On holidays? Mathematical skills are everywhere

Maths isn’t just for school, it’s all around – wherever you go! You’d be surprised how often mathematical skills are involved with taking a holiday. From booking the trip, predicting the weather, cruising the skies to exploring unfamiliar surroundings, maths is everywhere.

1. Book your trip

The first step in planning a getaway is to book your flights and accommodation, and there are loads of websites to help. Some even aggregate listings from multiple sources so you can compare prices and flight durations.

The job: Data analyst Ben Smith worked on one of these websites, HotelsCombined.com, for almost three years. His role was to run experiments to see how changing tiny elements on the site, such as the position of a photo, could influence the number of bookings. “As soon as you land on the website, you’re probably involved in four or five different experiments,” Ben says. “There’s not really one single version of the website.”

Skills required: Analysing the results of these experiments requires statistical skills and algorithms are used to determine the ordering of search results. However Ben always keeps his users in mind. “You’re looking at numbers all day, but you’ve got to remember these numbers represent real people.”

2. What's the weather?

Swimsuit or snowshoes? Before you pack your suitcase, you’d better check the weather at your destination.

The job: Weather forecasts are prepared by meteorologists, who analyse data collected from weather stations to predict things like temperatures, rainfall and humidity. They can earn an average of $86,278 a year. Hilary Wilson is a meteorologist at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. She studied a Bachelor of Science majoring in atmosphere, weather and climate at the University of Melbourne.

Skills required: “Computer models are one of the primary tools meteorologists use to forecast the weather,” says Hilary. “These models are underpinned by maths equations that simulate processes in the Earth’s atmosphere – so to understand how weather patterns develop and evolve, and how this is modelled by computers, I need to have a good understanding of the maths behind it!”

3. Prepare for take off

While you’re browsing the in-flight movie selection, someone on the ground is also staring at a screen to make sure everyone arrives safely.

The job: Jessica Walton joined Airservices Australia as a trainee air traffic controller in 2015, and became fully qualified in 2017. Studying maths throughout her science/law double degree helped her progress through her aviation training, and now she uses mathematical skills every day in her job.

Skills required: “Strong numeracy skills are a must for air traffic control,” Jessica says. “I have to do things like make quick assessments using the ground speed of two aircraft to project how their relative positions will change over time. This is one of the tools I use to keep a safe distance between aircraft.”

4. Fly through the skies

Think planes run on fuel? Not so – they run on maths. Qantas has been working with the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics to develop a new program that plots thousands of possible flight paths using millions of data points to find the one that is most efficient. And Virgin and Qantas lightened their loads by 42 kg per plane by replacing paper manuals with iPads, helping save on things like, er, fuel.

The job: The aerospace engineers that design and build planes need a solid understanding of physics and aerodynamics in order to make more efficient aircraft.

Skills required: Pilots need mathematical skills like geometry to help them read the instruments in the cockpit and plan their route. Airlines looking for ways to cut costs by improving fuel efficiency need people with mathematical skills around optimisation (think differential equations), as well as expertise with data.

5. Start exploring

You’ve finally reached your destination! Time to start finding your way around. Whether you prefer paper or an app, you’re going to need a map.

The job: Guidebook publishers like Lonely Planet use thousands of maps every year. They rely on cartographers to produce the custom maps they need. Martin von Wyss, founder of vW Maps, has worked as a cartographer for over two decades, and says technology has changed the way maps are made. Some cartographers get into the field through studying geography, spatial science or environmental science, while others move into cartography after working as surveyors.

The average salary for cartographers is around the $87,500 mark. It’s certainly one way to explore the world!

Skills required: “Map projection software usually shields you from having to get out your slide rule and doing the hard maths,” says Martin, “but there are thousands of map projections to choose from and you want a good understanding of geometry and also the place that you’re mapping.”

6. Social it

Now it’s time to make your friends jealous uploading all those awesome #travel pics to your Insta and Facebook feed. And yep, you guessed it – mathematical skills are behind the scenes here too.

(Salaries according to payscale.com).

Marlena Batchelor

First published on CareerswithSTEM.com

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