Math Careers
July 22, 2014 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Non-obvious careers for someone with a B.S. in Applied Mathematics?

I just graduated with an Applied Mathematics major and Computer Science minor, and I need a job ASAP. The thing is, I didn't think too much about what I was going to do when I finished school. All the career advice I've seen for people with my degree falls in only a couple different categories, most of which aren't really good options for me. I'm in need of some original suggestions for places I should be looking.

Things I DON'T want to hear:

+Grad school.
+Actuarial Science.
+Vague titles like "Mathematical Analyst." Which industries? What keywords can I search for?
+Programming, unless you have tips on how to bridge the gap between the small projects I did in school and real-world development, or how to get hired with no experience. (Or you can reassuringly convince me that it's really not that hard.)

It's not necessarily that these are unappealing; I'm already aware of them, just looking for alternatives.

Is there anything I'm overlooking?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Management consulting is a field that hires math majors for no discernible reason -- basically you will be respected and considered "smart" because of your degree, but if you choose this path you won't really be using your degree at all in your work. Depending on your interest in consulting and/or money, this might not be an issue for you.

At the other end of the spectrum, you can put your applied math and CS skills to work as a research assistant in a lab. These positions are commonly filled by people passing a few years in between undergraduate and graduate studies, but intending to go on to graduate studies is not a requirement. The money is not great but you'll get to use the skills you learned in college, as well pick up new ones.

Some other suggestions would hinge on which area your applied math degree was applied to -- in my experience usually having an applied math degree means that you've done research or at least significant coursework in a field to "apply" your math to, like physics or biology. I would think about how that would guide your job search as well.
posted by telegraph at 3:37 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Did you happen to take an econ and/or sociology courses while in school? If you have a good base in those areas you might consider economics, finance, or public policy work, probably as a research assistant to start. Would you like think tank work? Your quant. background would be very appealing in those fields, where I've found many entry level RAs have great qualitative analytical skills but poor quantitative ones.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:40 PM on July 22, 2014

Mathematician or game designer for a slot machine company. This probably requires moving to Reno or Vegas.
posted by carolr at 3:42 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

My sister graduated with a straight BS in Applied Math and got a job in a hedge fund modelling the stock market. She's now an auditor in a big accounting firm.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:50 PM on July 22, 2014

Math teacher at a private school? (Because public schools will have mandated requirements beyond the undergrad degree, though there are often programs available to acquire needed additional schooling while on-the-job, especially in STEM.)
posted by XMLicious at 4:01 PM on July 22, 2014

I took my degree in math/computer science and became a public school teacher through the alternate route.

I'm currently working with kids at the elementary and middle school levels. Teachers at the lower levels often don't have much mathematical background. If you can get past the idea that teaching will be like it is in the movies and look to analyze the dynamics of what goes on in a classroom in a way that is pragmatic, you can be really happy and really effective.
posted by alphanerd at 4:03 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Try the site. The government hires mathematicians and statisticians.

Big Data is an area that's just gaining traction.

Although as the wife of an actuary, I'm not sure why you're turning up your nose. It's a fine profession and if you like sitting at a desk fooling with numbers all day, it's a pretty sweet gig.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:07 PM on July 22, 2014

Ruthless Bunny: S/he isn't turning turning his nose up at the idea of an actuary career. "It's not necessarily that these are unappealing. S/he wrote: "I'm already aware of them, just looking for alternatives."
posted by harrietthespy at 4:36 PM on July 22, 2014

I used to intern for a company that worked with alot of fresh grads with quantitative backgrounds--math, econ, stats, etc. They were mostly hired to fill an entry-level role called "Statistical Programmer". These jobs required no programming experience, but there were training sessions for the first couple months on the job. If this particular role interests you, memail me and I can share a specific job posting with you.

However, in general, I believe that what you are looking for is basically boiled down to, what companies around you want to hire fresh grads with limited skill-specific experience? Honestly, the best place to answer this question is at your school -- who recruited at job fairs? Who posts on the college job board? Who do other recent graduates work for? Can older friends of yours point you in some new directions? This kind of networking is going to pay off way more than submitting resumes on, especially before you have experience and skills.

If you are interested in a career in web development, I'd suggest taking all the relevant classes online from a place like Codeschool, and then making and posting a portfolio of interesting projects. People aren't going to care much about your degree if you can show that you can get the job done.
posted by tinymegalo at 4:42 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Multivariate data analysis, data mining, and predictive modeling are used in market research.
posted by lathrop at 5:00 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing market research.

Try your local subway and bus companies. I know that the Boston MBTA has a big analysis dept.

My situation was not too different from yours, though it was a long time ago. I got my start in OR/MS in the submarine warfare business with a small defense contractor. I'm sure there are lots of goverment contractors for every cabinet dept.

You might also look to healthcare companies. Aside from the fact they use a lot of statistics, its a growing sector of the economy.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:17 PM on July 22, 2014

Multivariate data analysis, data mining, and predictive modeling are used in market research.

They are also used in health insurers and health care providers trying to shift from the current "break-fix" model of health care to a population health management model. Look for analyst roles in informatics, analytics, and data science departments.

Little bits of programming skills are very helpful, but you don't need the level of skills required to be a "programmer."
posted by jeoc at 5:37 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a degree in mathematics and my first job was writing SDK documentation. I used articles from the student newspaper as my writing samples. Your key words here are technical writer, programming writer, documentation specialist.

Data scientist is the new hotness for big data and analytics. Your keywords are data science, machine learning, data mining, data analyst. Business intelligence is another related area but typically those hiring in BI are looking for industry specific experience.
posted by crazycanuck at 5:39 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who went into political polling after she graduated with the same degree. If you are personable, enjoy analysis, and can write well, this would be a good career to investigate.
posted by lunasol at 5:54 PM on July 22, 2014

The National Security Agency and its various satellites/contractors employ a huge number of mathematicians.
posted by escabeche at 6:43 PM on July 22, 2014

Tutoring is a bit obvious, but you didn't mention it, so I thought I would just in case. Tutoring centers always seem to be hiring people who can handle the harder high school math courses (trig/precalc/calculus +SAT stuff).

Even if it's only a medium-good fit for you personality-wise, it can be a good bridge until you figure out what you'd like to do more long term. If you love it and are good at it, you can branch off on your own after you get some experience and then make a LOT more money per hour.
posted by ktkt at 7:25 PM on July 22, 2014

1. Peruse the SIAM jobs board
2. There's a lot of demand for data scientist and machine learning people at Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, etc. They will want you to build models. Some programming required, but they won't expect you to be a rockstar programmer.
3. Becoming a quant at a hedge fund. (warning: may need to sell soul)

As for getting hired as a programmer with no experience: College hire interviews are pretty much always centered around data structures and algorithms. There are lots of practice interview questions online and in book form, and once you've studied enough of them you'll start to see common patterns and you'll be a lot more confident. It's really hard to come up with good interview questions, so interviewers will often take an existing problem and add a twist. Also, learn what a trie is.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:45 PM on July 22, 2014

I have a friend with similar background who has been a "Mathematical Analyst" for her state's Department of Natural Resources for 15 years. She does math that helps people and really likes it. USAJobs is great for looking for federal jobs like that. Some states have a similar clearinghouse site for state jobs, but in others, you'll need to go to the webpage of each state agency and see if they're hiring analysts.

As someone said above, university research labs absolutely hire mathematical/statistical analysts, too. I'm an ecologist, and stats and modeling are huge parts of our field. A state clearinghouse may include state university jobs, or once again, you may need to search the webpages of individual universities.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:34 AM on July 23, 2014

Mechanical, civil, chemical or electrical engineering? At the entry level, they will not assume you know too much. Unless specified, what you learn will be on the job. The point of engineering school is not to teach you engineering, but how to think and problem solve. I am sure what you learned in applied mathematics is similar.

If you want to spin the computer science minor I would look at control engineering. You will find a lot of jobs dealing with controlling industrial processes usually electronically with a PLC.

Also, apply for everything, because sometimes job postings are vague or written by someone that doesn't understand the position. Don't rule yourself out. Let them make the decision.
posted by ohjonboy at 6:45 AM on July 23, 2014

Oh yeah, you might also check out finite element analysis (FEA) too. It seems like a bunch of companies want to hire young recent graduates to run computer models of structures to evaluate stress and fatigue. Check out the software packages Ansys and/or Comsol. Check with the engineering department at your school to see if they have a student version of an FEA package so you can start poking around. The company that wrote the FEA package is almost guaranteed to have a training class in a nearby large city. A few hundred bucks may give you something you could put on a resume.
posted by ohjonboy at 6:54 AM on July 23, 2014

Transportation planning? It's what I do and I came from a maths degree.
My part dabbles in programming and data analysis. Lots of problem solving and thinking.
Memail me if you want more info.
posted by 92_elements at 11:40 AM on July 23, 2014

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