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 statistical 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.