The Job and What's Involved

Using a PCMathematicians apply mathematical theory and techniques to carry out research and solve real-life problems. Their skills are vital to the progress of science and engineering, as well as being widely employed in government, business and finance.

Many jobs demand a high degree of expertise in and application of mathematics, while not necessarily having 'mathematician' as part of their title. Mathematicians in employment may be known as analysts, programmers, consultants, modellers, designers, engineers and statisticians. They may be involved in:

  • Medical research and the development of new drugs.
  • The design of products such as computer software, cars or food.
  • Advising a business on market trends or more efficient working methods.
  • Advising politicians on the likely costs of their policy initiatives.
  • Developing models to forecast future trends in a wide variety of contexts - from financial markets to the weather or the spread of diseases.
  • Calculating the route for probes in space research.

Mathematicians in academic settings may study 'pure mathematics', and carry out research without an immediate practical goal, or they may work on a real-life problem with colleagues or an external company. They may also teach the subject.

A mathematician's daily work may include:

  • Designing mathematical models to interpret data.
  • Carrying out calculations and solving problems.
  • Testing ideas and alternative theories.
  • Advising colleagues and clients, in person and through written reports, spreadsheets, graphs and diagrams.
  • Producing and presenting papers to communicate research findings.
  • Researching the latest developments, via the internet and academic journals.

Some mathematicians make intensive use of specialised computer software and may write new programs to aid their work.

They may collaborate on projects with other researchers or with non-scientific colleagues.

Mathematicians generally work standard office hours, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Extra hours may be needed to meet project deadlines.

The work is generally office-based. Some travel may be needed to meet clients or attend conferences.

Salaries may start at around £24,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Mathematicians are employed in:

- Education and research
- Finance
- Engineering
- IT
- Architecture
- Design
- Political research
- Medicine
- The creative industries

Public sector employers include research institutions, universities and government departments. Large companies in a variety of fields, including defence, software, engineering and management consultancy, also employ mathematicians.

People with advanced mathematical skills are in short supply. While opportunities are wide-ranging, competition for specific vacancies can be keen. Gaining early work experience is helpful.

Vacancies are found in specialist publications, such as Science, Nature and New Scientist, and through specialist recruitment agencies for specific sectors, such as finance, business and media.

Education and Training

Mathematicians usually hold a first degree, generally in mathematics, physics or another subject with a high mathematical content.

Most mathematicians also have a postgraduate qualification (eg an MSc or PhD). An MSc usually takes one year full time, while a PhD usually requires three or four years' full-time study.

For a degree, entry requirements are usually at least two A levels/three H grades (A-C/1-3), including maths, plus five GCSE's/S grades, including English and maths, or equivalent qualifications. AS/A level further mathematics is highly desirable. IT and science subjects are also extremely helpful.

Postgraduate study usually requires a first degree in a relevant subject (often at least a 2.1).

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Mathematicians must keep up to date with the latest research techniques. They regularly attend conferences and seminars to hear about new developments in their field.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Mathematicians must:

  • Be logical thinkers, able to analyse complex problems.
  • Have a keen eye for detail.
  • Be careful and methodical.
  • Be able to think creatively about problems and explore them in new ways.
  • Be excellent communicators, both in writing and in person.
  • Have patience and determination to see lengthy projects through to the end.
  • Be highly skilled with numbers and IT.
  • Be well-organised and flexible.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, mathematicians may progress to lead a research team or take on a more specialist role.

In some sectors it may be possible to move into a more general role, such as management or marketing.

Mathematicians working in the academic field progress through research achievements. After establishing a strong track record, they may seek a professorship.

Get Further Information

The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA),
Catherine Richards House, 16 Nelson Street,
Southend-on-Sea, Essex SS1 1EF
Tel: 01702 354020

The London Mathematical Society,
De Morgan House, 57-58 Russell Square,
London WC1B 4HS
Tel: 020 7637 3686

The Mathematical Association,
259 London Road, Leicester LE2 3BE
Tel: 0116 221 0013

Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI),
9 Epsom Centre, White Horse Business Park,
Trowbridge, Wiltshire BA14 0XG
Tel: 01225 776776

Royal Statistical Society (RSS),
12 Errol Street, London EC1Y 8LX
Tel: 020 7638 8998

SEMTA (Science, Engineering and
Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 0800 282167

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