Mathematician Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a mathematician career? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a mathematician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Mathematician Career

Mathematicians use advanced technologies and mathematical principles to address real-world problems and expand the knowledge base of mathematics as a discipline. Take a look at the most common pros and cons below to determine if this is the career for you.

Pros of Being a Mathematician
High earning potential (2014 annual median salary was just over $103,000)*
You may qualify for a government job with just a bachelor's degree*
Employment available in diverse industries (government agencies, research and development industries and consulting firms)*
Job availability is not geographically limited (nationwide opportunities)**

Cons of Being a Mathematician
Mathematician positions can be hard to find*
Non-government jobs typically require a master's or doctoral degree*
You may spend about 6-7 years in college (undergraduate and graduate programs combined)*
Higher education costs due to possible graduate degree requirement (graduate program costs exceeded $30,000 a year as of 2008)***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau Labor and Statistics, **Online job postings (found April 2012), ***National Center for Education Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Mathematicians develop mathematical models and computational techniques to solve problems. How your findings and developments are used depends on whether you are a theoretical mathematician or an applied mathematician. As a theoretical mathematician, your theories would be used to advance the field of mathematics as a whole. You may work for research firms or in academia as an educator. If you choose to work in academia, you would most likely teach and perform research.

As an applied mathematician, you can use mathematical theory and models to solve practical problems in the marketplace for various fields. For example, you may help develop aerodynamic features and applications for car manufacturers. You could also use your skills to evaluate pharmaceuticals for effectiveness or determine more efficient airline routes. The American Mathematical Society reports that a few of the many industries you could work in include space exploration, medicine, robotics and national security.

Salary Info

The BLS reported that mathematicians earned an annual median salary of about $103,000 as of May 2014. The lower ten percent of wage earners in your profession received approximately $54,000 in 2014. However, the top ten percent earned about $157,000 during the same year.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Skills

According to the BLS, if you work for the government, the minimum requirement is a bachelor's degree, whereas mathematicians in the private sector usually need a master's degree or a doctorate. A master's degree is generally attained by those who want to pursue applied mathematics positions. With a master's degree, you can also serve in related roles, such as systems engineer or statistician. Mathematicians who want to become college professors of mathematics usually must obtain a doctorate. Undergraduate and graduate degrees in mathematics are available through campus-based and online program formats.

To work in this field, you'll need to be familiar with analytical and scientific software. The ability to think critically and solve complex problems is also expected. Communication skills and deductive reasoning are common skills needed to work as a mathematician.

Jobs from Real Employers:

Employers of mathematicians sought applicants with a combination of work experience and education. Some only required a bachelor's degree with several years of work experience, while others looked for candidates with graduate degrees. Industry experience, knowledge of numerical analysis, and ability to develop advanced algorithms were some common preferred qualifications in job postings found in April 2012. Examples of jobs postings for mathematicians are listed below:

  • A gaming corporation in Las Vegas, NV, wanted to hire a mathematician to create models of game production. A bachelor's degree in mathematics and an understanding of statistics was required. Work experience in professional programming or in the gaming industry was preferred.
  • An aircraft manufacturer and government contractor in Washington was looking for a mathematician with a master's degree in mathematics or applied mathematics at minimum; however, a doctorate was preferred. Industry experience and expertise in principles such as numerical analysis or geometric modeling were also desired.
  • A science and technology firm in Virginia wanted to hire a mathematician with a bachelor's degree. The successful candidate needed at least eight years of work experience in advanced algorithm development for specific functions, including inter-related automated system functions and defining motion.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

According to the BLS, job applicants who have degrees both in mathematics and a related major are highly favored by many employers. So, one way to stand out in the marketplace is to acquire a double major in a field such as computer science, economics or physics. Also, staying updated on the latest technology may be advantageous. For instance, the BLS reported that a growing field for applied mathematicians was cloud computing. Finally, joining a trade association, such as the American Mathematical Society gives you access to industry updates and can add to your visibility.

Alternative Career Paths

If becoming a mathematician doesn't sound quite right for you, you have other options.


If you would like to work in the field of mathematics, but you want more job opportunities and are not interested in seeking a graduate degree, you may want to consider becoming an actuary. Actuaries analyze risk and determine the probability of unplanned events that could impact a company's profits. They develop targeted programs to help organizations reduce the cost of business risk. The requirements to become an actuary include obtaining a bachelor's degree and earning professional certification. Actuary jobs are predicted to grow by 27% from 2010-2020, compared to 16% for mathematicians, according to the BLS. However, the BLS reported that actuaries earned an annual median salary of about $91,000 in May 2011, which was $10,000 less than mathematicians' annual median salaries.

Cost Estimator

If you'd like to use your math skills, but wouldn't mind spending some time out of the office, you could consider a cost estimator job. As a cost estimator, you would assess the price, scale and duration of an organization's proposed projects. You would primarily work in the manufacturing and construction industries. To work in this field, you'll need a bachelor's degree and a mathematics background. Employment in this profession is expected to increase 36% from 2010 through 2020. However, the May 2011 annual median salary for cost estimators was about $58,000.

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