What can I do with mathematics?

Getting It Together

The collective motion of many groups of animals can be stunning. Flocks of birds and schools of fish are able to remain cohesive, find food, and avoid predators without leaders and without awareness of all but a few other members in their groups. Research using vector analysis and statistics has led to the discovery of simple principles, such as members maintaining a minimum distance between neighbors while still aligning with them, which help explain shapes such as the one pictured.

Although collective motion by groups of animals is often beautiful, it can be costly as well: Destructive locusts affect ten percent of the world’s population. Many other animals exhibit group dynamics; some organisms involved are small while their groups are huge, so researchers’ models have to account for distances on vastly different scales. The resulting equations then must be solved numerically, because of the incredible number of animals represented. Conclusions from this research will help manage destructive insects, such as locusts, as well as help speed the movement of people—ants rarely get stuck in traffic.

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“Swarm Theory,” Peter Miller. National Geographic,
July 2007.

Article © AMS Mathematical Moments program

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While the main motivation to choose math as a major should stem from a combination of keen interest and high ability in math, students are naturally concerned about the opportunities available to a mathematics major or a mathematics teaching major after graduation. At this time, the math major appears to be in a better position than many other majors for employment in business, industry, government agencies, and teaching. The prospects are also good for well-qualified students to obtain support for graduate studies in either mathematics or mathematics education. Also a major in mathematics is excellent preparation for further study in many other fields.

In order to help you clarify your thoughts on what you want to get out of your collegiate experience as a math major, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Why do I like mathematics? What is it about math that attracts me to majoring in mathematics?
  • What type of mathematics do I like? Do I like the computational aspect? The rigor and logic? The problem solving experience? The theoretical aspect? Which content areas interest me?
  • What do I want to do for a career? Do I want to teach, or do I want pursue other avenues? If you want to teach, then:
    • what age group(s) do you want to teach? PreK, 1-6, 6-9, 9-12, college?
    • do you want to teach just mathematics, or do you want to have the flexibility to teach other fields as well?
  • If you are not interested in a career in teaching, then: are you interested in a career in business, industry, government, nonprofits, other alternatives?
  • How much education do I want to complete? Bachelors, Masters, or Ph.D.? Do I want to enter the work force right after graduation with the option to pursue graduate work later?
  • What do I need to do in order to further my career prospects?
  • What should I be doing academically to further my goals? Should I pick up a minor in another area? Should I try to double major?
  • What extracurriculars should I become involved in to further my goals? For example, should I get involved with the math club? Should I participate in the MCM Modeling Competition?
  • What types of work experience should I try to get to further my goals? Should I consider volunteer work experiences such as tutoring? Should I consider internships?
  • What organizations should I become involved in? What conferences or meetings might it be helpful to attend?


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