Careers & Alumni

Applied Mathematics graduates can use their skills to pursue many careers, from Wall Street traders to analysts to bioinformaticists to teachers, or use their knowledge as a stepping stone to graduate work in the biological/medical, engineering, or social sciences.

The SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) Website points out an obvious yet incredibly important point: “Industrial careers for those with a background in mathematics rarely carry a simple title like ‘mathematician’. The very idea of a career in mathematics has evolved and diversified. Mathematics may stand alone as a science, but as a career, it’s almost always coupled with a specialty or area of research interest.”

Whatever the benchmark, career prospects for graduates are excellent and will likely remain so in the future.

Careers By Industry and Employer

(Adapted from SIAM – Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics)

"Partnerships between mathematicians and computer scientists are bulling into whole new domains of business and imposing the efficiencies of math …

"They’re helping to map out advertising campaigns, they’re changing the nature of research in newsrooms and in biology labs, and they’re enabling marketers to forge new one-on-one relationships with customers. There is no better time to be a mathematician."

- James R. Schatz, Chief of the mathematics research group at the National Security Agency

  • Government labs such as Oak Ridge National Lab, Sandia, Pacific Northwest National Labs, and Los Alamos and agencies such as the National Security Agency, the Center for Communications Research, the Supercomputing Research Center, the Institute for Defense Analysis Center, and NASA’s Institute for Computer Applications in Science and Engineering
  • Engineering research organizations such as AT&T Laboratories-Research, Telcordia Technologies, Exxon Research and Engineering, Schlumberger-Doll Research, and NEC Laboratories America, Inc.
  • Computer service and software firms such as Palo Alto Research Center, Mentor Graphics, Adobe, and Microsoft
  • Energy systems firms such as Lockheed-Martin Energy Research Corporation and the Schatz Energy Research Center (SERC)
  • Electronics and computer manufacturers such as IBM, SGI, Philips Research, Honeywell, Motorola, and Lucent Technologies
  • Consulting and financial firms such as McKinsey and Company, Citibank, and Prudential
  • Aerospace and transportation equipment manufacturers such as Boeing, General Motors, Aerospace Corporation, Ford, and United Technologies
  • Teaching mathematics at the secondary level.  The Harvard Teaching Fellows program exists to facilitate the transition to teaching for interested students.

For more information on potential career options see: www.siam.org/careers/thinking.php.

Alumni Stories

Ken Keeler A.B. ’83 and Ph.D. ’90

Comic writer and television producer

Keeler’s unusual career path hints that he’s part Bart, sly and rebellious, and part Lisa, brainy and poised. And yes, that’s as in Simpson.

After completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees in applied math, Keeler became a television writer and producer for The Simpsons and Futurama.

He does, however, pay homage to his training. There’s an entire site dedicated to the mathematical “in jokes” for the show Futurama.

Joel E. Cohen Ph.D. ’70 (Applied Mathematics) and Ph.D. ’73 (Population Science and Tropical Public Health)

Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of Populations at the Rockefeller University; professor of populations at the Earth Institute at Columbia University; head of the Laboratory of Populations at Columbia and Rockefeller Universities

Although Cohen counts himself among. the first class of students to receive an undergraduate applied math degree, he had quite a head start. While a teenager, he became determined to combine his love of mathematics with biology. Initially finding no such program at Harvard, he struck out on his own, creating a program of study that blended economics and ecology.

His persistence paid off: The Harvard University Press published his senior undergraduate thesis. Today, his research spans a wide array of topics, from food webs to infectious diseases to human population growth. A prolific author and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Cohen is best known for How Many People Can the Earth Support? In 2002, the mayor of New York, on behalf of the city, honored him with the Excellence in Science and Technology Award.

Steven Ballmer ’77

Chief Executive Officer, Microsoft

Ballmer, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corporation, joined the firm in 1980 and was the first business manager hired by Bill Gates. During the past 20 years, Ballmer has headed several Microsoft divisions, including operations, operating systems development, and sales and support.

In July 1998, he was promoted to president, a role that gave him day-to-day responsibility for running Microsoft. He was named CEO in January 2000, assuming full management responsibility for the company, which includes delivering on the company’s mission of enabling people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.

Shih Choon Fong Ph.D. ’73

President, KAUST

In February of 2007, Shih was appointed as the first president of the newly founded King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Shih earned his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Harvard in 1973.

After Shih spent seven years leading Fracture Research at the GE Corporate Research Lab, he returned to an Ivy setting, serving as a professor at Brown University for nearly 15 years. In 2000, he returned home, serving as the President of the National University of Singapore. In his acceptance letter Shih said that he plans to keep his composure by using some lessons from his childhood: “Early on as a child, my greatest pleasure was to explore the longkangs (ditches) of Singapore, looking for fishes and frogs. Curiosity, and the joy when that is fulfilled, has led me to a lifelong quest of pursuing scientific knowledge, the interplay of inquiry and reasoning.”