Corporate employment in math rises

David Hyland

Until recently, the graduation present for most Ph.D. math students was a spot on the unemployment line.
Now, part-time employment in the business community is on the rise. With the recent changes in the job market, graduates are finding it easier to get work. But while students are grateful, the work is not always in their preferred fields.
“Underemployment or employment outside of the kind of job that you want to do, is another issue,” said Martin O’Hely, a University math Ph.D. student.
O’Hely, who expects to graduate in 1999 and then work at a research university, said many doctoral students are forced to take part-time or temporary employment, or jobs outside of their fields.
Administrators understand the students’ dilemma, but said they are still excited about the jump in available jobs.
Donald Kahn, University director of Graduate Studies in the mathematics department, said the employment rate for recipients of doctorates in math has improved greatly.
“We finished about 16 or 17 Ph.D.’s last year,” Kahn said, “and all of them are employed.”
A recent survey of the nation’s estimated 1,500 university math departments reflected the success at this school. The survey by three leading mathematical associations stated that the unemployment rate for students with math Ph.D.’s dropped from 10.1 percent in 1995-96 to 6.8 percent in 1996-97.
Despite the improved prospects, Kahn said getting a math Ph.D. is far from a sure bet in landing a job.
“Its not as bad as it has been…but its not very secure,” Kahn said. “It’s not like getting a degree in computer science or getting a certificate to teach high school mathematics. That’s a full employment business.”
Kahn said that, in the past, a student’s area of interest could affect their job prospects. Students involved in applied mathematics found more and better job prospects as opposed to pure mathematicians.
Applied mathematicians work on concrete problems in the real world, Kahn said. Using computers, they work on practical questions, usually in the corporate sector.
Pure mathematicians, however, are more academic oriented. They are focused on more abstract questions and are interested in pushing the boundaries of knowledge, Kahn said.
“Four or five years ago, the common wisdom was that the applied mathematicians were going to get the jobs and the pure mathematicians would only teach at some small college somewhere,” Kahn said. “This has not proved to be the case.”
Kinda Remick, a survey specialist for the American Mathematical Society, which helped conduct the survey, noted that the study did not take into account the status of the economy. The survey stated there was a 6.2 percent increase in new jobs in the private sector.
“Definitely the private sector is growing,” Remick said, “but the academic is still the larger.” Of the new doctoral graduates, almost 64 percent found work in academia.
The survey does report a slight increase from last year in the number of part-time positions for math Ph.D.’s. Although the increase hints at the beginning of a trend, Remick remains reluctant.
“I wouldn’t say the difference in part-time is really significant,” Remick said. “It’s definitely something we worried about, but I don’t know that we’ve made any conclusions about it.”