Five careers in mathematics that might surprise you

Not only mathematicians use maths! A number of surprising careers in mathematics benefit from having senior high school and uni level maths skills. So if you’ve ever wondered in maths class, “When am I ever going to use this?” Read on…

1. Photographers

Salary range: $43K–$108K

Photography is a creative job, but you’d be surprised how much maths is involved in getting the perfect shot. Photographers use geometry – lines, shapes and patterns – when planning the composition and framing of a photograph. Photographers need to control exposure (the amount of light used to define a photograph) and they often use a mathematical tool called a histogram to help. Histograms provide a representation of what percentage of the photo is made up of highlights and shadows, which comes in handy when adjusting exposure.

2. Urban planners

Salary range: $52K–$110K

Urban planners work with local councils to ensure cities can support their residents with infrastructure and utilities. There’s heaps of maths involved with the planning of a city. This ranges from simple calculations of population densities and building areas to using statistics when calculating projections of land use and economic development. Planning transport requires the use of modelling software models based on calculus and it’s essential to understand the fundamental maths behind it.

3. Hospitality managers

Salary range: $42K–$76K

If you’re employed in the food industry, maths will often be the key to avoiding a culinary disaster! Recipes have to be scaled to meet customer requirements and measurements need to be converted between units or when making ingredient substitutions. Hospitality managers need to calculate how much of each ingredient they should stock and determine appropriate price points so the business doesn’t go bankrupt! Conversions and ratios are also of key importance when working in specialist roles like recipe development, coffee roasting or wine and spirit production.

4. Lawyers

Salary range: $51K–$117K

Although lawyers don’t necessarily use calculators or calculus every day, having a mathematical background can be a huge career plus. The analytical mindset you develop studying maths and logic can often be applied in a legal career, particularly when examining evidence and forming rational arguments. It’s often recommended that law students study mathematics to hone their analytical skills, with studies showing a correlation between a lawyer’s maths skill and the quality of their legal decision making.

Longen Lan is a University of Sydney graduate with a double degree in Law and Advanced Mathematics who knows first-hand that the skill sets used in careers in mathematics can pay off in legal or professional roles. “Working in a law firm requires an analytical brain and being a maths student allowed me to engage with more complex analytical concepts more easily,” says Longen.

Longen believes having a maths background taught him a different way of thinking, which helped him to tackle problems in a way that’s both logical and creative. He found that when applying for new roles, his maths degree helped him stand out. Longen encourages anyone who enjoys maths to study it at uni, even if they’re not considering other careers in mathematics. “I had a great time studying maths and I think it has definitely paid off.”

5. Pilots

Salary range: $44K–$178K

If you dream of taking to the skies, make sure you brush up on your maths! To keep the plane and passengers safe during take-off and landing, pilots use multiple factors such as speed, altitude and aircraft specifications to calculate angles of climb and descent. Although flight planning software is on hand to assist, pilots still need an understanding of geometry to plan their routes. They also need to read directional compasses to stay on course. The fundamental skills used in careers in mathematics definitely translate well to pilots.

(Salaries according to

High flyer

Renee, 23, has an engineering career working at Qantas, volunteers to help disadvantaged young people and has been nominated for a NSW / ACT Young Achiever Award – Aboriginal Education Council award.

Renee is an Aerospace Engineering graduate who is studying a full-time Graduate Diploma of Aviation at UNSW to fulfil her dream of becoming a pilot. In her current role in Qantas’ Fleet Technical Division, Renee carries out performance analysis of aircraft, which relies heavily on maths.

“It’s a lot of scientific problem solving and the application of numerical methods and statistics,” she says. Renee, a proud Tharawal woman, joined Qantas in 2011 through an Indigenous internship platform called CareerTrackers. In her work, Renee uses algorithms to predict fuel temperatures and calculate aircraft loads to ensure the aircraft is mass balanced.

She’s also involved in the development of in-flight apps and has worked directly with pilots, who need to stay up-to-date with the latest technology. Soon Renee will be on the other side of the cockpit and says she’s had the perfect background training. “STEM and maths is very exciting – the skills you learn can be applied to so many different industries.”

Larissa Fedunik-Hofman

First published on

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