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Mathematicians conduct research to develop and understand mathematical principles. They also analyze data and apply mathematical techniques to help solve real-world problems.
Mathematicians typically do the following:
Some mathematicians apply theories and techniques, such as mathematical modeling, to solve practical problems. These mathematicians, sometimes known as applied mathematicians, typically work with individuals in other occupations to solve these problems. For example, they may work with chemists, materials scientists, and chemical engineers to analyze the effectiveness of new drugs. Other applied mathematicians may work with industrial designers to study the aerodynamic characteristics of new automobiles.
Other mathematicians may study theoretical or abstract concepts in mathematics. Sometimes called theoretical mathematicians, they identify, research, and resolve unexplained issues in mathematics. They are concerned primarily with exploring new areas and relationships of mathematical theories to increase knowledge and understanding about the field.
Despite the differences between applied and theoretical mathematics, these areas frequently overlap. Many mathematicians, particularly those in government or private industry, will use both applied and theoretical knowledge in their job duties.
However, most people with a degree in mathematics or who develop mathematical theories and models are not formally known as mathematicians. Instead, they work in related fields and professions. In the computer systems design and related services industries, for example, they may be known as computer programmers or systems analysts. In finance, they may be known as quantitative analysts or statisticians. Other industries may refer to them as data scientists.
Computer and information research scientists, physicists and astronomers, economists, actuaries, operations research analysts, engineers, and many other occupations also use mathematics extensively.
Some people with a mathematics background become middle school or high school math teachers.
Many people with a Ph.D. in mathematics, particularly theoretical mathematics, work as postsecondary teachers in education institutions. They usually have a mix of teaching and research responsibilities. Some may conduct individual research or collaborate with other professors or mathematicians. Collaborators may work together at the same institution or from different locations.
Mathematicians hold about 3,500 jobs. The industries that employ the most mathematicians are as follows:
Federal government | 30% |
Scientific research and development services | 16 |
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private | 13 |
Finance and insurance | 7 |
Manufacturing | 5 |
Mathematicians typically work in offices. They also may work on teams with engineers, scientists, and other occupations.
Most mathematicians work full time. Deadlines and last-minute requests for data or analysis may require overtime. In addition, mathematicians may have to travel to attend seminars and conferences.
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Mathematicians typically need at least a master’s degree in mathematics. However, some positions are available for those with a bachelor’s degree.
In private industry, mathematicians typically need an advanced degree, either a master’s degree or a doctorate. For jobs with the federal government, candidates need at least a bachelor’s degree in mathematics or significant coursework in mathematics.
Most colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. Courses usually include calculus, differential equations, and linear and abstract algebra. Many colleges and universities advise or require mathematics students to take courses in a related field, such as computer science, engineering, physics, or statistics. Because mathematicians often work with data analysis software, computer programming courses may be particularly beneficial for students.
Many universities offer master’s and doctoral degrees in theoretical or applied mathematics. Many students who get a doctoral degree work as professors of mathematics in a college or university.
Also, holders of bachelor’s degrees who meet state certification requirements may become middle school or high school mathematics teachers.
Students who are interested in becoming mathematicians should take as many math courses as possible in high school.
Analytical skills. Mathematicians use mathematical techniques and models to analyze large amounts of data. They must determine the appropriate software packages and understand computer programming languages to design and develop new techniques and models. They must also be precise and accurate in their analysis.
Communication skills. Mathematicians must interact with, and propose solutions to, people who may not have extensive knowledge of mathematics.
Math skills. Mathematicians use statistics, calculus, and linear algebra to develop their models and analyses.
Problem-solving skills. Mathematicians must devise new solutions to problems encountered by scientists or engineers.
The median annual wage for mathematicians is $111,110. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $56,200, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $167,250.
The median annual wages for mathematicians in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
Scientific research and development services | $127,080 |
Manufacturing | 114,770 |
Federal government | 108,500 |
Finance and insurance | 108,310 |
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private | 55,390 |
Most mathematicians work full time. Deadlines and last-minute requests for data or analysis may require overtime. In addition, mathematicians may travel to attend seminars and conferences.
Employment of mathematicians is projected to grow 21 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 700 new jobs over the 10-year period.
The amount of digitally stored data will increase over the next decade as more people and companies conduct business online and use social media, smartphones, and other mobile devices. As a result, businesses will increasingly need mathematicians to analyze the large amount of information and data collected. Analyses will help companies improve their business processes, design and develop new products, and even advertise products to potential customers.
Mathematicians also will be needed to help information security analysts create data-security systems to protect confidential information of individuals and businesses.
Because the occupation is small and there are relatively few mathematician positions, strong competition for jobs is expected. Despite the strong competition for formal mathematician positions, many candidates with a background in advanced mathematical techniques and modeling will find good job opportunities in other, closely related fields.
Those with a graduate degree in mathematics, very strong quantitative and data analysis skills, and a background in a related discipline, such as business, computer science, or statistics, should have the best job prospects. Computer programming skills also are important to many employers.
Occupational Title | Employment, 2014 | Projected Employment, 2024 | Change, 2014-24 | |
---|---|---|---|---|
Percent | Numeric | |||
Mathematicians | 3,500 | 4,200 | 21 | 700 |