IMA To Host Workshop on Careers in Industry

January 23, 2014

Thomas Grandine, William Kolata, and Richard Braun

The Institute for Mathematics and its Applications will hold a workshop for faculty and students interested in exploring careers and opportunities for mathematical scientists in industry. The workshop will be held on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, April 79, 2014.

The IMA workshop will emphasize both opportunities for mathematical scientists in industry and implications for graduate programs in the discipline. The agenda draws on two SIAM reports, from 1996 and 2012, as briefly described below.

SIAM's First MII Report

In 1996, with funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency, SIAM published the first SIAM Report on Mathematics in Industry ( SIAM undertook the project primarily to address the issue of demand for mathematicians in industry and government and to investigate, from the perspective of the employers of those who held such jobs, how well their employees had been trained.

In summary, we found that from the perspective of nonacademic employers, the value of mathematicians, as in academic careers, resides in their habit of mind, rigorous thinking, and confidence in careful reasoning. The managers interviewed also mentioned several areas in which graduate education needed to be improved: experience in real-world problem solving, communication skills, and effective use of computer software and systems.

Following publication of the 1996 report, six regional NSF-funded workshops were held to communicate the conclusions of the report.

The 1996 report and the follow-up workshops resulted in greater awareness of the nature and extent of mathematics in industry among faculty and students. The efforts also encouraged the development of non-academic workforce programs by government agencies and private foundations. The Sloan Foundation, for example, funded efforts to develop Professional Science Master's Degree programs, and NSF created the GOALI (Grant Opportunities for Liaison with Industry) program.

The 2012 Update
In 2008, with funding from NSF, SIAM began to examine the evolution of nonacademic opportunities for the mathematical sciences, this time with the focus solely on industrial careers. The results of this project were published in the 2012 SIAM Report on Mathematics in Industry.* The insights from the first report remained largely valid, but the second report documented significant changes in the mathematical and computational sciences in industry. Most noticeably, organizations now collect orders of magnitude more data than they used to, and face the challenge of extracting business-enhancing information from the data. Computing technology has continued to advance rapidly, and companies make more and more aggressive use of high-performance parallel computing. Scientific and technical services and finance together have become as important to U.S. GDP as manufacturing once was.

A highlight of the 2012 report is the section on case studies that illustrate emerging applications of the mathematical and computational sciences in industry. Along with big data and predictive analytics, themes highlighted in this section include the developing sophistication of mathematical modeling and advanced computation in industry, and the emergence of companies that use mathematical and computational modeling to extract complex interactions and predict emergent properties of biological systems.

The 2012 report documents the technical knowledge and skills needed to succeed in industry. Requirements include mastery of the core areas of the mathematical sciences, with depth in one area and enough breadth that it is possible to quickly come up to speed in another. Also important are a sufficient grasp of an application discipline relevant to the prospective employer and proficiency in a programming language. As to the required soft skills, communication and teamwork were mentioned in the first report; the new report also cites the need for enthusiasm, self-direction, the ability to complete projects, and a sense of the business. It is clear that no academic program can, by itself, provide all of these requirements.

The challenge for educators and students is to find the right mix of formal academic courses, education in soft skills, and real-world experience in industry. The challenge to government agencies is to develop workforce programs that foster the transition of graduates in the mathematical and computational sciences into productive careers in industry. Work remains to be done. For example, NSF's MPS directorate made 51 awards in the GOALI program; however, none of these were from the Division of Mathematical Sciences.

The IMA Workshop
The workshop will bring together faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and industry representatives. Faculty who attend the IMA workshop will learn about the advantages of engaging in collaborations with industry, for both their departments and their students. Students and postdocs will learn about internships, collaborations, and careers in industry. For industrial mathematicians and scientists, the workshop will be a setting in which they can promote careers in their companies and highlight opportunities for collaborations and internships. The industrial participants will also have a chance to influence the design of academic programs.

The format of the IMA workshop, instructions for applying to participate in it, and information about the availability of financial support can be found at

Thomas Grandine is a senior technical fellow at The Boeing Company. William Kolata is SIAM's technical director. Richard Braun is a professor of mathematical sciences at the University of Delaware and an associate director and visiting professor at the IMA.

*The report is available at

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