26 June 2019

The wild jobs of mathematicians: cyber threat detection, computer game design and billion figure investing


Many mathematicians have unsuspecting jobs. Some ward off cyber-attacks, others juggle billions. The range of jobs available and demand for number crunchers is high and unemployment virtually non-existent.

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29-year-old Lise Volsing Smith spends her days protecting governments, public agencies and companies from cyber-attack:

"I work on systems that detect cyber threats for our clients. For example, alarms that indicate times of heightened risk. The work involves a tremendous amount of mathematical method, such as reading and understanding code written by others. It’s great to apply one’s professional skills towards something that benefits society and is exciting," says Volsing Smith. She works for CSIS Security Group, a Danish cyber security firm that, among other things, develops threat intelligence services for some of the world's largest companies.

Lise Volsing Smith earned her MSc in mathematics from the University of Copenhagen in 2014 and went almost directly from the exam table to her job site. "With my educational background, finding work is not difficult. It seems as if more and more sectors are opening up their eyes to us mathematicians."

Morten Tolver Kronborg holds an MSc and PhD in actuarial mathematics from the University of Copenhagen and uses his math know-how to manage billions in investments for ATP pensions. From his perspective as Director of ATP’s Team Investment Strategy, he comments:

"My department designs strategy for the group's investments, which amount to nearly DKK 800 billion. Behind the strategy is a huge amount of data that we have systematized and calculated our way through to predict good business decisions. Thus, the most important aspect of my job is to be outstanding at mathematics."

Companies ravenous for mathematicians

According to the Confederation of Danish Industry, Morten Tolver Kronborg and Lise Volsing Smith are among the most sought-after workers in the Danish labour market.

"In a way, it could be said that this is the era of the number cruncher. There is an extremely high demand among companies for math competencies. This applies broadly, from the wind turbine industry to law firms to small startups," according to Mette Fjord Sørensen, Head of Research, Higher Education and Diversity at the Confederation of Danish Industry.

A survey from 2018-19 reports that Danish business leaders identify lack of necessary skills as the greatest barrier to realising their digital ambitions. Across companies and sectors, there is a general shortage for specialists who can manage and analyze large, complex amounts of data.

"More and more companies need to figure out how to make products that compliment the digital reality. So, those who can perform in this area, mathematicians for example, are coveted. New job types for people with math skills will continue to expand - that’s a given," says Mette Fjord Sørensen.

The job range is wide

According to Michael Sørensen, Head of Department at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, the mathematicians educated at the university are falling into a broadening array of job types:

"During one’s mathematics education, students are deeply into mathematics and trained to think abstractly and rigorously to solve extremely difficult assignments. One also develops an eye for well-hidden links and connections. The skills acquired over the course of one’s university mathematics studies open up a great many doors for exciting lines of work," says Michael Sørensen.

He adds: "We have graduates working with artificial intelligence, developing computer games, modern software for the financial sector, testing pharmaceuticals and engaged in many other important things. Math studies deliver access to a much broader range of jobs than most people would think, and we are constantly striving to educate more people to contribute solutions towards the many problems that accompany the digitalisation of society."

The unemployment rate for mathematics graduates from the University of Copenhagen in 2015 was 0.5% during the first 4-7 months. For 2016 graduates, it was 3.1%, corresponding to 1 person out of 42. (Statistics for subsequent years have not yet been compiled.)