Home > Uncategorized > What can a non-academic mathematician do that makes the world a better place?

What can a non-academic mathematician do that makes the world a better place?

September 8, 2015

You may have noticed the long-standing tagline on my About page:

What can a non-academic mathematician do that makes the world a better place?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. I’m looking for a job nowadays since my book project is wrapping up and I have no source of income. So far my attempts at sorting through the LinkedIn “data science” jobs are leading to a huge list of finance and online advertising jobs (which I don’t apply to), and a few others which are somewhat more interesting thrown in the mix. But they typically have more than 100 people each applying to them.

Which is to say, I’ve applied to a bunch of jobs I only kind of want and haven’t heard back from almost any of them. It’s kind of depressing. Actually it’s super depressing.

So I’ve come up with another way of thinking about searching. Why don’t I start with organizations that I think are doing cool things and offer them my data science expertise? In a consulting role primarily, but also longer-term if they are interested.

I know there are places where you can sign up to be an “expert witness,” so I’m looking for something similar: an expert consultant. There must already be ways to do this, but I don’t know how. Obviously one way would be to try to get a job at IBM, but then I’d be back to working for clients in finance.

Advice would be deeply appreciated. You can comment here or send me email at the address on my About page.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 8, 2015 at 8:07 am

    May be you can consider contacting the people from the “Data Science for Social Good”[1] program:

    I am sure then can help you connect with interesting work opportunities where you can apply your skills to solve problems that matter.

    Also, in the meantime, have you considered freelancing? I have been doing it for around 2 years through Upwork, and I am amazed at the amount of Data Science jobs (and math-intensive in general) that I’ve found there. I even gave a talk[2] about it in a recent Latin American SciPy conference (in Spanish).

    Ok, those are my two cents, I hope this helps somehow.

    By the way, thanks and congratulations for your excellent work in the “Doing Data Science” book. It’s been an inspiration to many of us here in Córdoba (Argentina) to start building a Data Science community[3] with the same kind of holistic not-merely-technical approach to the field as in the book.

    Keep up the great work, best of luck with your search!

    [1] http://dssg.io/
    [2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2kdlQepNME
    [3] http://www.meetup.com/Encuentros-Data-Science-Cordoba/


  2. Christina
    September 8, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Well, Cathy, you’ve been pretty vocal about expressing your dislike of the VAM-used to evaluate teachers. Why not put that awesome brain of yours to work solving the problem of managing an evaluating the teaching workforce in a manner that is fair to both teachers and pupils? As you’ve pointed out, NYS would benefit from the rigor you’d bring, and if you can fix it here, you can fix it anywhere.


  3. September 8, 2015 at 8:58 am

    So you are discovering the joys of being self employed (or as I like to call it “35 years without a steady paycheck”).
    “I am looking for something similar: an expert consultant”
    All consultants are ‘experts’. Who is going to pay a non-expert for their advice? I think the key thing for a consultant is to know at least two things. Which two fields is up to you but knowing two fields can make you the world expert on A and B together. (In my case the fields were mathematics, IT and ophthalmic optics.) So pick a second field and specialize.

    By the way, I have worked as a expert witness and found the work interesting and financially rewarding. You get paid at something like high end lawyer rates. You might like it. The work is not steady though.


  4. September 8, 2015 at 10:36 am

    Cathy, I’ve been reading your blog intently recently as I’ve been considering the same shift in my focus as a data scientist. My experience has been in industry (ad tech) rather than academia but I would really like to move toward a social application.

    From a bit of research, I’ve found that there are many open questions on how to leverage data better in health care and education fields. Those two may be the most open to expert consultants in data.

    I’m gonna go back to eating my identity crisis crepes (now gluten and dairy free) and think more about this. Looking forward to hearing more on your journey!


  5. September 8, 2015 at 10:51 am

    1) freelancing isn’t terribly stable or predictable, but you’re a good enough writer you could probably succeed at it if you so chose.

    2) not great pay, but secondary schools (both public and private) are of course begging for good math (and science) teachers these days, and I’ll bet you’re a great teacher.

    3) otherwise, I would look mainly at government jobs or non-profits that are aligned with your values… the unfortunate fact is, I think most private companies do NOT want to hire opinionated people who actively voice their viewpoints on the Web (they want quiet, pliant drones, who do what they’re asked, and then go home, eat, sleep, and come back to work the next morning)! — eventually, there will be no such people left, but for now there still are.

    ….or, just start writing the sequel to your new book.


  6. Ursula
    September 8, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    As an academic mathematician, I would be pretty stoked to apply for jobs with only 100 other applicants!


  7. mathematrucker
    September 8, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    I’m currently out of work because my 80-something parents need someone around daily to go shopping, prepare meals, do housecleaning, etc., and we’re not rich. Thankfully we’re not poor either so I can at least afford to not be working for awhile, but the uncertainty about what exactly I can do next for income and when, makes me uneasy.

    I recently launched a mathematical mobile app called “Freight Seesaw” that helps truckers and warehouses solve a freight-balancing problem they face on a daily basis. Sales have been next to nil so far, partly just due to not much advertising yet, but I’m starting to worry the app is never going to sell at all, despite it being the only app of its kind on the market.

    Perhaps the way to make money coding apps, as the first commenter mentioned above, is to go on Upwork and write them for other people. I resorted to hiring an Upwork freelancer myself for the iOS version of Freight Seesaw since it was taking me too long to learn iOS programming on my own. The current sales rate is causing me to rationalize the cost as an education expense: having the full source (in Swift) for an app that I am totally familiar with was really helpful for learning the language.


  8. September 8, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    You could find a nonprofit that’s doing ‘really cool stuff’ and in need of a data scientist (i.e. for philanthropic analytics or volunteer/constituent engagement). Put your knowledge to work finding money for social good!

    Join this listserv ‘for development professionals involved or interested in data mining and modeling’


    Sometimes there are jobs posted, but mostly people ask questions from the very basic to the very complex. You’d fit right in on the complex side pretty quickly, I think. I’ve carved out a good little niche in my organization, but the philanthropic analytics field is getting bigger and could always use some more great minds!


  9. September 9, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Hi Mathbabe 🙂

    Have you considered teaching more? I thought that you were a great teacher when I interned with you, and maybe teaching adult students in a different field (like the Lede program) could have great positive impact on how people practice data science, view it, and hire other data scientists. That way you could impact the top of the funnel, since these people might begin to collaborate with data scientist/result in more interesting jobs.



  10. Jason Murphy
    September 9, 2015 at 11:21 am

    have you ever considered bioinformatics/computational biology? although, i’m not sure i know about any expert consultant-like opportunities. best of luck! i’ll send positive vibes in your direction!


  11. EJD
    September 9, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    In addition to Upwork try Innocentive.

    I know of one gentleman went from datasets at a major financial player to fishstock analysis.

    Data is data, but I think who you work for and what they are doing is probably of primary concern for you. For instance oil and gas is drowning in data and needs new ways to deal, but don’t think you would be happy working for Exxon, so do a mindful parse on industries.
    Pharma research offers entirely different challenge of trying to define efficacy using tiny data sets, but are also trying to figure out how to span disparate datasets in search of unexpected correlation.
    If the wolf is not currently at the door, think about what you WANT to do independant of earning a check, then figure out half dozen ways to contribute, then figure out who benefits, THEN figure out how to fund it.
    Luck Helps,


  12. Aviv
    September 10, 2015 at 5:43 am

    What about financial regulation? I work there myself as a mathematician on internal models. I agree that it can be a frustrating experience sometimes and top management have their own agendas. However, this does not mean that every single employee is in the pocket of “Big Finance” and most people on working level genuinely want to enforce prudential and meaningful supervision. There is also the chance to join international working groups and influence international regulation with your own ideas.


    • September 10, 2015 at 6:17 am


      Yes, thanks, I take this suggestion seriously. It’s been on my mind. The fundamental question is always how much can I do from the outside versus the inside.



      • Aviv
        September 12, 2015 at 1:46 am

        If you want to know more about it, I can send you an email. The only caveat is that I do not work in the US, so that system is unfamiliar to me.


  1. September 9, 2015 at 7:35 am
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