Maths is the answer to many cool jobs


Young female executive

At a glance

  • Maths is essential for more and more great jobs in areas from IT to engineering.
  • Jobs requiring maths skills are being created all the time.
  • Children should be encouraged to link classroom maths to real-world applications.
  • Learning maths can help to establish good all-round problem-solving skills.
  • Exploring the maths behind the news is a great way of showing children the opportunities for applying maths in the wider world.

If your child wants a great job when they leave school encourage them to study maths.

It can be hard for children (and sometimes even for parents) to grasp how the calculus, algebra and trigonometry handed out for school homework can help in life beyond the classroom.

What can the square of the hypotenuse possibly have to do with anything? A quick scan of today's job vacancies suggests a lot, with maths skills now featuring as part of the selection criteria for some of the coolest and most satisfying careers on offer.

From battling epidemics to creating online worlds, maths plays an essential role in a range of diverse fields. Experts say generating enthusiasm for the world of numbers in young children and maintaining that excitement in school maths is important if children are interested in working these areas.

Almost everyone we employ has studied maths at university.  Alan Noble Engineering director, Google.

Fundamental computer calculations

"Maths is fundamental to almost everything we do at Google – in all of the computer science and software engineering," says Alan Noble, Google Australia's engineering director. As an example, Alan points to Google Maps, which is one of the global products developed at Google Australia's engineering centre under his management.

"All of that relies heavily on mathematics – in particular geometry."

Alan links maths to understanding the world around us more broadly, from the speed of light to when the weather will change. And for those interested in careers at IT, he advises, "Almost everyone we employ has studied maths at university."

Maths in medicine

Computer science is one realm where it may not be surprising to come across algorithms, but number-crunching can also play an important role in areas such as managing the spread of infection.

Dr David Wilson is associate professor and head of surveillance and evaluation at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, which is part of the University of New South Wales. He uses maths every day.

"I try to understand the numbers of new infections and how they change from year to year and how behaviours might change and contribute towards those.

"Numbers are critical in understanding what is going on in the real world and to understand how things change according to the different types of behaviour or other phenomena. We need to know quantifiably how they differ and to make conclusions based on that."

You can pick almost anything out of the news and see that there's a mathematics link behind it. Dr Peter Gould NSW Department of Education and Communities

David says it's not only the ability to manipulate figures that helps in these fields, it's also the analytical and sometimes creative thinking required to devise solutions that can help.

Number-crunching encouragement

Dr Peter Gould oversees the mathematics curriculum for the NSW Department of Education and Communities and agrees that studying maths can help teach thinking that's useful in approaching problems of all types.

"You can almost pick anything out of the news and see that there's a mathematics link behind it," says Peter.

In that vein, scanning the newspapers and exploring the maths behind the news is a great way of showing children the opportunities for applying maths in the wider world.

And given that the online giants like Google and Facebook didn't exist at all 15 years ago, Peter says it's important for parents to keep in mind that the rapidly changing use of maths by industries as diverse as construction, computer science, medicine and meteorology means the number of available maths-related jobs is growing all the time.

"Because of the nature of mathematics, it just keeps creating new jobs," he says.

Linking maths to careers

  • Encourage your child to look at online advertisements for job vacancies and pick out those that will require maths.
  • Ask your teenager's teacher if it's possible to contact students of maths at university to get a sense of how they are using mathematics and how they are planning to use it once they finish studying.
  • Talk with your children about the maths they are doing and try to link it to their experience of the wider world eg, algorithms and computer science, space exploration and trigonometry.
  • For those parents who don't like working with numbers, try your best to avoid passing on any negativity towards the subject.

(Sources – Peter Gould, Alan Noble and David Wilson)


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