Training, Certifications, Skills, Advancement: Mathematicians

A Ph.D. degree in mathematics usually is the minimum education needed for prospective mathematicians, except in the Federal Government. In the Federal Government, entry-level job candidates usually must have a 4-year degree with a major in mathematics or a 4-year degree with the equivalent of a mathematics majoró24 semester hours of mathematics courses.

In private industry, candidates for mathematician jobs typically need a masterís or Ph.D. degree. Most of the positions designated for mathematicians are in research and development laboratories, as part of technical teams. Research scientists in such positions engage either in basic research on pure mathematical principles or in applied research on developing or improving specific products or processes. The majority of those with a bachelorís or masterís degree in mathematics who work in private industry do so not as mathematicians, but in related fields such as computer science, where they have titles such as computer programmer, systems analyst, or systems engineer.

A bachelorís degree in mathematics is offered by most colleges and universities. Mathematics courses usually required for this degree include calculus, differential equations, and linear and abstract algebra. Additional courses might include probability theory and statistics, mathematical analysis, numerical analysis, topology, discrete mathematics, and mathematical logic. Many colleges and universities urge or require students majoring in mathematics to take courses in a field that is closely related to mathematics, such as computer science, engineering, life science, physical science, or economics. A double major in mathematics and another related discipline is particularly desirable to many employers. High school students who are prospective college mathematics majors should take as many mathematics courses as possible while in high school.

In 2003, about 225 colleges and universities offered a masterís degree as the highest degree in either pure or applied mathematics; about 200 offered a Ph.D. degree in pure or applied mathematics. In graduate school, students conduct research and take advanced courses, usually specializing in a subfield of mathematics.

For jobs in applied mathematics, training in the field in which the mathematics will be used is very important. Mathematics is used extensively in physics, actuarial science, statistics, engineering, and operations research. Computer science, business and industrial management, economics, finance, chemistry, geology, life sciences, and behavioral sciences are likewise dependent on applied mathematics. Mathematicians also should have substantial knowledge of computer programming, because most complex mathematical computation and much mathematical modeling are done on a computer.

Mathematicians need good reasoning ability and persistence in order to identify, analyze, and apply basic principles to technical problems. Communication skills are important, as mathematicians must be able to interact and discuss proposed solutions with people who may not have an extensive knowledge of mathematics.