Ten unlikely careers you can pursue with maths

Studying maths opens up a wider world than you may realise. From creative roles in TV or film through to police work and flying planes, here’s ten careers you may not have guessed that all require a solid understanding of maths.

1. Cinematographer

Not even Hollywood can escape maths! If you’re a cinematographer or camera operator, you’ll definitely be needing maths for the day to day technical working of a video camera. Maths is used to choose the appropriate aperture speeds (how much light passes through the lense), the focal length of lenses to capture a scene, and to decide on the best camera angles for a shot. This will be really testing your geometry skills. And if you need to calculate angle of view to focal length (say you’re trying to film something far away and need to choose the right lens) then you’ll probably be using trigonometry to work it out.

Cinematographers will also need to calculate things like speed of light, exposure and depth of field. In fact, cinematographers need to work out complex calculations a lot of the time in order to get those beautiful shots we all love.

2. Urban Planner

If you’re into games like Minecraft, Roblox or Trove and like to build and construct houses and buildings, chances are, you may love being an urban planner. Urban planners work within a cityscape to decide how to use the land, what to build on it and how to help communities grow and thrive; as well as working with the natural environment. A game like Sim City is heavily based on the principles of urban planning. Just like architecture, everything in urban planning is based on mathematics. Every building or space that’s created has been founded on mathematical principles. Maths is used in urban planning to design and use spaces, for instance in measuring, calculating space and volume, size, angles and mechanics. Every calculation needs to be precise in order to make sure the spaces are used efficiently and safely. As an urban planner you’ll use geometry, trigonometry, algebra, calculus and statistics. Urban planners will also use mathematical models to predict the needs and growth of a community of people.

3. Computer game designer

It’s simply not possible for any computer game to exist without maths. From Mario leaping onto the heads of enemies, to dodging zombies in Minecraft, every movement made by a character in a game – whether they jump or fly or punch – is based on a maths equation. Now, much of the actual maths used in gaming comes from programming. So technically, the computer is the one doing the maths. It’s reading the code, applying the equations that exist in the code and then translating that to movement on screen.

However, it’s still important to know maths as a game designer. Geometry, which studies the properties, shape, and size of things in a given space, is vital for math in video games. It’s based on right-angled triangles. The geometry makes up nearly all we see in our video games. There are other inherent maths theories in all aspects of computer games: things like acceleration, velocity, and position all affect general game play and how a character can duck enemies. Knowing the basics of geometry, trigonometry and algebra will stand you in good stead as a computer game designer.

4. Pilot

All the examples we’ve read so far are about how maths is fundamental to a job. But in none of the jobs we’ve looked at so far is maths life or death. In the case of pilots, maths is the difference between a safe landing and a crash. Yes, most aircraft have sophisticated computers that help a plane reach its destination. However, pilots still need to know how to use geometry to plan their routes and to keep their aircraft on course. They read directional compasses and calculate how many degrees to turn their aircraft during flight. If there’s a particularly fierce storm ahead or a dangerous set of mountain peaks approaching, pilots must calculate the necessary bank angle, which is a measure of how sharply they must move the plane horizontally and vertically to avoid the hazard. In fact, pilots need to have a deep understanding about speed, angles, and velocity. How about trying to land a plane? If a pilot gets the angle wrong and its too steep, it can lead to tail strike, when the plane’s tail hits the runway. This can damage the plane and may cause it to crash. This is why being good at geometry and trigonometry is a must for all pilots.

5. Sports scientist

Sports scientists are focused on improving the skills and stamina of an athlete or player. So where does the maths come in? Well, as sport becomes more and more closely matched and highly competitive, anything that can make the smallest difference can mean a win or a loss. As a sports scientist you’ll be measuring speed, height, weight of a player or athlete to determine what they’re capable of. You will factor in things like speed, velocity, wind resistance, in order to calculate their performance. And you’ll be raking over their past results to be able to come up with data that will then help predict what they’re capable of.

Sports scientists also work in the field of probability and statistics to help analyse performance and make educated hypotheses about their future. Sports science is virtually nothing but calculations. It means working in the fields of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus and differential equations. So for an industry that seems the opposite of maths, with its focus on the outdoors and physical exercise, sports science is a career highly based in maths.

6. Animator

Animation is one of the fastest growing sectors in entertainment. And it’s heavily based on maths. Animators use linear algebra to work out how an object is rotated and shifted and made larger and smaller. But probably the most commonly used form of maths is geometry.

Animators will create characters and backgrounds of various shapes and sizes and work with them within a particular landscape. And when it comes to the actual animation – the movement of characters or objects on screen – this is where trigonometry is needed. When you need special effects, such as making a character’s eyes sparkle or radiate or if you want an object to explode or blur, then you’ll need to know algebra.

Finally, if you want to make infra red death lasers bounce around in an animated environment then you’ll need to know calculus. So whether you’re an animator for film and TV or computer and video games, maths is your friend.

7. Astronaut

Forget Star Trek, it’s all Star Trig if you want to explore the final frontiers of space. There’s a lot of glamour about astronauts, but they are essentially scientists who have usually put in years of training and study. As with pilots, there is maths used in determining navigation and plotting out courses between the earth and the stars and through the earth’s atmosphere. Beyond that basic maths is needed to calculate the landing speed of a rocket or shuttle. These can be simple addition, subtraction and division, factoring in things like the amount of rocket fuel.

Geometry is used to calculate things like linking up space shuttles, robot arms or other technology. Having a mathematical brain helps with understanding technology and reading numbers and co-ordinates. Astronauts typically use forms of maths such as: geometry, algebra, trigonometry and calculus.

8. Police officer

Stop in the name of the law… of algebra? There’s all kinds of maths used in police work. Maths is deeply embedded in things like forensics. For instance, at a crime scene a forensic officer may measure the distance between a bloodstain and where the blood may have originated. Or a ballistics officer may use maths to calculate the trajectory of a bullet or from where a gun was fired. In fact, maths is used so often in ballistics that there are even special maths formulas (ballistics coefficients and the ballistics tables) used for specialised ballistics investigations.

Our old friends, geometry and trigonometry, are also vital in recreating crime scenes such as plotting lines or points or planes. Measurements are used in police cases such as road accidents to establish distance and reconstruct what happened.

There’s other branches of maths too. Statistics is useful for police investigators in profiling or being able to analyse patterns or trends in communities or geographical areas. Statistics and probability help eliminate and narrow down suspects through working out likely scenarios and using the data to extrapolate a likely solution. For example, if a suspects DNA is compared with the DNA found at a crime scene, the probability may be that its one billion to one that the DNA samples came from the same person. This helps investigators determine who is likely to have committed the crime.

9. Yacht racer

Love the idea of travelling across the world’s finest oceans on a sleek, fifty foot yacht, with not a care in the world? Yes… you guessed it, you’ll need maths. In fact maths will be critical if you’re trying to pilot your way across unknown, stormy seas. As we’ve already seen with pilots and astronauts, maths is inherently behind any sort of navigation.

However, sailing doesn’t use mechanics and works with forces of nature. Trigonometry will help you determine what sailors call “true wind” and “apparent wind”. Using trig you can measure the true wind speed by calculating the boat’s speed and the apparent wind. And if your ship’s computer’s compass breaks down you can try the maths used by ancient Greek sailors to navigate– the art of triangulation. Sailors use maths in other ways. For instance, being able to understand and identify patterns comes in handy when you’re trying to choose a sailing strategy around the weather.

If you’re using a motor only, chances are you’ll be calculating distance based on fuel and speed. Some ancient maths formulas still, er, hold water when it comes to sailing. One you’ll never want to forget is Archimedes Floating Principle which states that what keeps the ship afloat -- is equal to the weight of water that is displaced when the ship enters the ocean.

10. Archaeologist

Uncovering dinosaur fossils, excavating ancient cities and finding important historic artefacts is the glam side of being an archaeologist, but to get there you’ll need maths. Much of archaeology is deduction. A bit like trying to put a very complex jigsaw puzzle together. Archaeologists, at times, work with very scant historical remains or fossils, and have to reconstruct as best they can. Here’s where areas like algebraic geometry come in handy. For example, by taking what’s left of an ancient tiled floor and then using geometry to determine size and algebra to determine the intangibles, an archaeologist can deduce a pattern and recreate what might have been.

So, maths is used to interpret and analyse. For instance, radiocarbon dating of objects, interpreting data, calculating the age and density of an artefact, these are all firmly maths based. And maths is also used, very importantly, on digs. On an excavation site everything is divided up into a grid, that’s outlined with white markers or tape. Everything that’s dug up within this grid is labelled. Every item has to be measured and mapped out and be aligned to its place in the grid. This division of an excavation site is basic trigonometry.

Archaeologists will also use probability and statistics to solve the jigsaw puzzle. For example, on an excavation site, probability can be used to determine if a shard of an artefact is say, a jar or a bowl, based on what has already been discovered. It’s rare for archaeologists to have the complete picture and thus maths is a valuable tool in deducing and putting together the past.

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