Why take a maths-based degree?

Some degrees lead to obvious careers. Study medicine, and you become a doctor. Gain a law degree, and you’re well on the way to becoming a lawyer. But what about maths? There are actually no ‘typical jobs’ for maths graduates. Maths is more of a way of thinking than training for a particular profession. However, a mathematician’s logical, problem solving and numerical skills are highly sought after.

Actuarial services

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 retire. They also work in insurance, making sure that premiums match the level of risk.

Economics

Much of the government’s economic policy is based on analysis and predictions made by mathematicians. Large companies also use statisticians to analyse markets and assess risk. Financial institutions in the City employ large numbers of maths graduates for financial modelling and stock market trading.

Scientific research

Pharmaceutical companies employ teams of mathematicians to work with clinical data on the effectiveness or dangers of new medicines. Pure scientific research in chemistry and biology also needs mathematicians to help develop models of complicated natural processes.

Teaching

Mathematicians can find jobs at all levels of the education system. To teach in a school, you need to take the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) after doing your degree. If you want to become a university lecturer, you usually need to have a PhD and be doing active research.

Alternative careers

People with maths degrees go on to do all sorts of things! Alternative careers tend to involve a different style of work, such as freelancing or working from home, or a different type of job – eg with a voluntary or ethical organisation.

Ethical employers such as charities and rehabilitation centres, or environmental and humanitarian organisations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International are less profit-motivated. Even though these organisations aren’t driven by profit, they still need mathematicians to perform statistical analysis and keep them within their budgets.

There are also opportunities for numerate and logically minded mathematicians who have the ability to communicate technical ideas clearly. If that sounds like you, why not think about a career in science journalism, technical editing, or marketing communications?

Related Links

Career profiles
To get a feel for what life after a maths or statistics degree is really like, read some of our career profiles.

Prospects.ac.uk
A comprehensive careers web site for all graduates offering advice and information on various career paths, as well as employer lists and job vacancies. The site also features case studies and information on graduate destinations and salaries.

Plus magazine careers library
A collection of interviews from people in various maths-related careers, showing the wide range of uses maths can get put to in the real world.

The RSS’s Careers website
The Royal Statistical Society maintains a comprehensive careers website, with information for students and jobseekers at every stage, and plenty about a wide range of jobs for statisticians. Much of the advice is sufficiently general to be of use to any mathematician.

Careers from the MAA
The Mathematical Association of America provides many profiles of people applying mathematics in both the commercial and academic arenas.

Maths-jobs.co.uk
This is an excellent employment site devoted to mathematicians. Jobs can be searched for within different categories (e.g. finance, statistics, technology, teaching and academia) and by country. The list is updated regularly, and includes requirements and salaries. Most of the jobs listed on this site are not suitable for new graduates, however, as they demand a further degree and a few years relevant work experience.