Careers advice in Mathematical Sciences

November 26, 2012
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(This article was originally published at Learn and Teach Statistics and Operations Research, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Mathematics teachers as Careers advisors

What can you do if you are good at mathematics? Become a maths teacher, of course!

I wonder how many of our students are aware of what wonderful and exciting career opportunities are out there for the mathematically competent, including being a mathematics teacher.

I also wonder how many teachers of mathematics, statistics and operations research are telling their students of the different possibilities.

I always loved maths at school and was good at it. I liked teaching, so I decided to be a maths teacher. Along the way, at university, I discovered computer programming and operations research, both subjects that I enjoyed and excelled at. (My conversion to statistics came much later). Given more information at school level, I may well have taken a different path earlier. I didn’t know about engineering or meteorology or surveying, all subjects which need proficiency in mathematics. This may be because I attended a girls’ catholic school where the more able students took languages and I had to study chemistry by correspondence. Let us hope that students this century are better informed.

Teachers are really busy people. I was fortunate last week to attend three different events for mathematics teachers, and was impressed at the dedication they have and their desire to do the best for their pupils.

At university we are having trouble attracting students to the mathematical sciences, yet there is a clear market for graduates, as this article explains: You’re a data what?

There are sites on the internet dedicated to careers information related to mathematics.

The Mathematical Association of America has this link: maa.org/careers/

And the UK has a similar one: mathscareers.org.uk/

A New Zealand site gives suggestions to teachers: CareersNZ

I suspect all it may take is awareness, that the teaching of mathematics and statistics needs to be supplemented with a little careers information. Here are some ideas:

  • Have students research mathematically based careers for homework.
  • Put vignettes of mathematical workers on the screen for students to read as they enter the classroom.
  • Apply the material covered to possible career paths – for example, “if you enjoy interpreting statistical graphs, you might like to work as a data scientist”.
  • Use data from a range of mathematical careers as part of data analysis.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, and would love to hear what classroom teachers are doing. There is a wonderful array of information available at the end of a Google Search (which is only possible because of mathematical scientists who continually refine the search engine).

University lecturers need to talk about careers too

The responsibility to inform about careers is not just for school teachers. At University level we sometimes assume the students have a plan about what they are studying and where they would like to end up. I remember one student in particular who had a really clear plan about what he wanted to do. He knew the enrolment handbook better than I. I met him over ten years ago, and this is still a vivid memory, because so many of the students I have taught were unclear about their destination. I’m embarrassed to admit, I probably didn’t help as much as I should have. I think I had this uneasy feeling that I would be seen as “pushing my own barrow”. But heck – if I didn’t think Operations Research and Statistics were important, I should not have been teaching them.

The funny thing is I spent many years making negative comments about the subject of Marketing, seeing it as at time quite harmful. I had a friendly ongoing banter with a wonderful marketing lecturer, John Watson, where we would each poke fun at the others’ subject. And now that I am in the world of business and trying to make a living by selling my apps and on-line courses, I realise that not only do I need to use marketing, but I actually quite enjoy it.  It’s a funny old world!

Information is power, and when we help students learn about possible careers and disciplines we are giving them power to make better choices. And that is important.




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