How to Become a Mathematician in 5 Steps

Mathematicians usually hold a Ph.D. Learn about the education needed to become a mathematician, and explore the areas of mathematics in which you could specialize. Review the career outlook and typical salaries of both applied and theoretical mathematicians. Schools offering Mathematics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Mathematician?

A mathematician is a scholar whose field of expertise is mathematics. They explore abstract theoretical problems or apply mathematical theory to the solution of real world problems in economics, engineering, business, physics and other sciences.

Specific duties might include conducting research and manipulating existing mathematical principles to discover new principles, as well as analyzing data and developing algorithms, computational methods and statistical models to reveal relationships between the data elements. You could also design or decipher encryptions systems for military, law enforcement, governmental or business applications. As a scholar, you'll also spend time reading mathematical journals and participating in conferences to stay abreast of developments in the field.

Step 1: Prepare in High School

You should take as many mathematics courses as possible in high school. Most schools offer algebra, trigonometry and geometry. If available, advanced placement courses in calculus and physics can provide you with a sense of what courses in your first year of college will be like. Computer courses are helpful since your later work may involve very large data sets, large equation matrixes or repetitive calculations.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics

Bachelor's degree programs in mathematics train you to understand and apply elements of mathematical reasoning like logic, formal proof, abstraction and generalization. You learn to analyze data, create and analyze mathematical models and communicate robust arguments. Course topics may include calculus, linear algebra and differential equations, number theory, numerical analysis, probability and statistics. Bachelor's degrees are typically earned in four years.

Step 3: Enroll in a Ph.D. Program

You may gain admission to most doctoral programs in mathematics with a bachelor's degree, but most require you to complete their requirements for a master's degree on the way to earning a doctorate. Admission to these programs is competitive, with most requiring applicants to submit general Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores as well as scores for the GRE mathematics subject test. You will probably need to submit letters of recommendation, transcripts and a statement of purpose with your application forms. Some programs may require a list of advanced mathematics courses with your application, while others administer placement examinations when you enroll in the graduate program, to test your knowledge of basic mathematical concepts, beyond what the GRE mathematics exam demonstrates.

Step 4: Choose a Track

Doctoral programs are often divided into a pure or theoretical track and an applied track, although significant overlap exists between them. If you choose the theoretical track, most schools require you to demonstrate competence in a core set of classes, which may include topology and geometry, algebra and analysis. In an applied track, you may take some of these core classes, but you might also take mathematics-related classes in another field like physics, economics, astronomy or another field of interest.

Whichever track you choose, your first two years are likely to spent attending classes, seminars an lectures by visiting mathematicians. Once the basic courses are completed in your first year, your program typically allows you to select mathematics courses of interest, including topology, combinatorics, functional analysis, homology and functional analysis. Toward the end of your second year or the beginning of your third, you'll probably be required to take a qualifying examination. This examination may be written, oral or a combination of the two, and your professors design the exam to test your knowledge of advanced mathematical concepts and theories.

Upon passing your qualifying examination, you'll select a dissertation topic and advisor. Your final three years are spent researching and writing this dissertation, allowing you to pursue independent scholarship that contributes to the study of mathematics. Depending on your track, your dissertation topic may discuss applying specific mathematical principles and theories to solving problems in other fields, for example, applying algebraic principles to biochemical reactions. Or, your dissertation might suggest new advances mathematical research like using number theory and algebraic equations to create new forms of cryptography.

Step 5: Find a Job

Upon completing your doctorate, you'll face keen competition for employment, although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected job growth from 2008-2018 of 22% for mathematicians, which was a faster growth than the average for that period (www.bls.gov). Applied mathematicians were expected to have slightly better prospects than those in theoretical mathematics, since competition for tenure-track jobs in academia was strong and many industries are eager to apply mathematical principles to solving industry issues. According to the BLS in May 2010, approximately 2,830 mathematicians were employed in the U.S.

Jobs in Theoretical Math

If you opt for theoretical training you most likely will find employment as a faculty member at a university, where you'll divide you time between teaching and research. Graduate students might assist with your teaching duties if you're assigned to teach undergraduates. You may conduct your research privately or in collaboration with one or more other mathematicians. The BLS reported in May 2010 that colleges, universities and professional schools employed about 390 mathematicians. Average annual wages for university and college mathematicians was $72,840 in May 2010, according to the BLS.

Jobs in Applied Math

If you choose to study applied mathematics you have career options in finance and insurance, healthcare, information science, government, scientific research, business analysis and education. Possible job titles include biometrician, econometrician, psychometrician, cryptanalyst or biomathematician. In May 2010, the BLS reported that approximately 1,020 mathematicians worked for the federal executive branch and earned an average annual salary of $106,950. Another 790 worked for scientific research services, earning an average annual salary of $114,820. Scientific and technical consulting services employed an additional 230 mathematicians, who earned an average annual salary of $97,430.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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