What can I do with mathematics?

Mathematical models show that even people boarding at random get to their assigned seats faster than when boarding back-to-front.

Boarding Faster

Waiting in line while boarding a plane isn’t just irritating, it’s also costly:The extra time on the ground amounts to millions of dollars each year in lost revenue for the airlines. Research into different boarding procedures uses mathematics such as Lorentzian geometry and random matrix theory to demonstrate that open seating is a quick way to board while back-to-front boarding is extremely slow. In fact, mathematical models show that even people boarding at random get to their assigned seats faster than when boarding back-to-front.

Figuring out your own strategy for boarding a plane is hard enough, but modeling the general problem—which depends on many variables such as distance between rows, amount of carry-on baggage, and passengers’ waistlines—is substantially more complex. So researchers were pleased when they discovered that their theoretical analysis confirmed simulations conducted by some airlines. An added bonus to the research is that the mathematics used in the boarding problem is similar to that used to improve a disk drive’s data input and output requests. One clear difference: Data doesn’t try to carry on an extra bit.

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For More Information

“Plane Geometry: Scientists Help Speed Boarding of Aircraft,” Nicholas Zamiska, The Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2005.

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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