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I am thinking of getting my M.S. in Computer Science. I chose C.S. because I enjoy programming and because its a solid choice, career wise. Low unemployment, good pay, all that jazz.

But my real passions has always been math and lately I have been thinking about swapping and going for my graduate degree in Math. If I went the math route I would probably go full PhD (since I don't think there is much you can do with just a Masters in math).

But as much as I love math, I can't see myself being a math teacher. I would want to work in research or industry, applying math to solve real world problems.

What kind of non-academic jobs are there for someone with a PhD in math (or what is the best resource to see what jobs are out there)?

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  • I often see ads of NSA jobs for mathematicians.
    – avi
    Mar 28, 2013 at 10:52
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    Why choose one or the other? There are lots of nichés out there where a solid knowledge in both CS and Math is an absolute necessity. Consider fields like cryptology or high performance computing. I personally work in bioinformatics; which requires strong basis in math, cs, statistics AND cell biology.
    – posdef
    Mar 28, 2013 at 11:49
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    Where did you hear that there isn't much you can do with a master's in math? While a PhD in an applied math field would open up more opportunities, M.S. degrees in math are still major positive signals to many employers. Mar 28, 2013 at 19:43
  • @TaylorHuston In addition to the link provdied by Vahid Shirbisheh, you can refere to a similar question on Math SE - Head hunters/Job Search sites for Mathematicians?.
    – Nobody
    Mar 30, 2013 at 12:50

6 Answers 6

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It really depends on the kind of mathematics you do. For example, if your work involved probability/statistics, or even certain kinds of topology, you could get a job at pretty much any tech company doing machine learning. If you were doing stochastics, then Wall street will beckon.

If your Ph.D has a computational side to it (say in numerical methods for example) the national labs in the US are interested in your expertise.

And so on and so forth. The fact that you're doing an MS in Computer science makes your profile look even stronger.

While this might be viewed as a strongly biased suggestion, you might consider a Ph.D in Computer Science: there are many parts of computer science that are all mathematics, and you'd get to do what you love, as well as getting the CS branding that will make getting an industry job way easier.

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It is not accurate to equate every academic job in mathematics with "being a math teacher". I am a professor of (applied) mathematics, and I spend less than a quarter of my working hours on what is formally called teaching (including preparation, class time, grading, etc). Probably much less. Applied mathematics professors at research institutions primarily devote their time to "applying math to solve real world problems."

It's true that if you take a position at a SLAC, for instance, you may spend most of your time teaching. And in a broad sense, part of your job will be to teach mathematics, even if you are in industry (the setting is just less formal).

SIAM has a host of great resources on non-academic careers in (applied) mathematics:

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Certain branches of applied mathematics look very promising regarding the job market. For example financial mathematics. However there are also companies which are interested in hiring pure mathematicians to work on real world problems. As an instance, I suggest you look at the web site of ThinkTank Maths. Their webpage for Mathematician - Mathematical Researcher says

We are particularly interested in applicants with highly abstract or pure mathematical backgrounds.

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I listed a few possible options in a comment to a thread that was deleted, so here they are again. These are examples of actual jobs that people I know took as math graduates (most with a Master, some with a PhD), with the exclusion of the ones already mentioned in the other answers.

  • network analyst for a railroad company (in a country with a modern, very dense and complex network).
  • statistician/analyst for an online gambling/betting platform (I'm guessing casinos and slot machines manufacturers are hiring mathematicians as well).
  • grant evaluator, scientific advisor in a national science funding agency (especially for mathematicians with a PhD).
  • statistician in an insurance company
  • scientific advisor for a law enforcement agency
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You can look into national lab jobs - see my answer here. Especially with your computer science background. Many mathematicians at the labs work on large-scale modeling problems that require high performance computing. Some examples: Sea ice models at LANL, building software tools for linear algebra at Sandia (Trillinos), computational chemistry at PNNL, developing graph theory tools at LANL (NetworkX).

These are just the US options that I've come across personally, there are national labs in many countries where mathematicians can work.

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Do not do pure math: the job prospects in academia are horrible. Then, once you leave academia you'll figure out that a math degree while highly impressive is completely useless to employers. Yes, it's a fundamental discipline which undergirds every engineering field, but by itself it is abstract and totally and completely useless. You need to couple it with a degree in something that makes sense employment wise. I suppose it's a good field to minor, double major, or do a second master's in. What it is not is a basket to put all your eggs into. I'm not going to speak at length about industry jobs, suffice it to say that positions in industry where a pure mathematician is needed are even more scant than academic jobs.

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  • positions in industry where a pure mathematician is needed are even more scant than academic jobs --- For most areas of pure math I think the empty set provides a more precise description of the totality of such jobs. Oct 19, 2020 at 19:43
  • positions in industry where a pure mathematician is needed are...scant: perhaps, the important word being needed. Replace the needed with valued and they are not scant at all. My Ph.D. in pure mathematics opened the door to a job in (business) management consulting, and offers from Wall Street, and in applied mathematics in a software house. There are many jobs out there in "industry" that care more about the type of thinking and work ethic you have learned, than the specific research area you worked in.
    – Houska
    Oct 20, 2020 at 19:25

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