The number game

A penchant for math opens up a host of intriguing career options

Updated - September 22, 2018 02:32 pm IST

Published - September 22, 2018 02:20 pm IST

Math science concept with school lesson items in retro cartoon style vector illustration

Math science concept with school lesson items in retro cartoon style vector illustration

The world is divided over math — almost everyone is taught the subject in some form or the other. By the time people hit their teenage years, the battle lines are drawn — “I love math” or “I hate math”. Well, I love math though I fully empathise with those who don’t — what do a bunch of squiggly symbols mean for the real world, anyway? Can we talk English, please? Or Marathi? Or perhaps…. Swahili, instead? For those for whom math is play, though, the world looks promising.

There was a time when a love for the subject primarily led you to academics or areas such as engineering or accounting. But today, “purer” applications of mathematics have emerged, giving you the opportunity to play with math while engaging with industries and customers. Here are a few such avenues.

1. Big data: There is stock analytics, sports analytics, market analytics, health analytics, consumer data analytics — data is everywhere and businesses love to let creative mathematicians uncovers patterns and stories. For example, the Square Kilometer Array project aggregates data from thousands of radio telescopes, unmanned rovers, probes and observatories to figure out how the galaxy was formed at the “cosmic dawn”. Music companies collate data from sources including downloads, social media buzz and sales of merchandise to make the top charts and plan music releases, concert locations and dates.

2. Software: Emerging areas such as virtual reality, game development and artificial intelligence challenge mathematicians to define space, logic and response options to capture complex decision-making situations and train software to make sense of them. AlphaZero, the latest computer program that won or drew all 100 games against winning chess programs, taught itself the game in just four hours! Speech recognition by Alexa or Siri follow complex algorithms to make sense of the many things a speaker could mean. Another example is algorithm based stock trading where the computer analyses stock markets across cities, countries and industries to intelligently respond to stock movements and make four to five times the return that highly experienced human traders can.

3. Animation: Do you love geometry? Animation software goes into the geometric depths of every facial expression and bouncing ponytail. Animation variables or ‘avars’ are used to define the position of each segment of the skeletal model for characters. Woody in “Toy Story” used 700 avars of which 100 were in the face alone. Rapunzel’s hair in “Tangled” required co-ordinating the three-dimensional movement of 173 strands of hair in every scene.

4. Financial modelling: This area goes beyond accounting to predict the behaviour of people and markets, and design win-win financial solutions.

5. Actuarial science: Scientistsanalyse the likelihood of future events, represent risk in numbers and design financial instruments to create win-win solutions — for instance, life insurance policies with premiums linked to health indicators and even body part insurance.

“A math degree provides students with the perfect platform to secure some of the hottest jobs in town such as actuarial analysts and data scientists. These jobs deal with analysing and interpreting large volumes of data in a logical way. It is important that students view mastering of mathematical concepts as a way to solve real world problems and not just as a means to pass exams,” says Jose John, Director and Appointed Actuary, Max Life Insurance Co. Ltd.

6. Bioinformatics: This field involves the application of math and computer technology to gather, store, analyse and integrate biological and genetic information. One fascinating area is gene sequencing, which is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with or without the target picture in front of you. Computer programs help examine the risk of genetic disease in patients, the evolutionary history and relationships of organisms, and help with forensic identification of criminals using their unique DNA sequence.

Leading mathematics institutes in India

Chennai Mathematical Institute, Chennai

Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru

IITs — Kanpur, Roorkee, Chennai

The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai

Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai

Indian Statistical Institute — Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai

The writer is the author of The Ultimate Guide to 21st Century Careers. She leads Inomi, a career and college guidance firm.

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