When non-mathematicians judge the math major
I was going to blog about some serious stuff this morning but then someone (specifically, my cousin Anne Hall) sent me this socialist and feminist redo of 50 Shades, which made me forget everything else. Favorite line:
“You need to go away and sit and think about commodity fetishism and the compensation of emotional labour. Also your obvious issues with women. By the way, how did you get this number?”
Oh wait, I guess I still have 18 minutes to say something.
So yesterday my Facebook page lit up with mathematicians discussing this USA Today list of top 10 colleges for math majors:
- HARVEY MUDD COLLEGE: CLAREMONT, CALIF.
- COLORADO SCHOOL OF MINES: GOLDEN, COLO.
- MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: CAMBRIDGE, MASS.
- UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA – LOS ANGELES
- CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY: PITTSBURGH, PA.
- UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: CHICAGO
- CORNELL UNIVERSITY: ITHACA, N.Y.
- WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS: SAINT LOUIS, MO.
- UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: PHILADELPHIA
- CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: PASADENA, CALIF.
These are some fine schools, but not at all the typical list one would consider. That makes you wonder, how does one decide where the best place is for a math major? Scanning this list, I have no idea, and it certainly doesn’t correspond to the places that produce the most research mathematicians. But maybe that’s not what USA Today cares about.
|Early-Career Salary||High||Average salary of bachelors degree graduates from the college in that major with 0-5 years of experience.|
|Mid-Career Salary||Med||Average salary of bachelors degree graduates from the college in that major with 10+ years of experience.|
|Major Focus %||Med||Percentage of students at the college studying that major.|
|Bachelors Degree Market Share||Med||Percentage of all U.S. bachelors degree graduates in that major represented at that college.|
|Masters Degree Market Share||Low||Percentage of all U.S. masters degree graduates in that major represented at that college.|
|Doctoral Degree Market Share||Low||Percentage of all U.S. doctoral degree graduates in that major represented at that college.|
|Related Major Concentration|
|Related Major Focus (mPower Index)||Med||Measure of how much all the other majors at the college are related to the major.|
|Related Major Breadth||Low||Number of closely related majors offered at the college.|
|Relevant Program Specific Accreditation||Med||Whether or not the major is accredited by a relevant accrediting body (ie. ABET for engineering). If no obvious accrediting body for a major, this factor is ignored for that major’s rankings.|
|Overall College Quality|
|Best Colleges Ranking||High||The College Factual Best Colleges ranking, a measure of overall college quality.|
So here’s the thing. We mathematicians think that money doesn’t buy happiness, and we don’t care so much about early career salaries. That’s the first thing that sticks out.
But also, and I’d say just as importantly, we do care about the extent to which the average undergraduate math major is exposed to research mathematics, which is why we care much more deeply about the “doctoral degree market share” than this ranking does. I mean, I guess to the non-expert, it makes sense to care way more about the undergraduate focus of a college for judging the quality of an undergrad math major, but it all depends on what you want to have happen next.
I’m enjoying how different this list is from the typical inside baseball list. I don’t even know who it’s for, if anyone, but as a thought experiment it’s interesting to imagine what would happen if suddenly all the math departments everywhere suddenly tried to game this particular system, like colleges do with the US News ranking.
So, for example, we’d throw out pure math majors altogether in order to focus our attention on applied math majors that will make loads of money out of college. We’d also compete for students against other majors, something very few math departments actually do. It would be interesting, but I’m not holding my breath.