Stay ahead with math

India needs many mathematicians to work in pure and applied areas.

India needs many mathematicians to work in pure and applied areas.

In this increasingly digital world, mathematics is everywhere. It is wise to keep track of the myriad opportunities that would be laid open by mathematics education.

“The advancement and perfection of mathematics are intimately connected with the prosperity of the state,” said Napolean Bonaparte. While there may be several opinions regarding Napolean as a leader, this statement holds indisputably true even today.

Science and technology are now driving development everywhere in the world, and these are intimately coded in the language of mathematics. Citing a study by McKinsey which estimated that there would be an acute shortage of mathematical scientists in the U.S. by 2016, Kumar Murty, Professor and Chair, Department of Mathematics, University of Toronto, says, “There is no better time in history than the present to be a mathematician.” And if the United States with its steady inflow of mathematicians and scientists could face such a shortfall, the need for mathematicians would only be much higher for developing countries like India.

Living with math Applications of mathematics to technology are legion: it is difficult to imagine any IT application that is not based on mathematics. For those of you who are fascinated by matrices, search engines work on a structure driven by linear algebra. Algebra lovers will be pleased to hear that CDs and DVDs encode information in the form of polynomials over finite fields.

Some of these techniques are based on what are known as Reed-Solomon codes, which were studied as part of pure mathematics in 1960, were applied to this technology in 1982.

Whenever we send an email or use “dropbox” to transfer files, we take the security of our transactions for granted. This security is, in fact, measured through the difficulty of solving certain mathematical problems — for instance, factoring integers, finding the shortest non-zero vector in a lattice, and so on. To say more on the topic, elliptic curves, which are again a topic of pure math, are used in determining security applications.

Prof. Murty adds, “There are still a lot of emerging opportunities. For example, big data and cloud technology offer a lot of scope for math to be used and new math to be developed. Besides statistics and machine learning, one should consider algebraic topology, graph theory, dynamical systems and number theory.”

The route to take India needs many mathematicians to work in pure and applied areas. But there is a draining away of mathematicians after they complete their postgraduate studies. “College education is not treated as something where you use what you learn. It is rather seen as a passport for a white collar job,” says Prof. R. Balasubramanian, Director of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai. This is perhaps largely because students are not aware of the value and applicability of their math education.

When asked about the possibilities of using a math education in India, Prof. Balasubramanian lists out economics, computational biology, financial services etc.

Students who find mathematics interesting would be well-advised to do an M.Sc.(Math) followed by an MCA, if they are keen on working on computation-related problems. “Even a good B.Sc. can be a base on which to build up computing knowledge,” says Dr. R. Ramanujam, computer scientist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences. “It is also a good idea to go for a postgraduate degree in computer applications or computer science after completing a B.Stat. or B.Sc.(physics). Calculus, probability and statistics, differential equations, these are all things that can be used in applications,” he adds.

There is a widespread belief that studying math only prepares you for a career in teaching math. Though teaching is a rewarding career for those who like it, this statement is simply not true. There are many opportunities and extremely rewarding, even monetarily.

Women in math As in other aspects of education, there is the question of what happens to girls who study mathematics. It is observed that upto the M.Sc. level co-ed classes contain nearly 40 per cent to 50 per cent of girls. This is perhaps more than the number of girl students who opt for physics, for instance.

However, this number drops when it comes to specialising and taking up a career in mathematics, pure or applied. “There is a wider scope in industry, abroad,” says Dr. Jaya Iyer, from Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai. “This is because we do not have interdisciplinary courses. We keep narrowing our focus and specialising. In places abroad, students have a basic education in all sciences, they are better geared for interdisciplinary jobs,” she says.

There are various initiatives to promote math, especially among women. Looking at the website, Indian Women and Mathematics ( > ), especially at the links to scholarships and other programmes, can be of use to women interested in pursuing mathematics.

“Brilliance can be useful but it is not necessary, to do mathematics,” says Dr. Ramanujam.

What is needed according to him is a genuine interest and enjoyment of math.

This talent must be nurtured from school onwards and for that it is important to invest in teacher training, education and development.

Prof. Kumar Murty adds that it is important to lose the fear of math. and to develop an appreciation of, if not participation in, the subject, because you cannot afford to live in isolation of math in the digital world. He says, “In the same way that it is possible to enjoy music without being a musician, to some extent it is possible to enjoy mathematics without being a mathematician.”

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Printable version | May 20, 2022 11:57:17 pm |