Blogpost: What are the obstacles to Math students entering BIG careers?

WMDStone

by Dr. William D. Stone, Dean of Arts & Sciences and Professor of Mathematics, New Mexico Tech Mathematics Department

A strong Mathematical background is an excellent preparation for many exciting careers in business, industry, and government. So why don’t more of our students think in terms of these careers? I see two reasons.

The first reason I see, is that many faculty feel uncomfortable advising students into these paths, since they don’t have much experience with industry. Most of us went from college, to graduate school, to a faculty position. We don’t know that much about what a Mathematician does in a BIG career.

This is not an insurmountable problem. Do you have former students who have gone to industry jobs? Invite them back to talk to your Math Club. Or contact a BIG-SIGMAA member in your section and invite them to talk about what they do. Some of your students might get excited. Some students who may not have considered a math major, since they didn’t see career paths other than teaching, may now think about joining your department.

Another obstacle can be faculty attitude. If we think of it as a failure when one of our graduate students goes into a non-academic career, that attitude is conveyed even if we don’t say it directly.

To me, this attitude is short-sighted. Many students want to work on real, applied problems. We should be welcoming them into Mathematics, and helping them on their path. The more that scientists and engineers see the value of a mathematician on their research teams, the better for our profession. When we have students out in industry, we may find ourselves being drawn into some very interesting problems, with genuine consequences. It’s a win-win all around!

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