Jobs in Industry for Mathematical and Computational Scientists: Outlook Through 2014

August 7, 2007

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics collects, analyzes, and publishes data on jobs in industry and uses the data to project the numbers of jobs that will be available in the coming years. The results (which currently extend from 2004 through 2014) are summarized in an industry–occupation employment matrix. (Industries are indexed by the North American Industry Classification System and occupations by the Standard Occupational Classification System. This data and related products can be found at http://www.bls.gov/emp/home.htm.)

A narrow reading of the BLS data leaves the impression that between 2004 and 2014, few new jobs in industry will become available for mathematicians. A key to a broader perspective on the data, as SIAM learned more than ten years ago in its study of mathematics in industry,* is that, of the many people who do and use mathematics in industry, relatively few have the job title "mathematician."

The BLS data is based on occupational titles, and, in fact, the results for "mathematician" show an overall decline of 1% during the ten-year period. The only BLS-defined industry with growth in employment of mathematicians (26%, but only 55 new jobs) is "management, scientific, and technical consulting services." Statisticians can expect to fare somewhat better: 4.6% growth overall and growth of 23% and 41%, respectively, in the industries "marketing research and other professional services" and "management, scientific, and technical consulting services." The best outlook within the mathematical sciences is for "operations research analysts": Overall growth is projected to be 8%, with large increases (defined here as more than 1000 new jobs by 2014) in "management, scientific, and technical consulting services" (62%, 1900 new jobs) and "computer systems design and services" (25%, 1200 new jobs).

The data are harder to interpret for computational science, because the field is interdisciplinary, requiring expertise in mathematical modeling and aspects of computer science, particularly those focused on the numerical solution of large-scale problems on advanced-architecture machines. Perhaps the occupation closest to "computational scientist" in the BLS data is "computer software engineer---applications," for which the BLS projects a large increase overall (49%, 219,000 new jobs).

Of interest to applied mathematical and computational scientists, broadly defined, are the large increases projected by the BLS for a range of industries in the service, manufacturing, and financial sectors. Examples include "computer systems design and services" (63%, 83,000 new jobs); "management, scientific, and technical consulting services" (99%, 14,000 new jobs); "re-search and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences" (34%, 3000 new jobs); "navigational, measuring, electro-medical, and control instrument manufacture" (19%, 2600 new jobs); "Internet service providers and web search portals" (37%, 2500 new jobs); "aerospace product and parts manufacture" (29%, 1900 new jobs); and "other financial investment activities" (52%, 1500 new jobs).

Mathematical and computational scientists can and do work in quite a few of the occupations identified in the BLS data. Typically, based on SIAM's MII study, their titles are consistent with those of others in their groups. In a research group, for example, a mathematician, an engineer, and a physical scientist might all have the title "member of the technical staff." In the finance industry, the title "quantitative analyst" or "financial analyst" might designate MBAs, physical scientists, or people with degrees in finance. In general, titles reflect a group's objectives, rather than the training of the individuals, and few groups in industry are specifically dedicated to mathematical or computational output, even though those fields may be crucial to the group's objectives.

From the perspective gained in MII96, then, the possibilities of new jobs for mathematical and computational scientists in industry are much greater than the BLS data reflect, although it is difficult to estimate the extent of the growth. Along with the growth in areas mentioned earlier are several others: Electrical engineers are projected to have opportunities in "navigational, measuring, electro-medical, and control instrument manufacture" (17%, 2600 new jobs); "management, scientific, and technical consulting services" (15%, 500 new jobs); and "computer systems design and services" (37%, 1300 new jobs). For "financial analysts," growth opportunities appear in "management, scientific, and technical consulting services" (28%, 5800 new jobs) and in "other financial investment activities" (28%, 5900 new jobs).

One of the key recommendations in MII96 was that students in the mathematical and computational sciences who want to give themselves the option of working in industry need to broaden their educational experience by developing skill in computation, by taking courses in science, engineering, or finance, and by participating in industrial internships. Today, students can also take advantage of professional master's programs with an industrial focus that have arisen since the publication of MII96. In this way, a student can tap the growth potential of other occupations defined in the BLS data.---William Kolata, SIAM Technical Director.

*SIAM Report on Mathematics in Industry, 1996; www.siam.org/about/mii/. Because of changes in the environment in which mathematical and computational scientists work in industry, SIAM is now preparing a proposal for an update to the 1996 study.


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