Mathematicians combine complex algorithms, sophisticated computational methods, and mathematical theories with computer technology to resolve problems involving the business, economic, engineering, and scientific fields. Mathematicians generally work in two different fields, applied mathematics and theoretical mathematics (also known as pure mathematics). Both applied and theoretical mathematics may overlap frequently, however.
Applied mathematicians attempt to solve practical difficulties with mathematical formulas and theories. Often, applied mathematicians will begin with a problem, assign mathematical variables to each part of the problem, and then use the resulting formula to determine possible solutions. Applied mathematicians often work for the private sector and the government.
Theoretical mathematicians work to advance the field of mathematics. While theoretical mathematicians often provide mathematical formulas and theories without immediate practical uses, such knowledge can provide insights into science at a later point in time. Theoretical mathematicians typically are employed as university professors or researchers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the employment of mathematicians of all kinds to grow 22% between 2008 and 2018. However, the competition for jobs will be fierce due to the highly technical nature of the work. Mathematicians are unlikely to be affected by the retirement of the baby boomer generation much, as mathematicians can often work well into old age. The BLS believes that mathematicians with both a Ph.D. and a background in computers or a mathematical discipline (such as engineering or science) will have the best chance of employment.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Mathematician Job Responsibilities
Mathematicians are responsible for creating new mathematical formulas and principles, applying them to problems, or determining how a practical problem can be broken down into a mathematical formula.
Theoretical mathematicians often teach at a university level, and may be responsible for hundreds of students. This can include providing mathematical education and testing the level of student competency. They may also work on independent research during non-teaching hours.
A mathematician typically works in a classroom or office setting, with regular hours in a work day. Applied mathematicians often are a part of an interdisciplinary team, with other specialists such as economists, engineers, or technicians to provide data and feedback. It is not generally a physically stressful job, but mental stress can be common.
Deadlines and overtime may be required, particularly for applied mathematicians working at larger companies. Some travel may be necessary to attend seminars on mathematical principles. Academic mathematicians may need to submit research to be eligible for tenure, if employed at a university.
Mathematician Training and Education Requirements
A Ph.D. is the basic requirement for nearly all jobs as a mathematician, with the exception of the federal government. For the federal government, a 4 year degree with a major in mathematics or a 4 year degree with an equivalent major (considered at least 24 credit hours of mathematics coursework) is sufficient. Some opportunities for master’s degree mathematicians may be available in private industry, but these are rapidly diminishing. It is expected that most employers will look to hire a Ph.D. level mathematician in the near future.
As of 2004, roughly 200 colleges or universities had master’s level degree programs in mathematics. Another 200 had Ph.D. level programs in mathematics.
For applied mathematicians, depending upon their intended job field, coursework in that field will be crucial. This can range from business and economics, to engineering and physics, among others.
Additionally, mathematicians should consider computer coursework. Complex mathematical formulas and the modeling of mathematical problems are increasingly being completed on computers. This is especially true for mathematicians who will be working on nature-related problems, such as climate change or storm predictions. Mathematicians should be detail-oriented and able to relay technical information in an understandable fashion. Applied mathematicians should be able to work well with others.
Mathematician Salary and Wages
As of May in 2008, the median annual salary for a mathematician was $95,150. Some private sector and government mathematicians earned more, while academic mathematicians generally earned slightly less. The median annual salary for a mathematician working for the federal government was $107,051 in March of 2009.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
A mathematician typically does not need to seek a certification. However, depending on the job field in which they are employed, they will likely need a certification or license.
Theoretical mathematicians who are engaged as teachers will likely need a teaching license, depending upon which age group and level they are employed at. Applied mathematicians may need to apply for a security check or background check. This is especially true for mathematicians who may be working for the federal government as cryptanalysts, for example. Other jobs employing mathematicians may encourage or require different types of certifications or licenses for employment and promotions.
Mathematician Professional Associations
The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) first began in 1894 with the publication of the American Mathematical Monthly. By 1915, the MAA coalesced into a singular organization to promote, research, and teach all aspects of mathematical knowledge to interested parties. Today, MAA membership is over 20,000 mathematicians, scholars, and teachers. The MAA runs a number of events and publications to attract awareness and spread mathematics.
Additionally, numerous organizations cater to mathematicians engaged in specific fields.