What can I do with mathematics?

Almost every subject in mathematics goes into simulating protein behavior. Once it is known exactly how a malfunctioning protein goes awry, drugs can be designed that address the problem.

Knowing How to
Fold Them

Sequencing the human genome was a tremendously significant accomplishment, but now comes the hard part: Understanding the structure and function of proteins. The 100,000 proteins in our bodies initiate, control, or perform every one of our biological functions through shapes (called folds) and communication with other proteins. Misfolded or mistargeted proteins can cause diseases such as cancer, mad cow, and cystic fibrosis. Computational biologists are using geometry, probability, and knot theory to begin to describe the intricate folding of proteins. Once it is known just exactly how a malfunctioning protein goes awry, drugs can be designed that address the problem, thereby restoring affected cells.

Proteins assemble and re-assemble in an infinitesimal space and, most often, time span, yet the simulations of their functions are enormous, involving millions of calculations at each of billions of tiny time intervals. Almost every subject in mathematics—including integrals, partial differential equations, linear algebra, and numerical analysis—goes into simulating protein behavior, which,even for the simplest proteins, requires parallel computation to solve. It may seem unusual to concentrate such massive effort on such a small scale, but it is productive: Some strains of HIV had been resistant to treatment, but models of an HIV protein, integrase, revealed a nanoscale-sized trench that researchers can fill with a compound to overcome the resistance.

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WHAT CAN I DO WITH A MATHEMATICS MAJOR?

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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