How to Become a
Mathematician

Man writing math equations on a blackboard

Are you interested in a career as a Mathematician? You came to the right place. This guide is packed with information and resources for becoming a Mathematician. Learn about educational requirements for the job, what the position pays and more.

What Does a Mathematician Do?

A Mathematician is an expert in the field of mathematics. He or she understands abstract concepts, mathematic concepts and numbers and can also analyze data and apply mathematical techniques to real world problems found in engineering, economics and business, as well as in other scientific fields. Mathematicians also conduct research in fundamental mathematics or in application of mathematical techniques.

Mathematicians are employed as teachers in classrooms—in state, local or private institutions. They can be found in office and research environments and the federal government. They are prominent in the following careers: computer programmers, engineers, actuaries, architects, cryptography, theoretical physics and biomathematics.  According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30 percent of Mathematicians work in a government agency, 20 percent work in private scientific research facilities and 18 percent teach math.

Being a Mathematician requires technological knowledge of math applications. This person is someone who understands numbers and how mathematical concepts explain the world in which we live. Mathematicians are problem solvers who take pleasure in being challenged.

Some common Mathematician duties and responsibilities include:

  • Use mathematical formulas and models in order to prove or disprove various theories.

  • Design and conduct research projects in branches of mathematics such as algebra, geometry, number theory and others.

  • Conceive and develop ideas for mathematical applications in a variety of fields such as military planning, science, engineering and electronic data processing.

  • Use data analysis to support and improve business models.

  • Keep mathematical knowledge current by reading professional journals, talking with other Mathematicians and attending professional conferences.

Mathematician Skills

Mathematicians are those who have the patience and perseverance to understand mathematical concepts and not just memorize theories. They think about problems themselves at great lengths and try to figure out ways to solve them. They are passionate about complex problems. Without this disposition, and without a sustained effort, someone who wants to become a mathematician will find it hard to grasp concepts. Therefore, you need to be motivated by the idea of discovery and working through a problem. If you love the field, you will excel.

While solving problems and equations is mostly a solitary effort, the mathematician must know how to interact with others using everyday language in order to explain their theoretical findings. They thus should be empathetic and slow to take offense if they can’t readily translate technical jargon into layman’s terms. The ability to communicate ideas clearly, especially to those without advanced mathematical knowledge, is important. There’s a difference between those who do research and those who teach. The former can be an introvert and work on problems on their own. For a math teacher or professor, one needs to be an extrovert who can readily explain theories to his or her students in a group-like setting. The ability to maintain accuracy also is crucial.

Other key Mathematical skills include:

  • Ability to think logically

  • Ability to solve problems using mathematics

  • Analyzing data and solving complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.

  • Advising others on mathematical methods and applications

  • Understanding mathematical analysis such as statistics, calculus and linear algebra

  • Having the determination to complete the required education to become a mathematician.

How Do You Become a Mathematician?

Education and Training

According to our analysis of online job postings, employers are looking for Mathematician candidates who have at least a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions such as in the government realm. Other positions that require only a bachelor’s degree include being a data analyst, a payroll manager, a financial advisor, a treasury manager, and a high school teacher. High school math teachers are also required to have a state teaching certification.

While a bachelor’s degree is where to start, most job postings we looked at required prospective Mathematicians who are working toward a master's degree or significant work experience or research, such as publishing in a recognized academic journal.

Some positions even require a doctorate. College math teachers, for example, usually require that you have a doctorate, although some schools hire those with only a master's degree.

In general, the higher the education you have, the more job opportunities you’ll have. If you choose to get a master’s or a doctorate, always consider the reputation of the school’s mathematical departments.

You will also need to choose whether you want to work in applied or theoretical mathematics. Applied mathematics uses established theories to solve problems in the real-world. Theoretical mathematics come up with new concepts to explain scientific and engineering questions, pushing the boundaries of what we commonly know.

Finding a Job

Demand for Mathematicians is increasing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 21 percent growth for the position through 2024, amounting to a total of 130 openings for Mathematicians during that period.

Given this projected growth, aspiring Mathematicians are likely to find many job opportunities at higher education institutions, as well as the research fields in government or private sectors. In specific, jobs include being a computer programmer analyst, an operations research analyst, a system engineer, as well as a computer scientist.

Any successful job search begins with crafting a high-quality resume that highlights your skills and experience. For guidance on creating a resume, take a look at JobHero’s library of Mathematician resume samples.

Once your resume is complete, search online for job opportunities. As you look for Mathematician openings, be sure to make the most of your professional network, including people you met at conferences, mathematical societies or while pursuing an advanced degree. The more people you know, the more job opportunities you will have.

When applying for jobs, write a cover letter that expresses your interest in the position and highlights your qualifications and what you would bring to the role. Take a look at our Mathematicians teacher cover letter sample for help.

Insights from a Mathematician

In order to get an inside look at how to become a Mathematician, we talked to Rebecca Klemm, who has a PhD and is the founder and CEO of NumbersAlive! Here’s what she had to tell us.

What is the common career path for Mathematicians?

I’m not sure there is any common career path. As math is basically a fundamental tool of STEM, it allows entry into specialized technical fields and the ability to move between them: engineering, physics, product design, computer programming, statistics, etc. The specific “math based” disciplines can change.

What should someone consider before becoming a Mathematician?

How much of an extrovert or introvert are you? Do you like solving “silly” math time-based questions or really understand what math is about? Do you like to work on teams or alone?

What type of person excels in this job?

Some career paths are ideal for introverts who prefer working alone—computer programming, for example. High functioning folks who are on the autism spectrum could be fabulous programmers but can’t work on teams. Those who are more team-oriented can handle applied physics and engineering where they more typically work on teams.

If one wants to be a university researcher, then all types can excel, but introverts may have difficulty teaching. Communication with others is a big divider into career choices.

What are some of the most important skills for Mathematicians to have?

There are routes for those without soft skills as a mathematician, but one has to be a top-notch thinker or cracker-jack programmer/hacker. There are, of course, many more options for folks with soft skills.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a mathematician?

Great diversity in types of careers that are possible.

How Much Do Mathematicians Get Paid?

Mathematicians in the United States who are paid on an hourly basis have a median hourly wage of $53.42, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the low range, 10th percentile make $27.02 while, in the high range, the 90th percentile make $80.41.

Top 10 States for Mathematician Salary

Mathematicians in the following states make the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.

    New Jersey

    $88

    Maryland

    $64

    District of Columbia

    $57

    California

    $57

    Virginia

    $54

    Massachusetts

    $53

    New Mexico

    $52

    Rhode Island

    $49

    Florida

    $45

    Ohio

    $45

    Mathematician Resources

    We put together this list of additional resources to help you continue exploring a career as a mathematician.

    Professional Groups:

    American Mathematical Society (AMS)
    Furthers the interests of mathematical research, scholarship and education, serving the national and international community through publications, meetings, advocacy and other programs.

    American Statistical Association (ASA)
    The world’s largest community of statisticians.

    Association for Symbolic Logic (ASL)
    An international organization in logic. The primary function is to provide an effective forum for the presentation, publication, and critical discussion of scholarly work in this area of inquiry.

    Mathematical Association of America (MAA)
    The MAA is the largest professional society that focuses on mathematics at the undergraduate level. Members include university, college, and high school teachers; graduate and undergraduate students; pure and applied mathematicians; computer scientists; statisticians; and many others in academia, government, business, and industry.

    On the Web:

    The Math Vault
    a resource for people who are pursuing higher mathematics

    Mathematics Stack Exchange
    A question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields.

    On LinkedIn:

    Ebooks for math and science
    This group's purpose is to discuss the best way to represent mathematical equations and other scientific notations in ebooks and etextbooks.

    Books

    A Mathematician's Survival Guide: Graduate School and Early Career Development
    A detailed guide to help students navigate graduate school and the years that follow.

    How to Think Like a Mathematician: A Companion to Undergraduate Mathematics 1st Edition
    A companion to unlock the meaning of definitions, theorems and proofs, solve problems, and write mathematics effectively. Concrete examples are used throughout, and material has been tested by real students over many years so all the essentials are covered. There are over 300 exercises to help you test your progress, where you'll soon learn how to think like a mathematician.

    Sources for this article include the Bureau of Labor Statistics, online job postings and other online sources.