Who would have ever thought one math class could have such an impact on one's career path? In my case, one class made all the difference in the world.
My name is Jeff Hand, Ph.D. While in graduate school, I took a class called â€œMathematics in Industry.â€ The class met and worked with professionals in industry who make a living solving real world problems. During this class I worked with a senior engineer at Raytheon, worked on some very interesting â€œmathematical forensicsâ€ problems and was able to develop a productive friendship/mentor relationship. This relationship resulted in a collaboration enabling me to complete my Ph.D. It was a natural fit to work for his group at Raytheon and I have been there ever since.
I am a senior physics engineer at Raytheon. In this position, I am a team leader for several projects primarily in the area of digital image/signal processing. We develop image exploitation algorithms for data from sensors such as the Space Imaging's IKONOS satellite.
I use mathematics everyday. I regularly use a lot of applied linear algebra in my group's projects, but my problem-solving abilities are the true benefit of my mathematics background. Many of the algorithms we design can get so complex and involved that having outstanding problem solving skills is a necessity. I have found that the true problem-solver can take a set of vague specifications and craft them into valuable workable algorithms. One can always find workers that just want their problems clearly stated so they can â€œsolve the odd numbered problems.â€ The projects we work on require so much more technical creativity and problem-solving ability and I know I am integral to solving some very challenging real-world satellite imaging problems.
The thing I find most enjoyable about my job is that my group is the Research and Development group and we have the pleasure of working on many projects at the same time. I never get bored because there is always some problem to be solved! I had always planned to work in industry in an applied scientific field, and thus far my career path could not have worked out better.
I will end with a funny and very true story.
After working in industry for a couple years I found myself in a discussion with a coworker who turned out to be a mechanical engineer by training. He said, â€œMathematics is a dead science.â€ Being a mathematician, I certainly disagreed, so I asked him to explain. He said, â€œEverything useful to know about mathematics is well-known.â€ He added, â€œNothing mathematical created today will ever be useful to anyone.â€ I said, â€œThey said the same thing about Combinatorics and Cryptography and today they are used everyday in communication and computer security.â€ He then said, â€œOK maybe what mathematicians create today will be useful two hundred years from now.â€ I said, â€œIt's not our fault you guys can't keep up.â€