I asked a variety of people in different careers about the use of math in their lives. They answered any or all of the following questions:
1. Do you use math in your current profession? What type of math do you use? What is an example of the math you use?
2. What do you wish you had paid better attention to in math class? What has been the most useful information, or skill, taken from the math classes?
3. Do you utilize math skills to maintain your home or personal life? Finances? Budget?
4. Do you use the logic or problem solving skills learned in math class to work through situations in your professional or personal life?
Please look over their responses. They are alphabetical by profession, with a list of professions on the right hand side panel.
Alicia, Business and Chemistry
Math in current profession… I have used
math in every field I've worked in. When I worked in a lab, I used
everything up to and including calc 2 (integrals). In marketing I
actually used math MORE than when I worked in the lab! Lots of algebra,
probability, and statistics. Spreadsheet skills are KEY - use will use
spreadsheets in just about any career.
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid
more attention to… The single most important thing I learned in math (all
of school really) is CRITICAL THINKING. If you can develop good critical
thinking skills you will be MILES ahead of the competition when you are
applying for jobs. I wish I still had my stats book.
Math to maintain your home/personal life?...
All the time! Surface area and volume of simple and complex objects
(like say a wall or rectangular room vs molding with rounded parts and/or steps
or two level room. I do a lot of math keeping track of our
finances. Taking the time to do financial math can save you tens of
thousands of dollars over the life of a home loan, make you money with the best
possible saving vehicles, and save you from predatory lenders (who will laon
you way more than you can afford to pay back, then take your car/house/what
Logic or problem solving skills?... Constantly.
Everything from trying to repair things in the home to navigating workplace
politics to arguing with my husband.
The best math classes I ever took were physics 1 and 2, hands
down. The math instruction I've had (in real math classes) has mostly sucked.
The curriculum is probably to blame more than the instructors, but way too much
class time was spent on procedural rather
than "connective" work - in other words, that which fosters our
ability to connect what we were supposed to be learning with other things we
had learned before.
Robley, English Instructor
Math in current profession… I primarily use very basic math in my job - things like calculating student grades, percentages, and weighing certain projects more heavily than others.
Frequently I encounter students who have no idea how to do this basic addition and averaging to determine their current or final grades. This is actually really problematic for students because they are unable to make decisions about their standing in class, their participating in the class, and how to reach the desired grade in the course.
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid more attention to… Geometry. I HATED geometry, it was surprisingly hard for me. But I find this is a tool I used frequently when fixing my house. When I'm building a garden in my back yard and need to calculate the supplies I need or what angle to cut the wood at to create a certain shape (I have a six sided feature we created in our yard that took FOREVER to figure out).
Logic or problem solving skills?... Many of the courses that are required in college (and high school) can seem pointless while we're in the class. It's often difficult to understand the "use" of a certain piece of history or set of skills. One thing that I'm frequently struck by, however, is how much this knowledge does add value to my life. Even things I don't "use" in my daily life (for example, understanding the history of the Panama canal) add value to my life. I find this knowledge allows me to be better engaged in the world around me. I'm more prepared to understand the things I read (literature, news papers, blogs, FB status updates even); I'm more able to engage in conversations with people that I meet about a variety of subjects; I'm able to understand or question how current events (in my life and in the world) will effect the future; in short I'm more prepared to participate in the world. The knowledge, critical thinking skills and technical skills (like math and writing) that you are learning while you are in college serve not only to prepare you for a specific career, but to prepare you to be engaged participants in the world. This gives you a level of control over the things that are happening around you that you can't gain in any other way. My experience has been that much of this knowledge developed a "purpose" long after I left college and I am continually surprised at the variety of purposes I find for this knowledge.
Math in current profession… We use calculus and
linear algebra every day as part of option value calculations and numerical
procedures we code up to calculate the fair value of a financial instrument.
Math in current profession… calculate mole to mole ratios for chemical synthesis.
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid more attention to… quantitative data for chemical analysis.
Angela, Chemistry, B.S.
Math in current profession… For chemistry math problems I'll have to use math to calculate concentration/molarity, volumes, and fractions of molecules included in a square area for lattice structures. We use logs to calculate the pH, and we use basic math to calculate total energy/entropy/enthalpy required in a process.
Not to mention all the calculus we use to calculate the probability of an electron's location at any given moment, as well as the time-related Schrödinger equation for a wave function! YUCK.
Math to maintain your home/personal life?... I use the "counting money back" technique every time I purchase something to be sure I receive the right amount of change. I use the 10% +half of the 10% to calculate tips! Every time I explain to people that's how I do it, they're always like "oh.. that's so easy".
Chris, Computational Biologist
Math in current profession… I'm a scientist who uses computers to help understand why we get cancer and how we might treat it more effectively. I use math every day, especially statistics. When we look at the DNA of a tumor, we see thousands of mutations. Statistics helps us decide which ones are most likely to be helping that cancer grow, and which ones might be good targets for new drugs.
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid more attention to… I was never a great math student in high school and college. Because of that, I've had to go back to basics and teach myself a lot of things later on. If I had really learned the fundamentals of Algebra earlier, it would have made my life easier and really saved me a lot of time!
Math to maintain your home/personal life?... We're saving up for a house and planning for our first kid. I need to understand concepts like compound interest to understand where my money goes and how much I need to save.
Logic or problem solving
Math and science have a lot in common. Both can be hard sometimes,
current profession… I do use math all the time. The main thing
that we try to do is find
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid more attention to… I wish I had paid more attention to the principles of statistics. Or, more accurately, that I had taken a statistics class...
Math to maintain your home/personal life?... Yes! I use math in maintaining a budget and keeping track of where I am financially. I report all my expenses and income and keep that up to date monthly.
Logic or problem solving skills?... Right now I live in Denmark and
their currency is the Danish crown.
Skye, Greenhouse Manager
Math in current profession… I have to calculate man hours for planting times at my greenhouse eg. 8 people planting for 3 hours is 24 hours of work.
Marilyn, Health Insurance Agent
Math in current profession… I use math all the time in comparing plans and their rates. It is mostly simple math, and some percentages etc. I also use math in figuring tax savings etc.
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid more attention to… I wish I had listened to my Personal Finance teacher more. This class was all about math. Now that I know how important it is to begin saving at a young age, I wish I had started earlier. As I mentioned above, the financial calculations have been a great skill to have over the years.
Math to maintain your home/personal life?... Math to maintain your home/personal life?..
I use math in my personal life while shopping and figuring out if I should refinance my home etc., but most importantly in budgeting. It is mostly simple math. I use geometry and other math occasionally when I am fixing things around the house. I often use a financial calculator that allows me to see what the future value of my investments will be given the amount and number of payments I make at a given rate of return. (Everyone should know how to do this to inspire them to save money!!!)
I use math all the time with my home budgeting and finances. I calculate how much I need to save each month to pay taxes, or insurance premiums that come once a year. I've even set up a very simple budget that allows me to spend wisely and save money for the future. With math I am also able to see how stupid it is to use credit cards/get into debt. I recently used math to show my daughter the advantages of driving a 'paid for' used car rather than leasing a new car. We figured that in just 9 years she would be at least $25,000 ahead if she drove a used car.
Logic or problem solving skills?... When I solve problems I love to use math because it usually gives me a clear cut answer. You've heard the saying "the numbers don't lie" and that is the truth. Still, sometimes there is more than just the numbers that need to be considered, for example, do we take the higher paying job if it means more stress and sacrificing time with family? - etc. So you can't rely just on the math, but it does help you weigh your options. I always check the numbers.
I am really into SIMPLE budgeting. Budgeting seems to scare a lot of people off, but it really does not have to be that hard and it is so important. Without a money plan or a budget, people can get into major financial problems, which in turn can lead to a lot of stress and pain. Regardless of your career, budgeting and saving money are vital (math intensive) skills to have. If I could give advice to young college students I would encourage them to learn math and start budgeting and saving now!!
Emlyn, Homemaker & Part-time curatorial assistant at Museum of Natural History
Math in current profession… I use math for both professions. At the museum, we do a significant amount of measuring in taking care of our objects. We use both metric and American measurement types, and so must have a basic understanding of the comparison between the two. We also use computer math functions, such as categorical numbering using our database as well as Excel spreadsheet columns. And yes, we even use math to fill in the correct hours on our timecards!
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid more attention to… The most useful information from math classes is basic math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) WITHOUT using a calculator. I wish I had paid better attention so I could do all of that in my head quickly!
Math to maintain your home/personal life?... At home I use math every day. I am a mom of two, a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. Meals are often mini fights about fair portions... I use division and reasoning to make sure everyone gets their sandwich cut into 4 pieces. I use measurement and math when making recipes, even basic macaroni and cheese! Budgeting and finances require addition and subtraction all the time. Balancing the checkbook to make sure we haven't overspent on our debit card and matching that against the bank's records is a very important skill.
Logic or problem solving skills?... Logic and problem solving get used in my professional life at the museum when we are trying to find the best places to store and display objects. Measurements are crucial as well as logic: two big baskets probably won't fit on the same shelf! At home, logic and problem solving are again crucial, as with the even sandwiches. :)
Math in current profession… I am self employed and I use math with my bookkeeping, profit and loss, cost vs time evaluation, interest calulations, etc. Also, I always have to problem solve and have logical applications.
Math in current profession… Marketing is actually full of math. I've used math to compute how much food to order for an event or how many fun give-a-ways to order. How much money we have in the budget and where it can be best used, how many visitors to the website actually looked around, how many people read emails and responded, effectiveness of promotions, how many extra newsletters to order to account for mailing run off (basically the errors the mailhouse might make), how many bags of candy to buy to hand out at Halloween in the branches and much, much more. Marketing involves a lot more than just making things pretty or fun!
Math to maintain your home/personal life?... Definitely used in budgeting. Also used in figuring out which can of green beans is the best price or other groceries (figuring per oz prices), estimating how much my grocery bill should be while shopping so I can tell if an error is made when being rung up.
Logic or problem solving skills?... I do use logic quite a bit but I'm not sure if I learned it in math class. Occasionally proofs have come in handy though when trying to illustrate to other people that a process will work.
Danny, Neuroscience Researcher (Graduate Student)
Math in current profession… I use algebra to make solutions needed for my experiments. I must calculate the mass of the drug that I want in my solution for a given volume of saline to reach the concentration that I need for my experiment. I also use algebra/arithmetic to convert different measures of the concentration of a solution to discuss the experiment with other scientists. When administering drugs to live animals, dose of the drug is described as mass of drug per mass of the animal (e.g. 5 mg/kg). However, if we are doing experiments in brain slices, we express the dosage of a drug as its molarity (20 µM).
I also do a lot of statistics on the results of the experiments. I write matlab scripts to analyze my data, which could basically be written as long, complicated, algebraic equations. I also use built-in matlab functions to do a statistical multivariate, repeated measure analysis of variance (ANOVA) to determine if the results for different experimental conditions are different enough to be statistically significant, which we can then report in scientific journals.
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid more attention to… I paid pretty good attention in my math classes, since I liked math. My problem has mostly been forgetting certain concepts since I haven't been in a math class in over 10 years. A solid understanding of algebra is probably the most important for everyday life. Most problems can be solved with back-of-the-napkin type math using algebra and simple arithmetic.
Math to maintain your home/personal life?... Mostly I would say this consists of just some quick mental arithmetic to make sure some company didn't make a mistake and charge me too much or something.
Logic or problem solving skills?... Logic and problem solving are hugely helpful in my job as a research scientist. Without them you cannot do science.
Janice, Nurse (Medical Intensive Care Unit)
Math in current profession… I use math all the time in my job as a nurse: estimate when the IV bag will be finished; basic adding and subtractding for intake and out put totals (24 hr fluid balance); I use algebra to calculate drug administration, setting IV pumps, etc. Everything is in metric system so it is important to understand that.
Math to maintain your home/personal life?... In my everyday life, I use it to do my checkbook/bank statement, determine price of something I am buying (if it is a good price or not) and how much I will save using coupons, 20% off, etc. I also calculate if I am getting a good gas mileage with my car (miles/gallon of gas). I use measurements in cooking and adjusting recipes i.e. making half the recipe or doubling, etc. I use it when buying material for crafts/sewing. The list goes on! I am sure I use it even more than that!
Jessica, Office Manager & Landscape Designer
Math in current profession… I surprisingly use math a lot, which is a surprise for me because it was a real struggle for me through school. I use it as an office manager entering the finances to the theatre I work for and keeping the books up to date. I also use it as a landscape designer; square footage, volume for things like compost or gravel, dimensions, etc.
Kevin, Petroleum Engineer
Math in current profession… I use algebra for Multivariate statistics, I use geometry for wellbore calculations, and I use calculus for finding the rate of change, inflection points, and completed work (area under the curve).
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid more attention to… I wish I paid closer attention to statistics, the most important skill learned is solving algebraic equations. Solutions to real world problems come about by solving equations and have contributed to my project at Shell.
Christine, Statistician & Medical Researcher (Graduate Student)
Math in current profession… I do research on statistical methods to infer biological networks. For example, inside of each of our cells, there are reactions occurring constantly. In a diseased state, this network of reactions is altered in ways that lead to a loss of cellular function. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy can be used to profile tissue samples, and from this we can identify which molecules are present and estimate their concentrations. We can then use statistical methods to infer the reaction network by looking at the covariance of the concentrations of the molecules. This is a difficult problem since the data is noisy (i.e. there is random variation in the measurement), the networks are complex, and we often have small sample sizes. We are developing statistical methods that allow us to incorporate prior knowledge on the degree of connectivity of the network and known chemical reactions. These techniques can improve the reliability of our inference. The resulting identification of the reactions under diseased conditions can increase scientific understanding of the mechanisms of disease and also guide the development of future treatments.
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid more attention to… I still wish that I could explain mathematical concepts better! It's really nice to be able to help out other students, and you can feel sure that you understand something once you are able to explain it someone else. Right now, I work a lot with medical researchers, and I often have to explain statistical methods to them. I am still trying to get better at how I communicate these ideas.
Erin, Swimming Coach
Math in current profession… add up the amount of yardage that my swimmers are swimming and calculate how much yardage is needed for a mile.
Math to maintain your home/personal life?... balance a checkbook.
Ben, TV Production
Math in current profession… I do base 60 Time math daily (e.g. adding and subtracting the number of minutes in an hour), subtracting one time from another to find the difference between the two. Also I use math in trying to calculate time cues for production, which is tough since I have to do it backwards in real time.
Math in current profession… Yes, I use math everyday in my profession. I use basic algebra and stoichiometry for fluid rate calculation, drug dosage calculations, basic unit conversions, etc. I love trigonometry and know I will get to use some of it in when I go into my residency for sports med/rehab and have to study/use biomechanics, basic trig is also used a lot in orthopedic surgeries.
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid more attention to… I wish I understood physics better which has a lot of math in it because then I would understand ultrasounds better and be able to use my machine better. The most useful skill I learned in math class is basic math, like fractions. I am constantly surprised by how many people can’t understand that ¼ of a tablet is the same as 0.25 of a tablet…
Math to maintain your home/personal life?... Yes, making a monthly budget and sticking to it has been important given the amount of educational debt load I have. Also, calculating how much interest accrues in my loans is important to know each year.
Andrea, Walmart Customer Service Manager and Supervisor
Math in current profession… I use it every day to calculate the ad matching we do. For example say you are buying 10.29 pounds of oranges from rancho market and their ad is 8 pounds for .99 cents you need to calculate how their rates compare with Walmart’s. At Walmart we sell oranges by unit, so we have to figure out the price per orange because not all our produce is by the pound. The reason I am giving you this example is I hear all day long from the younger cashiers that they hate math and I don't know how to figure it out. I show them all how to do this so they not only can handle the ad matches and so they don't feel stupid. I sympathize with a lot of them because math was not my best subject. I also use math in my profession to figure out the difference I need to give customers as a credit if they paid a higher rate of tax than in Utah.
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid more attention to… Basic math, and math that you need in the real world, and how to do this in your head without a calculator. And that if you have struggled in the past with math that you can get better, for example, I used to struggle with arithmetic, but now I can do it in my head. Find someone to help you break it down so that you can understand. I am very grateful that I had teachers throughout my schooling who took time to do this for me.
Math to maintain your home/personal life?... I use it to figure out how to cut fabric, to double check the machine on prices, and for gas mileage. The desire to learn and gain knowledge (being able to solve the math problems like discounts, or being able to use the computer, etc) has promoted me from a temporary employee to a manager.
Jim, Web Developer
current profession… I definitely use math in programming.
Simple arithmetic is everywhere in programming, but also many of the concepts
of programming are based on math. For example, a key concept of
programming is understanding variables (assigning labels to data), which is the
basis for algebra. But most of the actual work of programming is more
like solving proofs in geometry, at least conceptually. The idea of tying
together a series of steps to produce a specific result is exactly the work
Skills that were useful or wish I had paid
more attention to… I wish I had taken a statistics class. I think
some of the concepts and algorithms would be useful, if for no other reason
than to have a clearer idea on how to express what sort of algorithm I am
looking for. The most useful thing from math for me was discovering that
I enjoyed doing geometry proofs. I think "math" is a huge field
and most people actually like certain parts of it, even if they "hate
math". You don't have to like everything, but I think everyone
should try to expose themselves to as many fields of mathematics as they can.
Math to maintain your home/personal life?...
I do use math for finances, but not in a straightforward way. I think
having a strong understanding of probabilities and percentages can be very
helpful for understanding things, such as the fact that if you buy a stock and
it loses 50% of its value, the stock will have to gain 100% to be worth its
Logic or problem solving skills?... All the time. I think developing good problem solving skills is useful in almost every aspect of life and business, but the real key is being able to identify and translate real world problems into solvable problems. I always hated solving word problems in math, but I think that's an important skill to master.
Business and Chemistry
Health Insurance Agent
Homemaker, Part-time curatorial assistant at Museum of Natural History
Nurse (Medical Intensive Care Nurse)
Office Manager & Landscape Designer
Statistician, Medical Researcher
Walmart Customer Service Manager/Supervisor