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Ask Slashdot: What To Do With a Math Degree? 416

First time accepted submitter badmojo17 writes "After achieving her lifelong dream of becoming a public school math teacher, my wife has found the profession to be much more frustrating than she ever expected. She could deal with having a group of disrespectful criminals as students if she had competent administrators supporting her, but the sad truth is that her administration causes more problems on a daily basis than her students do. Our question is this: what other professions are open to a bright young woman with a bachelor's degree in math and a master's degree in education? Without further education, what types of positions or companies might be interested in her as an employee?"
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Ask Slashdot: What To Do With a Math Degree?

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  • software dev? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sribe ( 304414 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:27PM (#40188393)

    I've know a couple of devs with math degrees, and they were excellent.

    • Re:software dev? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:33PM (#40188481)

      Software development, and IT in general will do well. I have 2 math degrees, the logical flow of math works very well with all things in IT.. except for management.

      • Re:software dev? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by McFadden ( 809368 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:46PM (#40188683)
        Absolutely. As someone who regularly hires, I've recruited people with a math degree from a decent college over people with computer science degrees before. It's possible the two have changed, but back when I was at university, I did Comp Sci and sat in for a couple of lectures a week with the first year math undergrads. What they were doing was considerably more challenging than anything I encountered in my four years.
    • I've know a couple of devs with math degrees, and they were excellent.

      Mod parent up. A math degree is excellent background for software development. It sounds like the submitter's wife would have terrific skills to bring to a software development team: the obvious of math; the less obvious, dealing with socially awkward teenagers. If she finds that "coding" isn't her thing, there's still requirements gathering and documentation, testing, and project management.

      • Re:software dev? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Mitchell314 ( 1576581 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @10:37PM (#40190489)
        Just graduated with a math (BS) degree myself. My current only options are to fight for entry level programming jobs (which I have a temporary one) or to continue my education and get a degree that's actually useful. Problem is, while it sounds nice in theory as a compliment to computer science, by itself it does not give you the necessary basic skills to be even remotely competitive; you need experience from another source. Having a good grasp of logic does you no bloody good when nearly every employer wants a minimum of x years of experience in half a dozen different platforms/languages.

        But, programming is the general area I would wish to get into, and it's something I'd recommend OP to look into to. But no matter what, you'll have to learn a lot more: be it in the workplace, on your own time, or in school. No getting around that. :p

        Dunno how the education background figures into it. I guess it helps, you have to break down complex concepts so that students can learn it. In programming, you pretty much have to break down complex processes to simpler subroutines and instructions. Maybe it helps, but I don't know, education isn't my thing.
    • by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @08:01PM (#40188895)

      Same here, BS in Applied Math and I do embedded software.

      I never actually use the math I learned, except when I go off on a tangent....

    • I'm one of those guys too. I don't think I would have got my foot in the door without having web dev and C++ code in the wild though. I did a ton of QA before I committed any code, and added Android dev to my virtual resume before getting a good job. Once you are there, skills around logic / math are great items to have in the colloquial toolbox.
    • by gstovall ( 22014 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:04PM (#40189601) Homepage

      I had a great math teacher in high school.

      15 years later, it was kind of a blast from the past to walk into the employee cafeteria and encounter my high school math teacher, now a software developer for the same corporation.

  • Tutoring (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:30PM (#40188447) Homepage Journal

    There are families who value education and aren't satisfied with schools.

    • Re:Tutoring (Score:5, Insightful)

      by spazdor ( 902907 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:34PM (#40188485)

      I came here to say this.

      The problem is not that she's a teacher, the problem is clearly that she is working for the wrong employer.

      • by Bayoudegradeable ( 1003768 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @09:17PM (#40189763)
        This is not flamebait. I am a private school teacher so I say this with honest clarity. Some public school administrators are largely a joke. I am currently getting my master's degree in education administration and I hear horror stories day in and day out from classmates that work in the public system. Granted, I live in New Orleans so our public system is a dysfunctional mess. However, across the nation the legislative mandates that any public school teacher have to deal with are contradictory at best and truly insane at the worst. So ditch the public system. Private schools tend to be run more like companies and lousy administrators don't last. Firing teachers is a breeze... in fact, you're simply not rehired. To work in a private school you have far less legal protections but you have students and administrators that truly care, supportive parents (not always) and colleagues that are largely pros. (in the case of a good private school, much like in the case of a good company) So instead of bailing on the profession, bail on the bad school. Also, to be fair, there are thousands upon thousands of EXCELLENT public schools out there and perhaps your wife should look at other options in the area. Often times a different district or parish (counties for everyone else) will have a very different system. But really, don't give up on the dream of teaching. Teaching provides far more than can be measured and on my deathbed I will take a massive amount of satisfaction to the grave with me. Difference makers take it with them. Moneymakers may or may not be able to do the same.
    • Re:Tutoring (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:50PM (#40188739) Homepage Journal

      Agreed. Tutoring will pay better than regular teaching, will generally involve better students and will always have the best administrator you can be.

      • Agreed. Tutoring will pay better than regular teaching, will generally involve better students and will always have the best administrator you can be.

        The reality is that for some high demand subjects like math, tenured teaching pays surprisingly well. Also you have have summers off, and the pension and heathcare benefits. A tutor in those subjects generally doesn't do as well as thier teacher counterparts, end up working irregular hours (weekends/evenings), and lack similar benefits.

        For example, in San Jose (a pricy area), you might get $65K as a math tutor if you work for someone and that is probably pretty flat over time (limited pay-bumps for senori

        • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 )

          Teaching has all the right time off, it's hard to convey just how valuable that is.

          Even if you have to work at home, you can pick up your kid at 3, no babysitting, and work at home. No babysitting on march break, that extra week at christmas, or the two months in the summer etc. Those costs add up fast if you're in the private sector.

          Then there are pension benefits. As in: you actually have a real pension. Usually they are defined benefit, meaning you will know how much you are going to get when you ret

  • If she has additional background in biology, or computing skills, she might find work in a computational biology lab as a staff scientist or assistant ... but the real key is to have a complementary skill, where mathematics helps propel the analysis and work.

    • (replying to myself): Also, if her statistics are good, she might consider joining the biostatistics core at a med school or medical company. There will be no shortage of clinical trials or other biological experiments where they really need a statistician (or mathematician) to help with experimental design and statistical analysis / hypothesis testing.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        BS level math will have trouble getting into a good biostats gig. I suppose you could become a wizard at R but you really need to go back and get a MS in stats and we can talk. (BTW I do work with many biostats folks at a large medical institution, am a PhD in a related field and collaborate extensively with a few who are really excellent statisticians. ) Parent might be right, maybe you can become a second string data donkey at a drug company with a straight math degree -- from what I've seen it's

    • by godrik ( 1287354 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @10:59PM (#40190691)

      I work in a research lab. Honnestly, we have no use for someone with only a bachelor in mathematics. The people that are convinced they need reasonable statistical analysis are typically capable of performing the job themselves. The ones that do not have that skill do not care. (They should, but they don't. So they won't hire you to do that)

  • Change schools. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rritterson ( 588983 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:32PM (#40188465)

    I come from a family of teachers, so I know all about internal politics. Unless she no longer wants to teach under any circumstances, change schools first before giving up. Try private if you've only done public, etc. If it is truly her passion, she'll find the school for her.

    Or, do what my college roommate did and specialize in Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. Make $120,000 a year and hate yourself.

    • by Auroch ( 1403671 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:40PM (#40188607)

      I come from a family of teachers, so I know all about internal politics. Unless she no longer wants to teach under any circumstances, change schools first before giving up.

      I was a language teacher for a year. While still in school, I realized that I *hated* the public school I was working in - I figured it was just random chance, since I'd had many good experiences volunteering in schools, in the past.

      So I took a 4 month contract starting in september at a different school, that had a much different reputation... which is like saying that I switched from Mr Pib to Dr Pepper. Sure, one SOUNDS better, but there isn't much difference. Teachers who had been in the system for awhile must have felt that the grass was greener at a different school, but the grass is just terrible at all schools. How do I know? the contract I took for the second part of the year was at ANOTHER school. That was terrible as well.

      There is something broken with our public education system. And I'm in CANADA, which is infitintely better than your crappy american public schools (according to Geoffrey Canada, some know-it-all american educator in some know-it-all american "documentary"). So yes, I feel her pain. Now? I'm doing some consulting work for Training and Development at a large govn't contractor... no relation at all to either of my degrees.

    • by jd ( 1658 )

      Same here (4 generations and likely to rise), and US public schools are a major problem. Private schools might work, particularly one that are properly streamed, tutoring almost certainly will.

    • by Nethemas the Great ( 909900 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:58PM (#40188845)

      I have a hunch that she has an empathy for children which is what drove her to pursue the education thing. While it might be more practical to choose a different career, it is unlikely that she would ever be happy with anything less than engaging young minds.

      Has she considered private schools, or even private tutoring (think Silvan [] or Math Addvantage [])? The environment for both is radically different from that of a public school. In both cases the students involved are more likely to be "reachable" and education the actual goal.

      • I have a hunch that she has an empathy for children which is what drove her to pursue the education thing. While it might be more practical to choose a different career, it is unlikely that she would ever be happy with anything less than engaging young minds.

        Oh, how I wish I had mod points right now. This is an excellent point that is missing from almost all of the comments here.

      • by r00t ( 33219 )

        I have a hunch that she has an empathy for children which is what drove her to pursue the education thing. While it might be more practical to choose a different career, it is unlikely that she would ever be happy with anything less than engaging young minds.

        That is pure fantasy unless you can teach in some sort of gifted/talented program. Those are rare these days. Normally there isn't much of a mind to engage, and anyway it wants to play video games or chase after people of the opposite sex.

        It's possible to get a supply of engagable young minds if you create them yourself. She seems to have decent DNA, and most likely her husband is above average, so... well if she really works at it she can have a pretty full classroom. A dozen kids is usually possible, even

  • by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:35PM (#40188497) Homepage

    Become a professional gambler.

  • Fairly obvious... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:35PM (#40188501)

    Private school math teacher?

    • I don't have mod points, but I was going to point out the same.
      Motivated parents. Lean administration. No interference from politicians.

  • She can still teach. Aren't there schools with less bureaucracy and administrative nonsense; private schools, charter school, etc?
  • by Giant Electronic Bra ( 1229876 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:36PM (#40188509)

    My BS in Math hasn't hurt me, but I can't say it really gives you enough depth in math to do a lot with directly. It is a leg up on engineering or science career paths, but I'd be real surprised if anyone could find a position that relied on an undergrad math degree. Math is a beast, 4 years is barely enough time to learn the basics.

    I think she's maybe be best off looking at some area where her education degree could be helpful. Training or some type of course design work or something. I'm sure there's a niche there somewhere for someone that is willing to go out and carve it out for themselves. The other option? Go for the PhD and teach education at a college level, lol (or math for that matter). Heck, I've taught a few college level courses as an adjunct myself, you don't usually need an advanced degree. It isn't the best paying job ever, but she might find that teaching a few courses at college level will tell her if she's at all interested in that. It is a BIT different from teaching K-12 in a public school.

  • First, there's always graduate school. Math is a fantastic subject to learn more about, just because (like many other things). After she could probably get into academia or industry (industry at a higher level).

    Second, the people I know from undergrad with math degrees, who did not go to graduate school, chose one of three options:

    1.) Work for a financial company doing number crunching of some sort

    2.) Taking the actuarial exams

    3.) Computer companies: but I've heard from them that at job fairs, computer

  • Quantitative Analyst (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Faulkner39 ( 955290 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:38PM (#40188551)
    In the Financial industry, "Quants" or Quantitative Analysts use statistics and sophisticated heuristics to feed ideas and information to organizations that deal with trading in the various markets (stocks, options, futures, commodities, forex, etc.), such as hedge funds, statistical arbitrage operations, and private investors. It's a high paying, highly challenging position that deals with all kinds of mathematical functions and techniques, such as optimizing adaptive filters. It's one of the best places for a mathematician to earn a great salary, but your skill and experience needs to be very top level.
    • That is all correct, but she'll probably have a tough time getting one of those jobs because: 1) She doesn't have a PhD, and 2) It's tough to get those jobs right now because there are a lot of experienced Wall Streeters looking for work (I'm told). Education-wise, she might have a better shot at a job as an assistant trader if she has the right personality for it, but it might be tough to find anyone that is hiring. And, of course, such jobs are very geographically limited. Most are in NYC with a few in

  • Silly question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:38PM (#40188553)

    Young, shown she can learn and apply reason and logic. Christ, pretty much any career. What does she want to do? She needs to think about what she wants to do, apply for jobs and let them tell her whether she's suitable or what she needs to do to become suitable.

  • by dontclapthrowmoney ( 1534613 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:38PM (#40188555)

    No-one ever said on their death beds that they wanted to spend more time in the office. And your career will never wake up one morning and tell you it doesn't love you any more. Both of these are reasons to do something she actually wants to do.

    If she is in the unenviable position of having to trade her time for money in order to live, she should at least do something she has some interest in. Just work out what she wants to do, then get the qualifications or experience to suit. Don't assume her current qualifications should be the starting point for making that decision. She wouldn't necessarily be starting from scratch, having a degree of any kind (especially a Masters degree) gives you a head start in many other areas.

    The OP says this person is a "bright young woman", retirement is probably a long way off... hopefully she can find something she likes that makes economic sense also.

    Good luck.

  • - Insurance companies sometimes hire them for statistical analysis of cost/benefits
    - Larger hospitals that do research sometimes hire them for statistical analysis of medicines and treatments
    - Manufacturing companies sometimes hire them to do statistical analysis of product failures

    If she doesn't mind focusing on the statistics branch of math, there are jobs out there.
    • Mod parent up. First post that doesn't suggest she make a radical career change to IT.

      I know a couple of people with Math degrees working at insurance companies.

  • If she wants out of the education field, and has no interest in learning how to code, her best bet is the business world. Not a guarantee by any means, but she has a better chance than your art history or women's studies major. She'll probably start as an administrative assistant of some kind, for management that would like some number crunchers on their team, and she can make her way from there. It's not quite the mail room, but it won't be a "ready made" position like accounting or HR either. She just has

    • Go into a specific business field that uses math in a non-accounting manner: product development and marketing.

      "Product development" in the specification sense, not in the implementation sense. The determining of needs and wants of potential customers and coming up with products and product features that meet this need. Believe it or not the way people are taught to do this sort of thing in business school actually involves mathematical modeling, sampling and statistics, etc. I was shocked and thrilled t
  • Only half joking, my freshman math professor actually did this. He was finishing up his doctorate at the time he taught the class I was in. Couple years later he was in a CS class with me. He'd decided the pure math jobs out there were crap, but math programming there was a market for.

  • Do teaching or software development

  • by burning_plastic ( 164918 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:41PM (#40188619)

    There are plenty of countries where teachers are actually respected, paid decent wages and supported by their schools - my little brother ended up in Australia, and even though he's not currently in a particularly nice school (inner city...) he still says it's a massive leap above most schools in the US/UK...

    • by guises ( 2423402 )
      Seconded. Apparently she's married, so moving abroad may not be quite so easy, but there are international schools in just about every country that will let you teach in English to students who are probably better and with administrators who are at least different from what she's dealt with so far. May be better, may be worse, but at a minimum she'll be experiencing other countries and cultures. That's valuable.
  • While we're on the subject of giving up your passion, how about accounting? Granted, it's like culinary chef working at McDonald's, but a CPA pays much better than a teacher.

    Do what the others have said, go to a different school. And yes, learn to put up with bullshit because it exists in every profession.

  • I've got a Math degree (not Math Education, mind you, just plain Math). I couldn't find a job to save my life for awhile, but sooner or later I took a tech support job and was moved up to Quality Assurance and may one day move into development.

    One thing I *want* to do, but just don't have the fortitude to do is take some of the actuary exams. If your wife is a standard math nerd, doing actuarial work should be right up her alley.

    I guess she can really do whatever she wants. A lot of place will just take

  • by ( 142825 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:45PM (#40188665) Homepage

    1. Head to Vegas.
    2. Count Cards.
    3. Profit.

    • by oxdas ( 2447598 )

      Clearly you have never tried to count cards in Vegas. After the MIT kids robbed them blind, they changed their rules and developed sophisticated methods for detecting card counting. My friend and I were escorted to the door withing 15 minutes and that was 8 years ago.

      Card counting is easy, but it relies on probability and betting high when the count is good and low when the count is bad. The house keeps track of the count too and your variation in betting.

  • Banks employ lots of mathematicians nowadays, especially in the insurance field, but most of them require an MS.

  • by bhlowe ( 1803290 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @07:56PM (#40188835)
    Move to a better school district. She won't have "criminals" (not my word!) in her class. She will have brighter, more educated, and well-behaved children. That will probably improve the administration situation as well. I would say just "teach" in a better school district, but the sooner you make the move yourself to a better district, the better... since raising kids in a bad school area gets progressively worse as the kids get older.

    And don't give me any crap about how I must be a mean conservative... most of the white liberals who work and live in/near Berkeley, CA refuse to send their kids to the neighborhood government schools...
  • She could develop and/or present courses for Mathworks or a similar company.

  • There are a lot of opportunities in signal processing (wireless, speech, and vision), and the math background would be an excellent differentiator. However she would need to learn digital signal processing, MATLAB for prototyping, and C/C++ for building fast signal processing systems.

    The NSA will hire smart math grads for signal processing and train you up to some extent.

  • If she is bright and loves mathematics, she should go on to do graduate studies. Undergrad maths is really boring compared to graduate level stuff. Then the world is her oyster. She should find a good school and a good supervisor. The world of professional mathematicians is pretty exciting !

  • I just graduated with a pure math BS from UCSD with a minor in CS. I got hired by Metron ( as an operations analyst. Which is essentially just answering questions and doing research for the DOD. As someone who is also a tutor, I can also understand your wife's position. A good question to ask is what did she specialize in? I specialized in probability theory and real analysis, this lends it self to multiple careers. If you specialize in math education your options might be more limited since

  • I know a math degree doesn't guarantee she can get her head around various products well enough to train folks how to use them, but I'm pretty sure she'll do better than some... and the students are usually a little less riotous.
  • are you western? considered the military industrial complex? its all the lucrative pay of the private sector and none of the hassle of applying for grants each year to study silly things the government doesnt fund anyway, like climate change research. As an added bonus, the employment is based on unjustified, uncodifiable fears and uncertainties that simply exist without premise, so youre guaranteed a job in perpetuity!

    but in all seriousness yeah, I asked myself the same question after i got the Computer S

  • I have a BS in Math from a southern liberal arts college that's going on 30 years old, and it has served me well.

    I spent my first ~10 years as an active duty US Army Artillery officer, and my math background helped me not only to get job done, but to understand WHY things worked, and more importantly, why they might NOT be working.

    I later transitioned to a Unix sysadmin gig, and then to information security, where I've been happily making a living for ~20 years.

    The math helps. Let's you go toe-to-t

  • Talk to the big defence/aerospace firms. Lockheed, Raytheon, Thales, etc.

  • I mean, really.

  • I have a BA in Math and am 2 credits away from an MA in Secondary Education. I've been a web developer for about 10 years now. A math degree is pretty much universally applicable to any profession. Just doing student teaching I found a school district I'll never set for in or have my daughter set foot in. I've had jobs not work out. I live in AZ and currently work for a company in CT and have a handful of other clients. My boss in CT recently mentioned that he may be able to get some work in Data Anal

  • Why did your co-dependent become a teacher for?

    You can tell her that the first year of teaching will be hell, and that it will get better the following year. No need to lie. She spent a lot of time and money to become a teacher, have her try one more year before she joins up in a JET program.

    If her school is a Title 1 school, she may be eligable for a PELL Grant. And she can go an get her Adminstrative Credential.
  • Companies that make business software tend to need Trainers/Account Executives/Project Managers/whatever to actually implement the software and train the users for the entities that purchase the software. The pay may not be excellent for someone with a masters, but it's pretty solid and there are always managerial opportunities. Companies like ADP, Kronos, SAP, etc hire these types to implement their software for businesses, cities, the military, etc. I can provide some specific postings if interested, j
  • Teach at a private school? Surely there's one in which the administrators don't suck.

Recent investments will yield a slight profit.