I'm a junior majoring in applied math computation at UCLA, and I was wondering what exactly constitutes a viable mathematics education? That is, what kinds of mathematical topics should an applied math major know for industry? Have any studies been carried out on this?

Personal Background

The reason I'm asking this is that I'm allowed to take 6 math/stats electives for my major, and I wanted input advice to see what should an applied math major know after college.

My plans as a career are currently to become a computer programmer/software engineer. I'm also interested in jobs dealing with finance and the like, but am not sure about anything yet. I expect if I do work in CS, I don't think I would use a lot of my math knowledge, but I'd still like it to be complete.

What I am sure is that I do not plan on going to graduate school in mathematics whatsoever, so I'm very much edging away from the whole precise, theoretical math.

What would you say constitutes as a "well-knowledged" applied math major? Like, what topics should I know?

My major only requires (1) all the calculus series obviously, (2) linear algebra and diff eq (3) linear algebra with proofs (4) Analysis/complex analysis (5) numerical analysis -> so I have to take/have taken these classes already.

Math electives I can take: The more theory math: - Algebra - Linear algebra - Cryptology - Topology - Geometry - Fourier analysis - ODE's - PDE's

More applied math: - Math imaging - Math modeling - optimization - game theory - probability theory - stochastic processes - finance/actuarial math stuff

Stats: - probability - data analysis -> regression -> experimental design -> data mining/stat models

I am honestly not too great at math so far, so I was planning on taking the easy way out by taking just optimization and the rest of my electives being stats, but I want to know what constitutes a full applied math education. Sorry if I'm being vague in my questioning. Thanks.


closed as primarily opinion-based by Najib Idrissi, Andrew D. Hwang, user147263, Daniel W. Farlow, Daniel Fischer May 1 '15 at 19:54

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ did you try searching for jobs in your area on indeed.com? Job ads often list specific requirements from applicants, e.g. this one: hcp.com/data-scientist-1 $\endgroup$ – Alex May 1 '15 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ My supervisor that you have not done a degree in mathematics if you have not studied measure theory. $\endgroup$ – user230715 May 1 '15 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ Probability and statistics is certainly a must — even if it is not specifically needed for your job. If nothing else, it will allow you not to fall for the all to common lies "supported" with appropriately presented statistics. $\endgroup$ – celtschk May 1 '15 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ Hi. This is a website for mathematical questions. You seem to want personalized advice about what classes to take. This is not the topic of this website, will not be of any use to future visitors, and impossible to give without knowing you, your program, etc. (By the way, I suggest that you take whatever advice you get here with a grain of salt -- relying on anonymous strangers for advice on something that will affect your life in a drastic way is not usually a good idea. You should ask directly the people at your school, they probably have some office dedicated to career advice.) $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi May 1 '15 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ @NajibIdrissi: I think there are two different questions here. One is a general question about what a Bachelor's applied mathematics program should contain with a view to working in industry after graduation. The other is a request for specific personal advice. Neither is easy to answer and any answers will tend to be opinion-based. The general question could perhaps be answered by a panel of representatives from industry. $\endgroup$ – J W May 1 '15 at 13:46

As Najib Idrissi mentions in a comment to your question, you should see appropriate career advisors at your university to help you with your particular situation. That said, you may find it helpful to take a look on the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) website, especially:


Here is a relevant quote from http://www.siam.org/careers/thinking/solve.php:

Part of the preparation for your future is obtaining a solid foundation in mathematical and computational knowledge—tools like differential equations, probability, combinatorics, applied algebra, and matrices, as well as the art of abstraction and advanced computing and programming skills. Preparation for a career in applied mathematics and computational science also involves being able to apply these skills to real-life problems, and achieving practical results.

See also http://www.siam.org/reports/mii/2012/index.php for the SIAM Report on Mathematics in Industry (MII 2012).

There is a brief summary of the report at http://sinews.siam.org/DetailsPage/tabid/607/ArticleID/181/IMA-To-Host-Workshop-on-Careers-in-Industry.aspx. In particular:

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 "first report" above refers to the 1996 SIAM Report on Mathematics in Industry: http://www.siam.org/reports/mii/1996/report.php.)


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