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I am currently an undergraduate freshman student at Tulane University. I thought for a long time that chemistry was my purpose, but after actually interacting with the school's science department I've realized that was a huge headache. I've recently rediscovered love and passion for mathematics, and have switched majors with my new curriculum being math-heavy. I've finished calculus and am currently taking linear algebra and real analysis, with a python class as well so I can teach math to computers as well.

However, most of my career research so far has been for science, with research opportunities and career steps in that field being pretty concrete and clear. I'm now hoping to pursue something like data science, but internship opportunities seem pretty scarce and competitive. Is there anything I can do to give myself a competitive edge and make myself more desireable for REUs and internships? (a la certain classes, online courses etc.,)

Thanks so much!

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  • I'm sure the answer heavily depends on the local situation both at your university and local businesses regarding internship opportunities. Data science is a very particular area, which isn't just about mathematics. Have you considered other fields? If you want to work in applied mathematics, there's a lot of options, from physics to computer games – Yuriy S Feb 10 at 16:17
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REU

I cannot speak for all REUs, but the ones that I have experience with usually look for a few things:

  • Good statement of purpose with a clear research objective. Even if this statement of purpose is a bit broad, it is important to show that you are able to ask good questions in relation to mathematics.
  • Good letters of recommend.
  • Specific coursework requested by the REU. I always found it odd that the REU at my university would specifically say a student needed understanding of Galois Theory OR Complex Analysis OR Graph Theory, and we would have students with none of these applying.

Internships

Data science (DS) internships are not scarce, as long as you are willing to go anywhere in the US. They are, however, often times competitive. I would suggest that you look very broadly at many fields for data science opportunities. (I, for example, got a DS internship one time working for a company that makes marine engines). Places like Google, Amazon, Apple, will be insanely competitive. Others, perhaps will be more tractable. If you have a background in chemistry, places like pharmaceuticals (Pfizer, Eli Lilly, etc) and chemical companies (Dow, DuPont, etc.) may be of particular interest.

Data Science as a Field

I cannot address every possible career path for math. I know people in law, medicine, engineering, academia, data science, psychometrics, business, athletics with math degrees. Given ten people with an undergrad in mathematics, chances are high that they will work in ten different fields.

I will specifically address data science as a career. DS relies on a trident of core topics:

  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Computer Science

You need to be good in all of these. I would hear (and was given) advice to math students such as

A math degree teaches you to think & people will hire you for you ability to think and problem solve.

While this is true, it takes much more than a BS in mathematics (especially pure maths) to get a job in DS. You need to be competent in the trident of fields I mentioned above.

I would suggest becoming as expert as you can in PyTorch or TensorFlow, pandas, numpy, SKLearn (all in Python). I have never seen a job reject me for knowing those skills. Learning an object oriented language (Java, C++) is also helpful.

If you are also interested in chemistry, I would suggest getting a minor in it (or something else crosscutting). Read up on GANs and drug/molecule discovery. (See for example https://thischemicaldoesnotexist.com/) And, as I mentioned, fields like law and medicine (chemistry) are on the table.

Always willing to chat if you start a private chat and what to know more.

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  • Thanks! That's wildly helpful - I think as far as Chem goes I'm tapping out of that. I'm well aware I need coding proficiency, which is why I'm starting this year. Do you have any good resources on PyTorch or other python applications? – Hayden Outlaw Feb 10 at 22:11

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