Studying Math Can Help Lead to Employment
Studying Math Can Help Lead to Employment

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor

Studying math stretches a mind, builds discipline and creates out-of-the-box thinkers. In this still-challenging job market, math can be a ticket to employment in some of the highest-paying jobs available.  

As a result, Joseph Kolibal, professor and chair of the mathematics department, is seeing an uptick in math minors among STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students. Criminal justice majors, business majors and liberal arts and sciences majors—whether English, psychology, fine arts or hospitality—who have an affinity and aptitude for math also can benefit from minoring in it, Kolibal said.

Studying math can distinguish students in a competitive job market.

“Math distinguishes you in a competitive job market,” he said. “It shows that you have an analytical mind, that you took extremely challenging courses.”

According to a study cited in in 2012, many of the highest paying jobs with anticipated job growth through 2020 are math-related. That echoed a 2009 study that said that the top 15 highest paying jobs for college graduates, whether in engineering, health care, finance, computer science or the sciences, all required strong math skills.

Top jobs for math majors or minors include actuaries with an estimated median annual salary of $87,650, operations research analysts, cryptologists, statisticians, health data analysts, financial analysts and high school math teachers.

Kolibal said math is also simply part of the landscape in engineering and technology-related fields. The piece cited a 2012 Millennial Branding survey that said that competition for new science, technology, engineering and math talent is steep, according to employers, with graduates often fielding multiple job offers.

“The world is quantitative and cannot be described without using quantitative concepts like size, distance and location,” said Linda Braddy, deputy executive director of the Mathematical Association of America. “Whether it's dealing with questions of personal finance or dosage of medications, math is required. There is also the growing importance of managing and interpreting data and what that means to us as citizens and as employees.”

Math is very much in the news of the moment, Braddy added. “Take the current news stories on the National Security Agency program to use data-mining techniques on phone logs, not the content of the calls, but the to-and-from numbers, locations and duration of the call,” she said. “Or the mining of personal data to tailor search results to an individual. Good or bad, these techniques are becoming more sophisticated and are here to stay.”  

Next spring, UNH plans to offer math minors and majors the opportunity to take a new course in discrete mathematics, the study of mathematical structures that are fundamentally discrete rather than continuous. Math minors can take that course along with Calculus II and III, Linear Algebra and nine credits of upper-level mathematics courses that complement their major area of interest.

Math stretches the mind in new ways and that is applicable across the career spectrum, and employers in 2013 are taking note, Kolibal said. “The fuzzy thinking we are all so comfortable with in so many of our thoughts, including the use of anecdotal arguments, just does not hold up in mathematics,” he said. “You can have a million data points, but proof is the essence of mathematics. It’s not the preponderance of evidence but the proof.”

Liberal arts majors, fine arts, theater arts, or field of study with creativity at its center can also benefit from a math minor. While that might sound counterintuitive to those not in the field, math enhances creative thinking, Kolibal said.

“To be creative you must be productive,” he said.  “There is a mechanism in math for achieving productivity–crystallizing ideas down to their essence.”

Perhaps the most valued skill math minors take with them into the job market is their thinking. “You will learn to think differently,” Kolibal said. “The ability to reason well and to think clearly will always be respected.”

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