I had a lot of fun this morning talking to a room full of career counsellors and others in similar roles about what it means to be a modern statistician/scientist working on large, multidisciplinary projects. I talked a little about my experiences as a student, how it took me a while to settle into the field that I did, and showed a few of the cool topics I get to work on. Everyone seemed to want to keep listening, and I even got some feedback later that it was the first time they’d heard a mathematician speak about maths and it be interesting.
If there are some key points that I hope people took away, it’s that maths isn’t just about doing maths but about solving problems. I mentioned my two favourite quotes to emphasise that studying maths, particularly in science, isn’t just about doing calculations by hand,
“Essentially, all models are wrong but some are useful” – George Box (1978)
“Machines can do the work so humans have time to think” – IBM – The Paperwork Explosion (1967)
You can combine maths with a lot of other fields, either as a double degree, or at QUT as a university-wide minor. Scientists/economists with solid data analysis skills are more employable, and those students who love maths but “want to get a job” can combine mathematics study with their vocation of choice.
During the breaks today I talked, separately, with a new guidance officer at a local all girls high school and a pair of career counsellors who’d come up from Murwillumbah. We had a good chat about students having that moment when maths clicks for them, particularly for those who have struggled but now have an experience to hook into. The guidance officer from Brisbane mentioned her own experiences as someone who struggled with mathematics at school but now that she has kids and is going through their work with them she’s starting to get very interested in maths again and is enjoying learning more and more about how it all fits together. How fantastic is that? We’ve traded our favourite YouTube channels (Crash Course from me, Mr Woo from her) and has said she’ll send me multiple emails to follow up on ideas.
It was very valuable not just giving the talk but having a chance to sit down with a few people and talk about the social aspect of studying maths, problems with career guidance (a number of jobs are perfectly suited to hiring a mathematician even if the job is for a software developer), our own experiences as a student, and what sort of projects one can work on as a mathematician.
I’d like to thank the QUT team for putting on such a great event and asking me to be part of it. If you were at the talk and are reading this, I’d be happy to answer any follow up questions you might have.