06 January 2009

We're number one!

A ranking of 200 jobs in the United States. Mathematician, actuary, and statistician are #1. #2, #3. Lumberjack, dairy farmer, and taxi driver are #200, #199, and #198. ("Farmer" and "chauffeur" are a bit higher on the list.)

Their one-sentence description of what a mathematician does is "Applies mathematical theories and formulas to teach or solve problems in a business, educational, or industrial climate", which isn't too bad. The word "formulas" in there rubs me the wrong way, though; I don't like the implication that mathematics is all about formulas, and I tend to use "formulae" as the plural. Here's an explanation of the methodology. They don't give the scores they assigned to mathematicians on each of the many factors they take into account. But basically, it's a good job because we sit on our asses, don't have to deal with customers, and make good money. (Well, I suppose I make good money if you factor in the fact that I don't pay tuition...)

Many of their top jobs are one what might call "academic" jobs -- the top ten also includes statisticians, biologists, historians, and sociologists. I'm wondering whether it's really true that academic jobs are generally good, or whether their methodology consistently overrates such jobs.

Via Not Even Wrong (Peter Woit); see also the Wall Street Journal and reddit.

Edit, 5:56 pm: see also See also Cosmic Variance (which, as usual, has many commenters, some insightful), Rigorous Trivialities, Unapologetic Mathematician.

Edit, Friday, 9:47 am: See also The Accidental Mathematician and Junk Charts.

Edit, Tuesday 1/13, 12:05 pm: And Computational Complexity.


Anonymous said...

They are absolutely deluded to think that biologists face "no" deadlines. Amazing.

Michael Lugo said...

That's a good catch! From what I hear, biologists face quite a lot of deadlines, because the pace of biological research is quite fast these days.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a decent description of applied math, but what about those of us who create proofs and use logic for logic's sake and not for any practical application?

Ben Allen said...

Yes, they seem not to realize that pure mathematicians exist.

I also find the whole premise of the article rather silly. I'm glad that they think my intended career path (mathematician) is a good one, but it's not like anyone is going to look at this and say "Hey, they say mathematician is a good job! I should try that out!"

Michael Lugo said...


as for pure mathematics, in a sense pure mathematicians are applying mathematics to solve problems. It's just that the problems of pure mathematicians are creating more mathematics. Still, the description does leave something to be desired -- if mathematicians apply mathematical theories, who creates the theories?

And perhaps someone that isn't sure whether they should be a mathematician or something else would benefit from knowing that being a mathematician is a Good Job. Or maybe the people paying for their education would like to know that? Seriously, though, I think the premise of this list makes more sense for a lot of the jobs towards the middle, which are jobs that require some training that I don't think people would bother to get if it didn't open up jobs.