Math Careers

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School is back in full swing and students and parents might be focusing on the ultimate goal, having a career. For many of those students, a career in math adds up, as a new report shows that the top four “Best Jobs of 2014” are all math related. Al Boggess, the director of Arizona State University’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, and Jelena Milovanovic, a senior lecturer in the school, will talk about math careers.

Ted Simons: A new report ranking the best jobs of 2014 shows the four top spots positions using math. Joining us is Al Boggess, from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, and Jelena Milovanovich, a senior lecturer at the school. Good to have you both here, thanks for joining us.

Al Boggess: Thank you.

Jelena Milovanovic: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Number one for best jobs in 2014, what's going on out there?

Al Boggess: I think it's a reflection that math is everywhere. It underlies all the technology that we use today, from telecommunications, medical images, data analysis just to give you an example, everybody's running around with these smartphones.

Tim Simon: Right.

Al Boggess: You pull up YouTube videos, surf the internet, that's a lot of information that has to get transmitted all over the universe. There are millions trying to download it. How does that happen? There's a lot of sophisticated electronics here. But there's mathematical algorithms that compress the data to make it possible for you to get all that data out there.

Tim Simon: And the versatility of mathematics plays a part here, it's not just this. You're talking an entire world out there.

Jelena Milovanovic: Of course we are. And we're giving the students the ability and knowledge to change the world. Especially in particular with actuarial science.

Tim Simon: Talk to us more about that.

Jelena Milovanovic: People ask me all the time what actuarial science is all about. I say these are the financial surgeons of the risk world. They put a financial value on risk and predominantly work in insurance. These days they are in all kinds of industries. One would be infrastructure. Should that bridge be replaced? Is it time to service an airline?

Tim Simon: And again, when kids come to ASU or come to your classes, do they think analytics? Or they have to be good in high school and this is something they want to pursue?

Al Boggess: We're trying to expand the market to attract more students into the mathematical sciences. A lot of people come and think, all I can do with math is teach, when they are a freshman. Teaching is a wonderful occupation; I've been a teacher for 35 years. But there's so much you can do with mathematics, especially combined with other areas like a minor in computer science or a minor in finance, a minor in physics or biology. Math is used in all sorts of ways.

Tim Simon: In the past there was an actual effort to get more women involved in math and mathematical areas. Are you seeing more women students?

Jelena Milovanovic: Yes, we are actually. We just started a program to meet this high demand in actuarial times. Males versus females are about equal, 50/50%, which is quite encouraging. When I was in college I was maybe one in four as to the gender ratios.

Tim Simon: So, what got you into this?

Jelena Milovanovic: I was always good at math; I just didn't know what to do with that other than teach. Of course that is a noble profession, but I wanted to do more. I went to a career fair. What is that? If you're good in math and science, that's the career for you.

Tim Simon: Seems like it's a numbers-based society all over the place.

Al Boggess: There's data everywhere. Businesses use data. We have to analyze data in like pharmaceutical companies, to see which drugs are best. So data is everywhere.

Tim Simon: With that in mind, is there a renaissance now in math?

Al Boggess: I think so. I think people are becoming more aware that mathematics offers potential. The data on these jobs, the four best jobs and the salaries that mathematicians are getting upon graduation, and the growth in careers, 23% career growth projected in the next six or eight years.

Tim Simon: There they are mathematician, professor, statistician and actuary. Advice for a young person right now. I'm actually pretty good at math, I never thought about going in that direction. What advice do you have for someone curious in a math career?

Jelena Milovanovic: Come and talk to us, visit us on campus. We have an amazing program that's attracting a lot of interest. I think if you like math and you excel and you're a good communicator and you want a challenge, this is a good career for you. Not only that but you want something that is changing every day. The career that ranked in the top four in the last six years has to do with overall job satisfaction in terms of pay, working conditions and security. This is something not to pass on lightly.

Tim Simon: And when you're dealing with employers, what advice do you give to them when they're saying, that person is a math major.

Al Boggess: Math majors are very popular with recruiters and all sorts of businesses. They like the logical problem-solving skills that mathematicians have to keep at a problem until it's solved.

Tim Simon: All right, well it's good to have you both here. Great information and good luck. Thank you.

Tim Simon: That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons, thank you for joining us, you have a great evening.

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you. Captioning Performed By LNS Captioning

Al Boggess:Director, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Arizona State University; Jelena Milovanovic:Senior Lecturer, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Arizona State University;

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