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I am an 11th grader and studying undergraduate mathematics and living in India. I want to become a mathematician, but there is one problem in this path. My parents want me to become a medical doctor, but I have no interest in biology. My parents say there is no career in mathematics and it is a total passion job, you can't get anything from it. They say: "There is no demand of mathematics and you can't go anywhere after few years. The salary is not good and no job as a mathematician. You will only get a job if you do your Ph.D."

So my questions are:

  1. Is it true what my parents are saying?

  2. If it isn't, then what are the careers in mathematics? It is fine if it is a bit long; I don't want any shortcut to success. Also will studying mathematics take up a lot of money? It is a huge issue in my house.

  • Related Question. – Roger Fan May 31 '15 at 7:36
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    You should take into account that the answer to your question is country-specific. In my country for example, math majors will end up working as school teachers (or other unrelated occupations if they are not interested in teaching). So, I would say, your parents have point, unless you have more details about the employment opportunities in India. – jak123 May 31 '15 at 8:27
  • What about computer science? You can study some (a lot?) of theoretical maths, while keeping the option of becoming a professional programmer open. – Gaurav May 31 '15 at 10:17
  • You do not need a PhD in maths (see answers) to get a job. I am related to two individuals who have undergraduate degrees in mathematics and went on to careers in engineering (after some further studies): one in aerospace engineering and the other in systems engineering. If you can do the maths, you can learn the [insert applied mathematics]. – Ben Norris May 31 '15 at 11:07
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    Your parents are right. An engineer, a physicist and a mathematician shipwreck on an island, and they only have canned beans to survive. When rescue ship arrives, they found the engineer, alive. He built a machinery with palm woods and elastic vines to crash the cans on the rocks and eat the beans. They also found the phisicist, alive: with drops of water of a waterfall, he was able to make the can lid resonate until it explodes, and eat the beans. Then they found the corpse of the mathematician, with some notes on a paper. They say like this: "Supposing, ad absurdum..." – digital illusion Jun 1 '15 at 20:29
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Your parents are thoroughly incorrect when they say that there is no career opportunities in mathematics.

Further to Dave Clarke's answer, many (applied) mathematicians find work in the City (as in the financial services sector of London) running risk analyses, for instance.

If however, you are looking at finding work as a research academic in mathematics, then jobs are there, but sought after. Teaching mathematics at university level provides wider prospects, however.

To answer your question about money, the amount you have to pay largely rests on the tuition fees that you can afford. This will depend on which university you choose to attend.

There is also the middle ground of studying mathematics with a view to putting that study to work in medicine. Consider that statistics (yes, probably not the subject you are interested in), was essentially developed as a response to a medical situation (plague in London). There is also a vast amount of work requiring pure and applied mathematics in medicine (nuclear medicine, MRI, NMR, for example).

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    One problem I see is that if there is a 1:10000 ratio to get these "opportunities", you better be extraordinary. If you are less than that you may end up with a diploma which will not get you anywhere close to math. I work and worked with many people who graduated in math, physics, geography , ... and work in high-tech. Great work but nothing close to what they graduated in. I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing but if you love being an MD you are almost guaranteed to do that after you graduate in medicine (even if you are not that great). Not the case for math IMHO. – WoJ May 31 '15 at 8:40
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    @WoJ True, but does it sound like the OP loves being an MD? Might be better to study what you love, give it a shot, and if it does not work out do something that you love slightly less (but maybe still more than Medicine). Also, the odds gotta be better than 1:10000. – xLeitix May 31 '15 at 9:49
  • @xLeitix: I agree with you, I was merely commenting on the "throughly incorrect". I graduated with a PhD in physics, now work in IT and loved both. It is just that you may not get the chance to fallback on something you like. The point is not to be frustrated afterwards. Math is not that bad, think about philosophy :) As for the odds: they are certainly better and there is someone who ends up being at the position. – WoJ May 31 '15 at 10:50
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Mathematician was the top-rated job according to a study discussed in the Wall Street Journal in 2009. Number 2 was Actuary and Number 3 was Statistician. Income for mathematicians was a bit higher than either of those (it surprised me how well-paid "mathematicians" are). Computer-related careers also placed well in this ranking.

Like they say "it's nice work if you can get it"! For some sense of the available jobs, check mathjobs.org. A PhD will likely be required for many but not all.

Regarding costs: You don't need much equipment, so that could help keep costs down. ✎ Scholarships are often available for advanced degrees in this area, so earning a PhD may be more a matter of time and effort than money.

If you're interested in going to grad school for mathematics in the US, have a look at the Mathematics GRE Subject Test, since your results on that test will (likely) be a strong factor in influencing where you are accepted.

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    If you are in high school, it is definitely too early to start studying for the Mathematics GRE Subject Test. I would not recommend anyone study for it for any more than a year: up until that point (and probably safely beyond) it is much more rewarding and useful to learn mathematics rather than study for a test. – Pete L. Clark Aug 2 '15 at 0:34
  • @PeteL.Clark I have revised the concluding statement. The exact timing for test prep seems like a fairly individual thing. Nevertheless it is very pragmatic for someone who is thinking about money to get a good score on that test. Yes, there's more to life than just the test score, but a poor score on that test would not be any kind of asset. I'm pretty sure it's one of the first thing admissions panels look at. Getting a good score on a standardized test is a way to set yourself apart. – Joe Corneli Aug 2 '15 at 16:43
  • Need to be careful of relying too heavily on that study, it emphasizes that "they typically work in favorable conditions -- indoors and in places free of toxic fumes or noise" which is of course true, but only one of many factors in evaluating "success". – Ben Voigt Aug 2 '15 at 18:17
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The answer very much depends on what kind of mathematics you study. Some purely theoretical topics may lead only to academic positions, whereas other areas could lead to positions in finance, data science, statistics.

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I can understand your situation since I come as well from a country where parents convince their offspring to join either: medicine, engineering or pharmacy. Because they think these are the "secure" jobs. Although the following might sound intuitive to many readers, I expect that people coming from developing countries (like me) might find this advice valuable.

Your parents speak out of their experience from what they see around them. I would assume that, like in my country, it is true that mathematicians do not have many good opportunities in India.

So to answer question (1), I assume that in India this is true. In other countries that might not be the case, although it is true that in general medical doctors will probably earn more than mathematicians, but in many countries (e.g. western European countries) you (as well as your family) can live a very decent life with a mathematician's salary.

(2) As others said already, mathematicians can get jobs in research, IT and as well in insurance companies.

Now my advice is to do what you love and let it eat you! this will sound Utopian to some, but no it is true, you can do what you love and live a decent life a the same time, you do not have to do something you hate (e.g. study biology) in order to live happily. Money is not everything, and you cannot guarantee you'll earn a lot of money even if you become a medical doctor.

If you really have the passion for mathematics, I suggest you apply at universities abroad. Apply for scholarships and fellowships and study at a place that will appreciate your passion to the field. If you really love something you'll do great at it, and I think you'll have a better chance to reach your highest potential at universities known to be strong in mathematics. Also that's where you will probably get exposed to better job opportunities.

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Quite simply, you're not going to be happy if you (for example) become a medical doctor and you hate the job. This is your life and you need to do what you want to do, regardless of whether or not it pleases your parents.

You clearly have a deep understanding and passion for maths, and if you follow it as a career path you could do great things.

You're just going to have to tell your parents that this is what you want to do.

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  1. If you have good grounding in math, this opens you up to well placed career in anything computer related (software development, research, all sorts of finance-related positions). Obviously, that's a pretty good career path these days. You'd be surprised and how varied computer-related positions involving heavy math lifting are.

  2. If you want to do pure math research, that may be harder to pursue. There aren't all that many research positions in terms of pure math out there, in India or even elsewhere, compared to amount of people seeking them.

  3. However, you're not restricted to pure academic university position. If you're into number theory, any number of crypto* related opportunities are there (NSA in US is a heavy employer of such people; and I'm pretty sure India may have it equivalent). As time goes, security and encryption gets to be more and more important.

To convince your parents, show them the numbers for those applied jobs. Both their #, and the salaries (especially for things like quants in financial firms)

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I would advise that you go for your passion which is mathematics. If you do change your mind after obtaining a degree in mathematics, you can always apply to medical school as a graduate and by this time, your decision will be well informed. Perhaps explaining this to your parents might help ease their anxieties about your future. Also, bear in mind that medicine is more expensive to study at university level (more years of study) compared to mathematics. It is true that you could probably get by as an average medical doctor but if you don't have the right personality for the job, you will stand out for the wrong reasons and you will definitely hate it in the end. There is a lot of pressure on medical doctors and its not uncommon for the media to focus on them.

Think about it-if you study maths and you change your mind to medicine, you don't have much to lose. However, if you study medicine and realise its not for you, you run the risk of either dropping out of the course or forcing yourself to complete a degree you don't enjoy.

It is true that Pure mathematics may not necessarily earn you millions but you can never predict where your research will take you. There are mathematicians who consult in the industry in addition to their academic duties.

You just need to find a way to convince your parents-perhaps get the attention of someone whom your parents respect and are likely to listen to.

Best wishes.

  • @Rememberme, you're welcome. – John_dydx Aug 2 '15 at 7:54

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