Careers in mathematics

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Are you thinking about a career in mathematics? You might be surprised to learn that your job prospects can be significantly enhanced with a good training in mathematics. At Monash we can give you that training! Here are a few cases studies of some of our previous students. You may be surprised at what jobs a mathematics graduate can do — read on ...

Help discover new cancer drugs

New drugs are being tested all the time, but who decides whether they work or not? Statisticians are important members of the teams who design the clinical trials and then review the results. Often, a specialised database containing the results is developed for each trial. Pharmaceutical companies frequently contract with a statistical consulting company to build and manage the database and then analyse and report their findings based on the data provided by the clinical trial.

Kevin Howard is a statistician employed by a consulting firm. He is often responsible for the development of databases and the analysis of clinical trials. To do this he works closely with hospitals, doctors, and medical researchers.

“It has been very exciting to work with doctors and pharmaceutical companies operating at the forefront of medical research.”

Double Degrees provide unique skills

When the Piper Alpha oil platform caught fire and exploded, it claimed 167 lives. The Inquiry which followed resulted in fundamental changes to the regulatory regime for the offshore platform facilities around the world. Part of David Prest's role as a lawyer in a leading petroleum company involves a contribution to this changing focus in Australia.

David has combined a technical interest in petroleum operations, aviation, shipping, pipelines and construction with a knowledge of relevant statutes and regulations, and the role of government authorities to fulfil his role in the company - to ensure the safety of Australia's oil and gas facilities. His degrees in Law and Science have been important to bridging the language gap between lawyers and engineers.

“In addition to my experience as a solicitor, I continually resort to my training in mathematics and science when dealing with company engineers. I regard my degree in Mathematics from Monash as the old kit bag containing the tool for an effective career as a lawyer practising in this area in one of Australia's vital industries.”

Marketing to win

Suzanne Murphy thinks its great working in market research for a major food manufacturer. Her skills at designing and analysing surveys, knowledge of statistics and lateral thinking are vital to the team effort required in marketing campaigns.

“Maths was always my favourite subject at school, so after Year 12 my first choice was to study law and science (majoring in maths) at Monash University. In my second year at university I decided to major in statistics. I noticed the newspapers had various job advertisements asking for statisticians.

I am pleased I studied maths and went into market research. I get to deal with advertising agencies, marketing, graphic designers, and food technologists. Heaps of variety and a very dynamic work environment.”

Codes — protecting privacy

Greg Findlow works at the leading edge of pure maths - writing codes. Greg works for a major telecommunications company. He develops codes to encrypt private business information transmitted over telephone lines via the Internet. Cryptology involves mathematical techniques based primarily on number theory and algebra.

During vacation work at the telecommunications company's research labs prior to finishing his degree, Greg discovered how highly applicable Pure Maths can be. After finishing his degree he joined the company and worked in several areas including analysis of signalling protocols used in telecommunications, and assessment of error-correction codes used in digital mobile phones.

Greg believes the clear thinking skills he learnt in Pure Maths are useful in many non-mathematical areas of his work, and that the solid foundation makes it easier for him to pick up extra maths skills, such as statistics, when needed by the job.

“Pure Maths can be highly applicable to the real world. The work opening up for mathematicians because of the telecommunications revolution is just one example.”

Research scientist

Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Computer Science make a powerful combination. Murray Rudman's skills and knowledge are sought by fellow scientists, industry and environmentalists alike. Working for CSIRO, he models the flow of gases in galaxies, the flow of water in rivers, or the flow of molten metals in industrial processes.

While at school and then at Monash University, Murray realised that to understand the real world (and the universe) around me, a sound knowledge of mathematics was essential. Running behind many of the problems he found interesting was a set of equations that have been known for several hundred years; they describe the motions of liquids and gases. Taking only a few lines to write down, these equations are incredibly difficult to solve. To solve the equations, Murray learnt a new type of mathematics based on converting the exact equations into a set of approximate equations that could be solved using a computer. Computational Fluid Dynamics (or CFD) is widely used to help predict the weather; design rockets, planes ships, and cars; the flow of water in rivers, bays and oceans; and a wide range of industrial processes.

“It is not a simple matter of running a package bought from a software supplier. Many problems are so specialised that individual computer code must be written. This requires a good knowledge of physics, the equations that describe the problem and the mathematics of implementing the solution on the largest and fastest computers available.

To say that studying maths has helped me in my career is an understatement. I have a career that allows me to gain insight into the real world around me. This is a long way from my early years at high school when I found maths rather boring with no obvious reason for most of the things we had to learn.”

Predict the future

Predict the future to make money - that's what Ernie Chow does for an investment funds manager. His skill in developing differential equations to model future trends in the stock market, along with his ability to solve those same equations means he can predict the future. Or at least do it as well as science will currently allow.

“I studied maths because I was interested in the subject. When I started to look for work I found my skills were highly regarded. Many different jobs were open to me. Quantitative skills are highly regarded.”

Computing — faster, better

Michael Tomlinson develops specialised software to generate 3-dimensional graphics on computer screens. His team at a major software company creates the front end or user interface for radar systems.

“Studying both maths and computing means I have a real edge in developing fast, efficient code. It has proven very useful with my 3D graphics work.”

Industrial statistics — aluminium production

Statistical techniques are widely used to ensure the efficient operation of manufacturing plants. Mark Sampson worked as an industrial statistician in the Research Centre for a major Australian aluminium manufacturer. His work ranged from training staff and advising them on the correct statistical techniques to use for a particular experiment, through to performing complex analysis on the results of plant test-runs.

Mark has recently moved into a role where he is responsible for whole projects, not just the statistical side. The logical thinking and systematic approach to experiments taught in maths are vital in his new position.

“My training in statistics was essential, no only to be able to consult on such a wide variety of statistical problems, but it also gave me an excellent understanding of the important issues to be considered when conducting research.”

Variety and flexibility

Graham Phillips' applied mathematics PhD was in astrophysics - trying to work out how clouds of dust and gas in the galaxy give birth to stars. After graduating from Monash University, Graham's first job was in environmental science at CSIRO, looking at how air pollutants move through the atmosphere. Then he worked with hydrologists, trying to figure out how much groundwater under Perth could be safely pumped out without depleting the reserves. His next job was with civil engineers looking at the motion of oil tankers in rough seas. He has worked as a combustion engineer, seeking ways to improve the efficiency of gas flames.Since then he has worked as a journalistand commentator, including as an authorof several books on popular science and also as a presenter on the television programs Beyond Tomorrow, Hot Chips and Quantum. Most recently he has been a host and presenter on the Catalyst science program on ABC-TV.

“If you are after variety and flexibility in your career, go with applied maths.”