The following article will appear in shorter, revised form in the May 2000 issue of the College Mathematics Journal. It is appears here with permission of the CMJ editor, Underwood Dudley. This (original) version includes more information.
"Business is one 'word problem' after another," wrote one 1983 math major in response to a recent survey of Montclair State graduates with a major in mathematics. Many commented about the usefulness of a mathematics degree in obtaining and performing jobs in a wide variety of career paths. This study shows that the vast majority of math graduates are glad they majored in math and that a background in collegiate mathematics prepares students for many different jobs important to our country's economy.
Job satisfaction seems phenomenal. To the question, "Do you like your present work?" 81% percent of those employed (345) answered either "enormously" or "very much" (28% (97 people) and 53% (185), respectively). Fourteen percent (46) circled "enough" and one percent (5) left the question blank. Only three percent circled either "not much" (5 people) or "I want to change badly" (7 people).
At a more worldly level, few math graduates are poor. Not many would qualify as "rich," and none as "very rich," but the median income of the 271 graduates currently employed full-time who included this delicate information was $60,000. The 25th percentile was $49,400 (over twice the poverty line for a family of four) and the 75th, $75,000. The top was $250,000. Only 16% of the employed respondents side-stepped this question, sometimes giving answers such as "lots" or "plenty."
Math-related careers can take credit for most of this enthusiasm; only about 7% (32) of the respondents are working but no longer in a math-centered field. (Four of these are looking for an opportunity to return.) About 40% (180) are in K-12 education. About 6% (28) are in higher education and 2 are in nursery school, one as a director. One is on disability and one is unemployed. About 23% (106) work in math-related careers outside education (86 employees of private companies, 11 self-employed, and 9 in government and non-profits). About 20% (90) are retired and 3% (15) are full-time mothers. Twenty-two are mothers working part-time, but they are included in the above categories: 11 in K-12 education, 5 in higher education, 3 elsewhere in math-related fields, and 3 outside both math and education.
1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s total
K-12 education 6 69 73 13 19 180
higher education 1 3 10 7 4 3 28
nursery school 1 1 2
math work elsewhere 3 13 57 21 12 106
non-math, non-edu 1 9 16 2 4 32
homemaker 2 7 5 1 15
retired 41 37 11 1 90
unemployed/disabled 1 1 2
total 42 50 116 161 45 41 455
The 595 returns in this survey (455 in mathematics and 140 in computer science) were returned from a single mailing of about 2500. A brief telephone follow-up survey indicated no significant difference between those who responded and those who either don't remember receiving the survey or put it aside to complete "later." In an earlier, smaller survey of Montclair State graduates of ten selected classes, I reached half as many by telephone (20%) as actually responded to two mailings of the written survey (40%), and there was no discernable difference between the groups. Both times there was no apparent evasion during the telephone follow-up, nor any resistance to giving any information except to the obviously personal questions. Thus I believe that the results of this survey are representative of the graduates of my department and that indeed that and over four fifths like their work "very much" or "enormously." This finding corroborates two previous surveys of people with mathematics degrees. With less accuracy, I suspect it reflects math graduates nationally.
A majority of the graduates and the respondents are women, but not a large majority. The number of respondents from each decade is roughly proportional to the number of graduates from that era. Although cited in the 1960's as an exemplary mathematics teacher-preparation program, over the past 25 years the number of mathematics and math education faculty has decreased from 27 to 18 and the number of bachelor's degrees in math plummeted from 136 to 20.
This paper first describes the careers of these 454 math graduates and then provides further insight into how they feel about their careers and collegiate preparation. It concludes with a comparison to the responses of computer science majors and comments about how valid these local findings may be for the national scene.
Non-academic Mathematical Employees of Private Business
"The Information Age" takes new meaning as one contemplates the 106 replies from those in math-related careers outside educational institutions. Eight-three are employed full-time and three part-time in for-profit businesses, eleven are consultants, and nine are employed in governmental or non-profit institutions. Only a handful work in manufacturing. The others work with ideas. They serve the insurance, banking, investment, telecommunications, biostatistics, and software industries. Their short descriptions of their work suggest that they can be put into seven categories: (a) business, banking, and investment analysis (25 people); (b) insurance (24); (c) computer systems and software (22); (d) sales, customer support, recruiting, and financial planning (13); (e) telecommunications (9); (f) statistics (7); and (g) manufacturing (6). Obviously, these are not mutually exclusive categories. The list below of job titles and answers to "Briefly indicate your job responsibilities" indicates the remarkable variety of work available to math graduates. The letters indicate the categories to which I assigned each respondent.
-- (a) Consultant: help major corporations (primarily Fortune 100) improve/streamline their processes. ('73)
-- (a) Business Analyst (for a large bank): apply statistical methods to better understand various lines of business such as credit cards. ('85)
-- (b) Pension Administrator: Administrate and oversee clients' 401(k) plans. ('92)
-- (b) Actuarial Assistant: To make adequate loss cost/rates for the insurance industry. Includes business owners, farm owners, commercial inland marine, and professional liability lines of insurance. I am studying... for being an Actuary, but at work I do more writing than anything else. ('96)
-- (c) Senior Staff Engineer (ITT): Task lead for software development projects. ('88)
-- (c) Software Engineer (Bellcore): Analysis, design, programming, management. ('74)
-- (c) Technical Consultant (HP): Pre-sales technical support for HW and SW issues. Design & development of business solutions. ('74)
-- (d) Customer Support Representative: support a portfolio of about 20 large corporate customers, keeping them happy with Nations Bank. Involves research, extensive use of a bank system, and much phone time. ('63)
-- (e) Analyst (Bell Atlantic): build math, stat, or econometric models to answer questions such as future revenues, minutes of use, what are the characteristics of customers who purchase certain service, and profile usage patterns of various classes of subscribers to telephone service. ('62)
-- (f) Statistical Data Analyst: use SAS programming to perform statistical analysis and to create statistical reports for Phase I-IV clinical trials in a pharmaceutical company. ('90)
-- (g) Service Planning Analyst: (Ricoh Corporation): monitor and review performance statistics of copier and facsimile machines. ('95)
Thirty-eight of the 83 employed full-time in private business are clearly in management. Some are project leaders for a small group of technical workers; others are responsible for hundreds of workers. The same categories are used:
-- (a) Vice President (PNC Bank): manage sales incentive program for over 400 branches; financial forecasting. ('79).
-- (a) Central Visa Centre Manager: senior manager for credit granting and fraud detection in all Canada and collections in Ontario for the VISA credit card business of the Toronto Dominion Bank. ('73)
-- (a) Director of Data Warehousing & Decision Support: develop data warehouse practices, worldwide, for all business consulting. Develop methodology, alliances, and training school to assist in the development of knowledge. ('86)
-- (b) Vice President & Actuary: Financial analysis and strategies for business unit that manufactures/distributes/services employee purchased insurance benefits made available at the workplace. ('77)
-- (b) Vice President of Corporate Information Technology: Prudential's Year 2000 Program. ('73).
-- (b) Manager, Research Support (BS-BC, NJ): filing rates with the Department of Insurance and the Heath Care Finance Administration. Supervision of research analysts. ('88)
-- (b) Benefits Director: responsible for design, implementation, communication, and administration of all employee benefits -- health & welfare plans, retirement plans. ('73)
-- (c) Asst. Vice President: providing consultive assistance to Chubb's sr/mid-level management on overall business improvement initiatives. ('84)
-- (c) Program Manager/Deputy Site Manager (Hoffman LaRoche): manage a computer applications development group, supporting clinical drug research. ('62)
-- (d) Vice President for Marketing: Principal in s/w consulting firm; primarily sales. ('79)
-- (d) Director of Investor Relations and Communications: set communications policy; direct corporate communications and investor relations activities. ('71)
-- (d) Senior Principal Sales Engineer/International Business Development (Honeywell): technical sales and business development manager for the Asia-Pacific Region. Responsible for computer hardware/software application consulting. ('74)
-- (e) District Manager (AT&T): software systems development and engineering management. Lead the systems development for 10 software projects. Currently responsible for a 65-member organization. ('74)
-- (e) Manager (Bell Atlantic): manage call receipt center, 250 people, 14,000 call/volume/day. ('73)
-- (f) Director of Analytic Services/Statistician: run a 12-person department which provides analytic services to direct marketing clients. Services include custom statistical model development and other multivariate analyses. ('93)
-- (g) Data Architect (Matsushita Electric Corp. of America): supervise a staff of data analysts; develop corporate and project data models; enforce data standards, etc. ('71)
-- (g) V.P. Technology (DEK-TRON Scientific Instruments): oversee all technical and production activities at this company. I am one of the principals of this business. ('81)
-- (g) Product Manager (Panasonic): manage all purchases, sales, and inventory forecasting for all consumer battery items. Introduce new products to the U.S. market. Open and maintain specific private label product customers. Oversee all sales plans for up to a five-year period. ('90)
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s total
Employed, FT not management 1 6 21 9 8 45
Employed, FT management 6 21 8 3 38
Gov't & non-profits 1 7 1 9
Self-employed 1 7 2 1 11
Part-time employed 1 1 1 3
total 3 13 57 21 12 106
Non-academic Mathematical Careers in Governments and Non-profits
Five of the respondents are employed by governments. One ('77) uses a computer program "to track schedules, costs, etcs., for all programs" at Picatinny Arsenal. Another ('78) at the same facility supervises a "central computing organization that provides support and services for all desktop computing systems and requirements for about 4000 customers." A Library Technical Services Manager manages the technical services and oversees all computer operations in a city public library system. A Computer Associate ('77) with the New York City Police Department programs, codes, debugs, and tests documenting programs used for booking and prisoner arraignments. The fourth ('77) is an FBI Special Investigator.
Four are employed by non-profits. One ('86) is in charge of all statistical analysis and updating of hospital charge codes at Hackensack University Medical Center. Another ('71) is an Accounting Manager for the Africa Inland Mission. A third ('59) is a Controller for a Boy Scout Council. The fourth ('74) is Southeast Regional Director of an organization devoted to "research, training, and publications on Total Quality Management."
Non-academic Mathematical Self-Employed Respondents
Eleven are self-employed and serving businesses, doing work similar to that described in the business section. All but three reported their incomes, and all were above $80,000. Four are in business analysis. Two each are in biostatistics and in data processing software, and one each in computer consulting, risk management for retail insurance companies, and designing and manufacturing networks interconnecting wire, cable, and fiber.
Part-time outside education
Three mothers do part-time consulting. One is a corporate accountant, one is a CPA who prepares income tax returns three months a year, and one is a well-paid pension consultant "very happy with my lot in life."
Montclair State regarded its sole mission to be preparing teachers until around 1970. Indeed, Henry Pollak remembers that when recruiters from Bell Labs came to campus in the mid-1960's hoping to hire senior math majors, they were chased away because the administration wanted students to enter only teaching. Thus it is not surprising that a preponderance of the alumni are or were in teaching.
A quarter (114) are in exactly the niche for which the the institution was founded: full-time secondary mathematics public education within New Jersey. Another nine are part-time teachers, four regularly scheduled and five substitute teachers. Three teach full-time in private New Jersey secondary schools, and seven are math teachers in another state (six full-time and one substitute).
Thirty-one are New Jersey public school administrators, 18 being a supervisor (or chair, or director, or coordinator) of mathematics and/or computers and/or science, and the other twelve including one superintendent, two assistant superintendents, one principal, four assistant principals, two supervisors of instruction, one curriculum coordinator, and a K-5 teacher-librarian with heavy computer emphasis. Eight are employed full-time in public education in another role (two science teachers, two learning consultants, a guidance counselor, a school psychologist, a "payroll and superintendent's secretary," and a "computer technician" whose duties include staff development classes for teachers).
Two are private tutors, one of whom ('64) is looking for full-time work. Six former teachers are now consultants who write and give workshops for teachers. Four are in New Jersey, and two outside, and none reported their incomes. Thus 180 (40%) are in K-12 education, all but nine still in New Jersey.
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s total
teaching math in NJ public 4 36 48 11 15 114
administration in NJ public 1 20 10 31
other full-time in NJ public 4 2 1 1 8
teaching math outside NJ 3 3 1 7
teaching math in NJ private 1 2 3
teaching math part-time in NJ 1 2 6 1 1 11
consultants (4 in NJ) 3 2 1 6
total 6 69 73 13 19 180
Twenty-eight (6%) of the respondents are in higher education: 15 teach mathematics full-time; one is a full professor of French and another of computer science; two are in full-time administrative posts; three are graduate assistants; and five are part-time math faculty ("Poor!" comments one about salary). Nel Noddings '49 is the Lee Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University, has written many books, and is the earliest graduate still employed.
Only 32 respondents (7%) appear to have non-math-based careers outside K-12 teaching. Eight used their undergraduate degrees to pursue graduate work in other fields: one in medicine, four in law, one in pharmacy, one in library science (the aforementioned Library Technical Services Manager), and one in French (the aforementioned French professor). Ten others went into careers that did not require specialized college training, but are glad to have a degree in mathematics. One of these manages a department of a large store, one is a town assessor, one sells insurance, one manages an apartment complex, and one designs instructional programs for a TV company. Two are administrators, one in a sheriff's office and the other in real estate. Three women work part time, one as a town clerk, one as a librarian's assistant, and one as a bank teller.
Nine apparently have felt "callings" away from math, but seem glad for their math background. One is a minister. Three own their own businesses, one in chocolates and two travel agencies. Five women entered "helping" professions years after college graduation. These include a physical therapist and a deputy director of a substance abuse treatment program. One has set up her own business counseling families with learning disabled children who are not severely disabled. Another is president of a career counseling center. After a successful battle against cancer in 1977, the fifth earned an RN and became a nurse, is now a health care educator working for Planned Parenthood, and is considering returning to a mathematical career. In all these cases, returning to further education was not a problem with an undergraduate degree in mathematics.
Two waiters want to be teachers and can't find jobs, but say they are glad they majored in math. An owner of an auto parts business would like to move on.
Only four of these 32 respondents express regret at their math major, although levels of enthusiasm vary. Three of these seem to have found satisfactory career paths. Two men who are doing well in business wish they had majored in business. A female library assistant now pursuing a MSIS part time "loved math until I got out of calculus and it started to become more theoretical. Then I didn't like it any more, but I didn't know what else to do." In answer to the question about whether he is glad she majored in math, the fourth, a billings clerk, writes, "No, because I cannot get access to the career in math."
Many of the women devoted years to full-time mothering and later returned to the paid workforce. Some said their math major made it easy to return; others commented on the difficulty of resuming their careers. One member of the class of '62 commented on "the difficulty in resuming a career after a seven-year hiatus." As mentioned above, at least 22 appear to be obtaining flexibility by working part-time, but most (not all) for very low pay.
Currently fifteen are full-time mothers, although one with older children was actively looking for part-time teaching employment at the time of the survey.
We also have a very happy cohort of 90 retired math majors sounding pleased with their lives, and designating themselves by job titles such as "pop-pop." One wrote that his current responsibilities are "Enjoying life in a non-stressed manner. P.S. I am very good at this."
All look back on satisfying careers, though five women apparently did not work outside the home. One of these began a preschool as a volunteer. Although all of them graduated from Montclair State Teachers College, which required them to be certified for high school teaching, only fifty-eight (65%) became high school math teachers. Four ended up in elementary school, two men and two women. Seven (8%) became full-time college professors.
Fourteen (16%) left teaching altogether. These included an electronics engineer, an architectural engineer, a senior computer programmer, a member of the AT&T technical staff, an accountant, a minister, a communications planner for the U.S. military (from WWII to 1988), and an operations research analyst for the U.S. government. One did computer analysis of navigation systems. Another was self-employed as a retail wholesaler for stamps collectors. One ('47) worked for AT&T for seven years and then "became a housewife." One "analyzed the impacts of advanced intelligent services (such as voice activated dialing service) on telephone switching systems and generated requirements for same."
Only two of these, a journalist and a market statistical analyst, regret their math major. The only other retired respondent who answered "no" to the question about being glad to be a math major was a woman who couldn't find a job teaching in high school and ended up teaching in elementary school. Three left the question blank, but most of the others enthused about mathematics.
Many are pursuing new part-time careers, including a travel consultant and a home tutor paid by a school district for ill or misbehaving children. One reviews and tabulates bids for school equipments and supplies. Another is Vice President of Cooperation for a Non-Violent Future, planning training and workshops on diversity and mediation. One is a county Commissioner of Jurors, providing jury panels for all jury trials, and another serves as a town's Commissioner of Streets and Public Property. One is Associate Director of a summer program for secondary school students. One ('49) works half days on a dude ranch, taking guests riding or on wilderness pack trips.
One ('64) is unemployed and looking for work, as is a classmate who tutors part-time. One ('93) is disabled.
The Top Quartile
In the top quartile (those who reported incomes between $75,000 and $250,000) two are attorneys (both glad for their math background, but one became an attorney because he couldn't find a job teaching math, his first goal); eight are presidents of their own companies; one now owns his family business; 22 are in K-12 education; two are in higher education; and the remaining 33 are employed outside education.
Most of the 22 in K-12 education are in administration. Specifically, they are a superintendent of schools, two assistant superintendents, two supervisors of instruction, a curriculum coordinator, five district supervisors of mathematics, one director of computer services, one principal, four assistant or vice principals, two mathematics chairs, a school psychologist, and two northern New Jersey teachers at the top of the pay scale.
The Bottom Quartile
Many of those in the bottom quartile (under $49,400) report as much job satisfaction as those at the top. Fourteen of the 28 teaching math at the post-high school level are in the bottom quartile, and all but one say they like their work "very much" or "enormously." Thirty-seven are in K-12 education, but only eight in business.
Ten have strayed fairly far from math. One is the minister. Another is a nun with a law degree who represents Newark tenants facing imminent eviction and supervises a significant group of paralegals. Another who teaches math in a parochial school also travels internationally giving "piano four-hands" concerts. One enjoys managing an apartment complex and another likes being a legal secretary. Two are happy nursery school teachers, but two are the waiters and one the unhappy billing clerk who wishes he could find a mathematical career.
One question asked, "What have been the greatest surprises of your career?" Some reported personal surprises, such as Brenda Herman '59, who became the first woman in New Jersey to coach a boys' varsity team. Christina Hedlund Yuengling '67, now a professor at Orange County Community College in New York, was surprised to be chosen to represent the United States mathematics educators for their 1995 visit to Bejing, China. Two others won a governor's award for the outstanding teacher of their state, and another the Presidential Teachers' Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics for hers. Several have become successful authors. I knew and admired Nel Noddings' varied and influential writing before this survey revealed she was a graduate of our department. Diane Ritter's greatest surprise was studying with W. Edwards Deming. Her book about TQM, The Memory Jogger, based on her work with Deming, has been translated to eight languages and now has over six million copies in print. Dawn Sova has written eight books; her most recent, Agatha Christie A to Z, has been nominated among the top five nonfiction books by Mystery Writers of America.
About a dozen rejoiced that math majors can change careers after the age of 40, a luxury that few college majors afford. On the other hand, a '62 graduate who has been a teacher except during her mothering years wrote, "That I continue to enjoy what I do." A '56 man said his greatest surprise was "the love of my students."
Others, of course, met less joyful surprises. Several corporate respondents commented about the pace of change or downsizing. An information analyst ('88) mused, "That change is the only constant in corporate America." Another corporate employee ('64) sadly observed, "The change from an 'employment for life' mindset to today's 'employment at will' -- total loss of loyalty on either company's or employee's part." A corporate manager bemoaned, "Being required to 'cover-up' for poor working subordinates -- was not prepared to babysit." A woman ('77) who has been both a teacher and a senior technical staff member at AT&T answered, "No job I have had can be 'left at the office.'"
More cheerfully, the man developing technical sales and business development in the Asian-Pacific region for Honeywell ('74) responded, "College teaches you theory and the ability to think and adjust. This is useful, especially in large corporations." A respondent now earning $95K ('73) said his greatest surprise was "that critical thinking has a market value outside the math department." On the other hand, a woman commented, "How difficult it is to explain and get across to top management executives mathematical ideas. For example..." ('82).
The most commonly mentioned surprise -- by far -- was the extent of "politics." Non-academics were often succinct: "business politics" ('69) or simply "politics" ('67). "Advancement not always related to achievement" ('73). "Competence is not always a factor -- sometimes it's who one networks with and how much guts one has" ('78). "The politics necessary to succeed beyond a certain point" ('73).
A teacher said, "Unfortunately, the students are not always their [the board and administration's] priority." In answer to my question as to whether we could have prepared our graduates for their major surprises, she said, "It's better that you didn't. You would have 'burst my bubble'."
Numerous teachers mentioned negative public attitudes. "The public does not think highly of teachers -- education is constantly criticized" ('81). Another left high school teaching because of "lack of support and apathy of parents." A '63 graduate who still likes teaching "enormously" nevertheless laments "the deterioration in the respect of educators by parents and students." A '71 graduate who reports being "close" to leaving teaching observes "lack of respect and financial compensation for teachers." One, who retired by the age of 54, said, "I loved teaching -- hated stress and lack of support from parents/administration... The educational system... needs to be overhauled completely to put back the 'R' -- respect."
Others reported practices within education itself. "As of late, I'm surprised how little teachers' opinions are considered in establishing curriculum in things that actually affect their work with standards" ('64) or "The change in attitude of high school students since I was a student" ('88). A '65 teacher who still likes his work "enormously" remarks, "Everybody in education doesn't pursue the goal of what is best for students!" One who left teaching in 1981 reported, "It was more work to gain/keep control of the class than I expected. Other faculty members were negative about teaching. They were burned out." On the other hand, many said their greatest surprise after years of teaching was how much they still enjoy it, and how much they continue to enjoy teenagers.
Some surprises, of course, are nobody's fault: "No matter how well a lesson is planned, the unexpected can, and does, happen." ('67)
What would you do differently?
When asked what they would do differently if they could make their undergraduate decisions again, the most common answer was to work harder. One '89 graduate wrote, "More concentration in English, communication skills and public speaking," and quite a few echoed these sentiments. One '77 alumnus now with the NYPD noted, "how much harder the job was, compared to school." However, some said they would spend more time socializing, and several wished they had lived on campus. One Newark teacher ('65) wishes she had taken more advanced math courses.
Are You Glad You Majored in Mathematics?
Thirty-six of the thirty-eight employed in management are glad they majored in math. One observed, "Analytical thinking skills apply to most business careers." Another commented, "In my field, Human Resources/Benefits, a math degree indicates the ability to understand the technical aspects of the job" ('73). The two who said "no" to the question about whether they were glad they majored in math thought they might have been better prepared with a business major, but one of these conceded that his background did help get him his first job. Both graduated in the early 1970's, when the job market was tight.
Of the other 45 employed full-time outside formal education in math-based jobs, most answered emphatically: "yes!" or "absolutely!" or something more illuminating like "Math teaches you how to learn and deal with a system," or "The analytical skills it develops are invaluable in the business world," or "Mathematics gives me job flexibility." One woman in the class of '77 wrote, "I enjoyed teaching. However, the salary did not compare with outside... The math degree helped me in securing my job with AT&T." One of the two with reservations wrote ('73), "Yes -- I did use the knowledge and the logic. No -- I applied very little of the calculus." The real nay-sayer, in the class of '90, said, "No! Pure math aptitude is not sufficient enough to be marketable in today's workplace. It needs to be enhanced/supplemented with other courses. Students need to be more informed about careers in math related areas." He wishes he had (1) taken actuarial exams, (2) become certified to teach, or (3) minored in computer science.
Eleven of the 210 respondents now in education left the question blank and two answered "no." One of these is now a science teacher and the other is one of the three who does not much enjoy teaching high school math. She also wishes she had never entered teaching, but didn't know any other options. The 191 other educators are glad they majored in math, most with emphatic elaboration.
Why are you glad you majored in math?
The majority said they just like math, or something to that effect. Many said that math was a good background for their job, including many in jobs not obviously related to math. The physician wrote, "It provided both breadth and depth in subjects in which I needed some knowledge." The nun who became an attorney to help the poor wrote, "I love math. It helped in law school in the thinking/analytical process." Another lawyer wrote simply, "It prepared me for the logic of law." A third, who now directs the academic support system of a law school, observed, "Studying mathematics taught me critical thinking skills, problem solving, and techniques for analyzing problems."
More typically, a Business District Manager ('73) wrote, "Mathematics is a good analytic foundation for today's business world." A member of the class of '85, now a Business Analyst reports, "Has led to interesting career opportunities." More recently a IT Specialist in the class of '94 explained, "Mathematics gives me job flexibility."
Many remarked on the job flexibility that a math degree affords, and many took advantage of this flexibility. Career switches were common, including several both out of and into teaching in middle age, the latter involving significant salary cuts.
Others enjoy the respect that knowing math brings. One observed, "Math was a good choice in terms of gaining respect in the working world, which in 1977 wasn't easy for a female to gain."
The Less Happy Set
Only seven say they want badly to change their work situation and five others don't enjoy their work much. This is a total of only 3%, but they indicate that a mathematics major does not guarantee a satisfying career. One is a waiter, another sells auto parts, one is a bank teller, and another is a billing clerk. Another makes only $3000 annually as a college adjunct. One left math for another profession and now regrets it.
The highest paid ($85K), recently promoted to Manager in a large corporation, writes, "Too much pressure right now. May get better in 6 months. Still learning the job." Another corporate employee is starting her own business, observing, "I've discovered the only way to be successful is to own your own business." The youngest of the three who doesn't enjoy his job in corporate America ('90) has asked for a transfer to another part of the same corporation. (Other studies have indicated increased job satisfaction as people move through their careers. Young people shift jobs trying to find a good fit.)
Only three of the high school math teachers are among these twelve. One says her greatest surprise was "loss of respect," and another comments, "Like teaching math; don't like conditions." Another observes, "New state regulations in education are becoming too burdensome."
Comparisons With Computer Science
For almost two decades preceding the summer of 1998, ours was the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. Therefore, 140 graduates with majors in computer science or double majors in computer science and mathematics also responded to the survey. The salaries of the 93 who provided salary information was startlingly similar to that of the math majors. The median and 75th percentiles were exactly the same: $60,000 and $75,000, respectively. (One suspects rounding. A suspicious number of respondents reported incomes in a multiple of $5K.) The 25th percentile of the computer scientists was $52,000 compared to $49,400 for the math majors.
This survey challenges the myth that computer science leads to a more secure career path than mathematics. While 122 of the computer science majors have careers that are related to computer science, three are employed in careers that are more commonly associated with a math major: an basic skills math teacher, a private high school math and computer teacher, and a college mathematics professor. Three already own their own businesses in computer science ('81, '86, '87). Three are now full-time mothers, two are on disability, and one is unemployed more than a year after graduation (and bitter). Three have already changed fields. One is a legal secretary while getting her teaching certificate. One enjoys selling real estate, and wishes she had majored in business or marketing. The third is an assistant manager of a retail store while she studies to be a minister, having realized she didn't enjoy being a software engineer. More math majors than computer science majors have switched fields, but many of these changes occurred in middle age and the computer scientists are not there yet. There is a lot of variety in the career paths of both groups.
Montclair State may be as representative of the nation as any single institution. We live within commuting distance of twenty million people, and the economy near here is diverse. The students are also extremely varied by almost any criterion except their parents' education; most are first generation college students. Thus the successes reported here would be likely to be at least matched by students whose parents are better connected, although in some regions students would have to travel further to get math-based jobs.
The news is good. Mathematics is a useful foundation for a career. Most of these graduates went directly from their undergraduate major to a good job. Many hopped from one career to another, and enjoying the hopping. Duane Cooper's research indicates that math majors are welcome in graduate programs in many fields. Thus we can tell beginning college students with a clear conscience that a math major will serve them in good stead after college, whether they go to graduate school or directly to paid employment. The flexibility and variety of careers provided by a mathematics major is extraordinary.
1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s total
(a) 5 3 8
(b) 1 4 4 4 13
(c) 3 8 1 1 13
(d) 1 1 2 1 1 6
(e) 1 2 3
(f) 1 1
(g) 1 1
total 1 6 21 9 8 45
1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s total
(a) 1 6 7
(b) 1 5 5 11
(c) 2 1 1 4
(d) 5 5
(e) 1 3 1 5
(f) 2 2
(g) 1 1 1 1 4
total 6 21 8 3 38