(This is an updated profile. View the original profile here.)
In college, I loved working math problems and I loved working with people. I searched for a job that incorporated both of these aspects. After graduating with a BS in mathematics, I took a consulting job at IBM Business Consulting Services (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP). The field of consulting was ideal for me because I was able to participate in many different projects, each with new challenges.
What is a consultant? A consultant is someone who provides expert advice, usually to another company or agency. In my case, I worked in an office that consulted for the Federal Government. My colleagues at IBM Consulting had quantitative degrees such as mathematics, statistics, quantitative finance, or computer science. The degrees obtained ranged from BS to MBA all the way to PhD.
My work involved forecasting techniques, market research, statistical analysis and data mining. Typically, we were presented with a problem and it either involved analyzing large amounts of data or building a mathematical model to estimate unknown values. For example, the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) noticed an increase in single car accidents since anti-lock brakes were introduced in the 1990s. Our job was to determine if there actually was a direct relationship between anti-lock brakes and single car accidents. This involved statistical analysis involving large amounts of data and performing a market study of drivers involved in single car accidents.
Another project for the State Department involved building a model to estimate the dollar amount of land owned by the U.S. in other countries (e.g., embassies, military bases, etc.). These results were presented before Congress. We also worked for a fast food chain to do sales forecasting for kids' meal toys. This involved building a mathematical model to predict sales in different restaurants so headquarters could send the appropriate number of toys to the various franchises.
These are only a few of the interesting projects I was involved with at IBM Consulting. Everyday I used logical problem solving skills to reason precisely, build computer models, and determine whether or not a conclusion had been proven. My mathematics education prepared me to tackle problems logically and strategically. Even when no mathematical formulas were involved, mathematics was an essential part of my job.
I encourage anyone who enjoys problem solving to consider an education in mathematics. There are financially and intellectually rewarding career paths in mathematics directly from the undergraduate degree. Furthermore, the skills you gain from a mathematics degree can be applied in any profession.
After working in consulting, I went back to graduate school in applied mathematics. My work experience helped me to be more focused in my studies during graduate school. I am now a professor and strive to educate my students (math major or otherwise) on the benefits and usefulness of mathematics their careers.