Being a Professional Mathematician

Discussion topics and essay titles


A list of possible essay titles is provided. Depending on the design of a degree programme, these might be appropriate in PDP work or in history of mathematics or “mathematics in society” modules. The titles could be set as essay questions or for small group discussion. Once again, these are intended as suggestions which lecturers can adapt in any way they wish.

Points relevant to these topics can be found in the case study interviews and other resources: in addressing these topics students should be encouraged to explore these, using the cue points listed for each interview. Some topics are directly inspired by comments during the interviews, which are indicated below.


What skills are needed by a professional mathematician or statistician?

Do people doing mathematics in different sectors of industry and commerce call themselves "mathematicians"? If not, why not? What else do they call themselves?

Do mathematicians in industry need different skills from those in academia?

How soon in your mathematical studies can you choose your future career?

Should a mathematician use LinkedIn?

Is confidence desirable in a professional? Does mathematics build confidence (by helping you solve problems) or destroy it (by making you aware of what you cannot do)?

Professional bodies

Which professional bodies aim to attract student members? How do they do this?

Why do different professional bodies have different entry criteria?

Is Chartered Mathematician status worth the effort?


Have you (the student) experienced or observed obstacles to your mathematical studies? How have they been overcome?

Role models

Have you (the student) had role models in mathematics?

Suggest suitable role models for a young mathematician.

Who is your favourite mathematician? In what ways do you identify with them?


How do pure mathematicians differ from applied mathematicians?

How do the attitudes of academic mathematicians differ from those of industry mathematicians?

Are mathematicians different from statisticians? And from OR professionals?

Is the best mathematics difficult mathematics? (Listen to Mason Porter from 2:04)

Which is more important in mathematical modelling, deriving the equations or solving them? Which do you enjoy more? (Listen to Rosemary Dyson from 14:05)

This project was supported by the MSOR Network, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications and the Universities of Greenwich and Birmingham as part of the National HE STEM Programme and was completed in May 2012. 

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

University of Greenwich logo
University of Birmingham logo
National HE STEM Programme Logo
MSOR Network logo