Math Seminar Takes Students beyond the Classroom

Math makes Davy Jones’s tentacles come to life — and thanks to a math degree, Adam Sidwell, one of the panel speakers, was prepared to generate computer images for major Hollywood hits.

Math makes Davy Jones’s tentacles come to life — and thanks to a math degree, Adam Sidwell, one of the panel speakers, was prepared to generate computer images for major Hollywood hits.

From cryptography at the National Security Agency to mathematics in the US Navy, combining the right set of skills with a math degree can lead to more opportunities than you’d think.

Last fall semester, the weekly Careers in Math Seminar gave students a taste of what options their futures might hold. The seminar, funded by the National Science Foundation and sponsored by the BYU Math Department, hosted speakers from various industries to share their stories, insights and advice on how to prepare for a career.

Professor Michael Dorff, who has been running the seminar for the past four years, said fall semester was the first time the seminar included a panel discussion on internships — internships that set BYU apart from other math departments.

“Nationally, internships in mathematics have been very rare,” Dorff said. “Last year, [BYU] had several math majors do paid summer internships. So we had a panel of five of them talk about their experiences.”

The panel members spoke about their involvement with companies such as the National Security Agency, Accenture and Novatek. All of these companies have invited these interns to work for them when they graduate.

Other Careers in Math speakers included David Evans, from Bell Helicopter; Sommer Gentry, who performs operations research in the medical field; and Adam Sidwell, who does computer animation in movies such as Transformers, Tron: Legacy, and Pirates of the Caribbean. All the speakers have a strong background in mathematics, and most of them received their education at BYU.

Despite their varying areas of expertise, Dorff said a general theme emerged. Throughout all the lectures, students were reminded that with the right training, they will be able to get interesting and well-paying jobs when they graduate.

All of the speakers strongly felt that students in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — can succeed in many different areas because of their problem-solving skills. However, there is more to securing your dream job than just earning a STEM degree. Many of the speakers stressed the benefits of being able to speak and write well.

“In addition to having a degree, what also would help [students] in getting a good job is to develop good communication skills,” Dorff said. “That’s a really useful thing for people in science and math, because when you go into industry, you have to take a technical idea and explain it to somebody who doesn’t have a technical background.”

The speakers also counseled students to sharpen their computer skills.

“Learn some computer programming,” Dorff said. “At almost every job, you need to know how to do a certain level of programming.”

Dorff said the third overriding theme among all the speakers was to have students boost their chances of success in the workforce by dabbling in sciences other than their area of expertise.

“Besides having the specialized major, students should have a background in some other type of science classes,” Dorff said. “So, a little extra statistics, or maybe extra biology if you wanted to go into pharmaceutical careers or chemistry.”

Dorff said the purpose of the Careers in Math Seminar is to show students that their career options in math are overflowing.

“Part of the reason we started doing this is because students thought all they could do in math is teach,” he said. “The [Careers in Math Seminar] helps them know that there are lots of job opportunities available for them — especially if they prepare themselves.”

The Careers in Math Seminar is held during fall semester. In fall 2012, students can expect to hear from professionals in the healthcare, finance and crime investigation industries, as well as other great speakers.

By Katie Pitts and Stacie Carnley Posted on