It is common for people who study mathematics to pursue graduate degrees in the subject and proceed to careers in academic research and/or teaching, but undergraduate students who want to finish their education with just a baccalaureate degree do have other options. Here we look at non-academic career paths.
For a multitude of links under the heading “Internship and Career Information in Industry, Research Institutions, and Government Labs”, see the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) at http://www.siam.org/careers/internships.php. A SIAM page with lots of useful links and a free downloadable PDF booklet titled Careers in Applied Mathematics…Options for STEM Majors is available at http://www.siam.org/careers/thinking.php.
This 32-page, downloadable book contains profiles of actual people with careers in mathematics as well as lots of useful information for those who want to pursue mathematics in industry.
Here is a general list useful websites for mathematics-related career information:
American Mathematical Society, www.ams.org
American Physical Society, www.aps.org
American Statistical Association, www.amstat.org
Association for Computing Machinery, www.acm.org
Careers in Mathematics, www.msri.org/ext/CareersInMathematics.html
Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, www.informs.org
Mathematical Association of America, http://maa.org/
Mentor Net, www.mentornet.net
Sloan Career Cornerstone, www.careercornerstone.org/math/math.htm
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematicians, www.siam.org
Society for Mathematical Biology, www.smb.org
The Mathematics Forum@Drexel, http://mathforum.org
Young Mathematicians Network, www.youngmath.net
Internships as Partial Preparation for a Career Outside Academia with a Terminal Undergraduate Mathematics Degree
If your objective after completing a baccalaureate degree is to work outside academia, it is not sensible to take too many courses that emphasize theory over practical applications of mathematics nor to select a major that requires this. The UC San Diego Department of Mathematics presently offers 8 undergraduate majors that you can read about here.
To make a wise choice of major and coursework, you need clarity on the career path that you want and the expectations of employers who hire people into jobs along those paths. While you can ask an advisor for comment on this, do not limit yourself to a single person’s input. Do your own reading on what knowledge and skills are needed, and talk to as many advisors and other professionals as you can.
When people in industry look to hire someone out of university, it is common for them to wonder about the risk being assumed. Is the graduating student really ready for industry? Will s/he be passionate about the work? Will s/he stick around for only a short while and then go elsewhere? The challenge here lies in the substantive difference between what is learned in the classroom and what works in everyday practice. Textbook problems are usually not meant to require weeks to solve, and they normally involve an assortment of assumptions that can not be made in real life. Consequently, the fact that a graduating student achieved high grades in her/his coursework does not alone mean that s/he necessarily will do well in industry.
One way that companies have found to address the aforementioned questions is by hiring graduating students who have already proven themselves in internships. When a company brings a student in as part of an internship, no long-term commitment for employment is made. The student has the chance to enter a workplace that otherwise might have been inaccessible, and the employer gets to train and evaluate the student’s work with much lower cost and commitment. Some internships lead to full-time, career employment after graduation. In other cases, after graduation, a student will need to seek employment elsewhere, and yet an outstanding letter of recommendation from a past internship supervisor could be crucial in getting a permanent position.
The Department of Mathematics’ faculty strongly encourage students with non-academic career interests to pursue internships. Although presently there is no departmental academic credit for completing internships, this should not impede your interest in them.
Where to Find an Internship
For UC San Diego students who want to do internships, here are a few suggestions on where to look:
(1) The UC San Diego Academic Internship Program (AIP) provides “…course credit for substantive internships related to [a student’s] academic and career goals”. Professional counseling and peer advising is provided to program participants. Completion of the internship is noted on the student’s transcript. At the student’s timely request, a maximum 5-word description of his/her position will be printed on the transcript. Go to the AIP office (http://aip.ucsd.edu/; 858.534.4355; firstname.lastname@example.org) for information and guidance.
(2) Port Triton “is UC San Diego’s fulltime jobs, internships, volunteer opportunities, and all on-campus jobs, including workstudy”.
(3) The UC San Diego Career Services Center has links to various internship databases.
(4) The UC San Diego Research Experience & Applied Learning (REAL) portal, “offers research, internship, international, service learning, entrepreneurial, leadership, and other co-curricular opportunities that help students build real-world skills by applying knowledge gained in the classroom”. No formal advising is available here. An advantage of the REAL is that it allows students to post a brief profile of themselves and their career goals.
(5) Find an internship on your own. There is nothing preventing you from seeking an internship directly from a source. At the homepage of most companies is a jobs, careers, or similar link where you can explore what might be available.
Internships take time to find, and there may be lots competition for them. You should start looking for an internship as early as one year before you want to begin work.
When to Do an Internship and for How Long
Coursework is important to learning the theory behind your major, and you should not get distracted from giving due attention to performing excellently in your classes. Nonetheless, do not underestimate the value of on-the-job training. Provided your work at an internship is of high quality and relevant to your career goals, the more hours you can work at it, the better. There is nothing wrong with starting in an internship as early as upon completion of your first year in university provided it does not negatively impact your academic performance. Waiting until your senior year to start thinking about doing an internship is not good.
Objectives of an Internship
When you complete an internship, you should have substantively advanced in your understanding of how to use your subject matter in a practical setting. You should also have performed excellently enough that a supervisor will gladly write you an excellent, detailed, lengthy letter of recommendation.
This does not always happen, but if you secure a permanent career position at the internship site upon graduation, then the internship will really have been worthwhile!