaborate about math: to a mathematician, math is about proving theorems. They sort of look down their noses at actually computing things once they have proven that it's possible. Statisticians prove theorems about statistics. You seem more interested in math applied to some other area.

Actuarial science, mentioned above, is math applied to insurance, but in practice also includes the equivalent of an MBA program. Passing all the tests to be an actuary is usually considered to be an effort equivalent to a PhD program, but spread out over years when you are employed and working. There are hundreds of insurance companies, and I don't think the negative comment about actuaries applies everywhere.

I suggest you think about a combined math+something else major if your school allows it. Or applied math plus X, or computer science plus X.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:13 PM on May 4, 2014

computer science might be an option to consider.
posted by empath at 6:38 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know all the details of these jobs, so you may have to do additional research, but here are two that I did not see on the list.

Statistician (just get a masters). On more than one occasion, I have noticed that people who have a masters degree in statistics run the data for clinical trial and interpret the information and are employed at pharmaceutical companies. At the end of the day, they understand both the big picture and the small details of the study (so it seems very interesting). However, they are using computers to run the tests and not cranking out these numbers by hand.

Epidemiologist (also consider just a masters). There are at least a few statistics classes along the way - but the people that I knew who were employed in this field traveled overseas for disease outbreaks, etc.

Both of these type of degrees are offered at Schools of Public Health, so you may want to talk to people who attend the schools there and take a class or two to see if it is for you.
posted by Wolfster at 7:10 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

My friend is working his way through an actuarial science degree. He also likes math, but his main requirement for a degree was that it provide a relatively high return on investment, as he's in his 40's, in a career transition, and has a young family to provide for. With a decent GPA and some solid internship work, he thinks he should be able to command a starting salary of at least $60-70k with a bachelor's degree. He's also met seniors in the program he's transferring into who already do some actuarial consulting work. I can't stand doing any more math than I absolutely ever have to, but if you're a math person and you don't mind the challenging higher level stuff, this seems like a great option.
posted by hegemone at 7:23 PM on May 4, 2014

Try a sentential and predicate logic class while you're poking around. You'll probably really like it.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:17 AM on May 5, 2014

Husbunny is a mathematician and he's working as an Actuary. It's really, super advanced math. You kind of have to be born with an aptitude for it (like considered for a Rhodes Scholar kind of brain.)

I'm an analyst with an MBA, and I fool with Excel all day and LOVE it!

So you can bone up on business/finance/accounting, which should tick all your boxes. And then become an analyst.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:01 AM on May 5, 2014

Actuary. Statistical analyst. Any job that involves solving problems with math and Excel, and those jobs tend to pay pretty well and be in demand.
posted by theora55 at 7:32 AM on May 5, 2014

Take a class on database theory.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:40 PM on May 5, 2014

Masters level biostats / stats / data science people pretty well match what you want. You're fundamentally a consultant with software and modeling expertise. A lot of analyses are "the same" deep down, and you translate best practices to the problem at hand. There's a lot of data manipulation and getting all the machines to talk to each other. There are gotchas that everybody "knows" about but run into anyway if they don't have experience thinking about how those gotchas work in practice. You think about the tools / formulas you know to do the best you can with the data. You know how to interpret the output. Depending on the working environment, there may be highly experienced +- PhD types who act as super-consultants for tough problems.

There is a market for people with a BS, but the better job postings will require an MS. Some universities don't offer a stat BS (one majors in math). Unfortunately, it's considered a professional degree and you usually pay for the MS out of pocket. It would be reasonable to try your hand at the BS level and come back for the MS as professional development; you might even get somebody else to pay for it. Although there are often plenty of such jobs, I would avoid going through bio-lab environment except as professional development; many operate on the model of high turnover and paying very little because they can squeeze postdocs and grad students dry.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:53 AM on May 7, 2014

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