Harnessing & Honing our Mathematical Prowess

Specialists in the field of Mathematics are now among the most sought after in financial and technological world. Many of today’s leading digital technologies – Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Data Science (DS), Big Data (BD), and Cyber Security (CS) – need strong foundational knowledge of mathematics. Thanks to the growing importance placed on technology, big data and economic efficiency by all kinds of organizations, expert number crunchers are increasingly in demand. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, between the years 2018 and 2028, the job market for mathematicians is expected to grow by a whopping 30 percent, with a predicted median salary of US$88,190. It is only imperative that we take more interest in mathematics as a subject and build on it our success stories of the future.

Way back in the early summer of 1968, when the university exam results were declared for the first TDC, I passed with a good first class, but my friend and colleague, Abdul Ghani, better known as Ghani Math, had failed. I was still trying to overcome the shocking news when he suddenly dropped at my residence for “advice”. He had failed even after having scored 150/150 in Mathematics, because in the other three subjects, English, Physics and Chemistry, he had miserably failed. Everyone was suggesting him to appear afresh in all the four subjects so that it was not counted as a second attempt; but it was only me who asked him to accept exemption in mathematics and prepare the other three subjects for the supplementary examination. My logic: “if you go for all the four subjects again, you will end up repeating your result. Maths interests you so much that you will again ignore other subjects.” Fortunately, he accepted my advice and got barely pass marks in each of the other subjects; bit even then landed an engineering seat in REC in the next session as he had wanted. Though most of the students were dead scared of mathematics, but there were the likes of Gani Math, who had tamed this tough subject simply by taking unusual interest in it. It is time that most of our youngsters emulate him, if only to brighten their own future prospects.

Salman Abdul Moiz, Chairman of the Placement Guidance and advisory bureau at the University of Hyderabad, points out that until 2016-17, a majority of students from the School of Mathematics and Statistics would pursue careers in academics but in the last two to three years around 60% of the students are getting recruited by tech firms. “Mathematics is the new engineering. It is not just one of the biggest job creators at the entry level, but also across all levels, including that of the CFO.” Says R Ramamoorthy, CEO, Chennai Mathematical Institute. Adds Ashok Kalidas, Head, Data Science & Innovation, KANTAR, “Even if you have a pure math degree, take some time to learn something of computer science, so that in future if you need to build something from a math model you have come up with, you have the skill sets.” “Hiring in maths has increased by leaps and bounds. Applied mathematics, statistics and probability have huge takers. Ph. Ds in Maths are in big demand in data science, AI, and ML.” says Kaushik Bannerjee VP and Business Head of Teamlease.

“Math is the foundational science for technology. The products we help clients trade in are complex fixed income and derivative products which involve pricing them and projecting cash flows. We often use math graduates for such roles.” Says Chakra Mantena, MD and Head of Technology, India, Morgan Stanley “Research students in mathematics bring strong quantitative skills that include statistical modeling capabilities, creativity and integrity. These help provide analytical prowess and preciseness of outcomes that serve to provide valuable actionable insights. (Anupam Kaura, President, HR, CRISIL)

With a spurt in the job market more and more aspirants will naturally want to acquire the knowledge and skills that the study of mathematics offers. There is obviously bound to be  a corresponding spurt in careers in academia and research relating to mathematics. Academic and research-based careers in math can be incredibly wide-ranging, and will depend on what area one may wish to specialize in. Many are based within university departments, although long-term academics are also often involved in publishing, contributing to journals and specialist periodicals, or helping to produce complete publications.

A career in accountancy offers a range of options for math graduates across many different industries. In my experience in the Incometax Department, I found Kashmiris particularly weak book keeping and maintaining accounts. Accountancy jobs include roles such as auditor, tax accountant, forensic accountant, management accountant and corporate advisor. Even to become a chartered accountant, in addition to an undergraduate degree in mathematics or a related area, one also needs to gain further professional qualifications. Often, however, if one starts at a firm or a company as a trainee in this field, the employer may help one gain both the experience and the professional certification needed to advance in the job.

Then there are huge opportunities in banking that range from the world of retail banking to corporate investment banking. Both arenas deal with financial assessment – public and private – with opportunities to specialize in areas such as mergers and acquisitions, bonds and shares, privatization, lending and IPOs (initial public offers). Duties can include market research, creating new business opportunities, and developing financial models and solutions to present to clients. Math careers in banking can be lucrative, but again, professional qualifications in finance will be needed for important roles.

Statisticians are in increasingly in great demand. Specialists in statistics collate, analyse, inter-pret and present the statistics and quantitative data. Statisticians’ skills are required in various industries, ranging from healthcare to government and from finance to sport. One could be tasked with managing, collecting and arranging data by means of surveys, experiments and contextual analysis. One may then be also called upon to create reports and advise clients on possible strategies in order to make good financial decisions to further business goals.

The field of insurance business has immense potential and is already growing. Actuaries are the life line of this business inasmuch as they evaluate financial risk in order to manage and advise clients. Combining risk analysis skills with in-depth knowledge of economics and business, actuaries ensure sound investments are made and commercial/business goals achieved. To start with most new actuaries work within pensions and insurance, a relatively low-risk area, while in the future one may get to work in banking, healthcare or investment.

Industrial mathematics is a well-established field within the mathematical sciences community. It is a specialty with a curious case of double invisibility. In the academic world, it is invisible because so few academic mathematicians actively engage in works on industrial problems. Research in industrial mathematics may not find its way into standard research journals, often because the companies where it is conducted do not want it to. Some companies encourage publication and others do not due to widely varied policies. Industrial mathematics also refers to all sectors of manufacturing and service, including business and engineering; and is a branch of applied mathematics. But where the applied mathematics can include theoretical topics from physics, biology, economics and computer science for example, industrial mathematics focuses on problems which come from industry and aims for solutions which are relevant to industry, including finding the most efficient  and cost-effective ways to solve the problems.

Industrial mathematics is an inherently interdisciplinary field. In addition to mathematics, it includes subjects from fields outside mathematics such as business, computer science and engineering, and trains mathematics students how to apply mathematical analysis to problems arising in these areas. An industrial mathematician has strong analytical and problem-solving skills built upon a background of computing, mathematics, statistics, and basic science. In addition, industrial mathematics emphasizes written and oral skills along with teamwork, skills which are valued highly in industry, but are not part of most traditional mathematics programs. Since these skills are necessary for graduates to work effectively with less mathematically inclined co-workers, they are an essential part of industrial mathematics.

Manufacturing and service industries have changed drastically in modern times due to the explosion in the knowledge economy. Fast and inexpensive computing, office products, and development and utilization of large databases, have necessitated sophisticated methods to meet new demands. Industrial mathematics is the enabling factor in realizing and implementing these methods. In recent years the mathematical community worldwide has responded to this growing need for mathematically trained personnel in industry. Organizations such as the Fields Institute, the Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems (MITACS), and Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS) in Canada, and Society for Industrialand Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and The National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States among others have been promoting the interaction of mathematics with industry and continue to develop ways to meet industry’s demand for mathematically trained personnel (SIAM, 1996).

Maritime and offshore industries use advanced mathematical methods in the design of ships and mechanical analysis of offshore structures. An example is the dynamical behaviour of floating structures under wave force effects and wind conditions. Individual technical tasks like the optimal design of an anchor cable or the laying of communication cables at sea bottom leads to interesting mathematical problems. One particular challenge is the modelling of the sea and the wave conditions itself for the sake of simulation purposes. Akakpo and Marios had developed a mathematical model for the determination of collision distance and collision zone between two ensuing ships on collision course and how it could be avoided.

Maritime industries comprise companies whose activities supply innovative products and services related to the traditional maritime sector. In general, maritime industries include all enterprises engaged in the business of designing, constructing, manufacturing, acquiring, operating, supplying, repairing and/or maintaining vessels, or component parts thereof: of managing and/or operating shipping lines, and customs brokerage services, shipyards, dry docks, marine railways, marine repair shops, shipping and freight forwarding services and similar enterprises. This emerging industry also includes a significant component of traditional oil and gas and renewable energy like the wind and marine turbines. Indeed, a maritime industry is a centre of total human endeavour attracting professionals from all walks of life including mathematicians.

Meteorology is no longer only the job of just presenting the weather. Its role involves specialization in studying weather conditions using data collected from weather stations, radar, remote sensors and satellite images across the globe, in order to interpret causes and to produce forecasts. One needs to have excellent IT skills as well as strong analytical skills for interpreting the complex mathematical data obtained from these sources.

The ever expanding Indian Navy and merchant navy offer hugely lucrative opportunities to persons with mathematical background. It is generally believed that people who have studied mathematics are more logical and tend to present accurate solutions to the problems. Given a choice, a graduate in mathematics is preferred to any other ordinary graduate.

With the demand for resources growing, nations are eying the wealth hidden in the oceans. In not very distant future mining for sea nodules rich in minerals and other resources may be required to be done from the sea-bed, which will virtually open a sea of opportunities for people in general and mathematics graduates in particular.

Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.