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What a Cambridge mathematics degree can do for you

Thinking about and understanding the skills or competencies you have developed from your Cambridge Maths Degree is a crucial aspect to career planning. At some point you will need to compare your competencies with those required by an employer, course provider or research group. A major part of any selection process will involve demonstrating through your application paperwork and through interviews and other selection tests that you can match or exceed the competencies required for a particular opportunity. It is therefore crucial to understand which boxes your degree will tick for you and which other competencies you will need to demonstrate beyond this.

From an academic perspective

Your Cambridge Degree will enable you to develop many of the so called "transferable skills" which employers require - The following statement is taken from the Higher Education Academy and gives a largely academic viewpoint of skills you will have developed.

"A graduate in Mathematics typically will have the ability to:

  • demonstrate knowledge of key mathematical concepts and topics
  • abstract the essentials of problems and formulate them mathematically and in symbolic form so as to facilitate their analysis and solution
  • present mathematical arguments and the conclusions from them with accuracy and clarity
  • have skills relating to rigorous argument and solving problems in general, and a facility to deal with abstraction including the logical development of formal theories
  • have skills relating to formulating physical theories in mathematical terms, solving the resulting equations analytically or numerically, and giving physical interpretations
  • focus on statistics that will include skills relating to the design and conduct of experimental and observational studies and the analysis of data resulting from them
  • have skills relating to formulating complex problems of optimisation and interpreting the solutions in the original contexts of the problems
  • have the ability to learn independently using a variety of media
  • work with patience and persistence, pursuing problem solutions to their conclusion
  • have good general skills of time management and organisation
  • be adaptable, in particular displaying readiness to address new problems from new areas
  • transfer knowledge to assess problems logically and to approach them analytically
  • have highly developed numeracy and ICT skills
  • have communication skills such as the ability to write coherently and clearly
  • apply concepts and principles in loosely-defined contexts, showing effective judgement in selecting and applying tools and techniques
  • demonstrate appropriate transferable skills and the ability to work with relatively little guidance or support.

Mathematics is rooted in the systematic development of methods to solve practical problems in areas such as surveying, mechanical construction and commerce. Such methods have a wide range of application. Thus generalisation and abstraction became important features and mathematics became a science involving strict logical deduction with conclusions that follow with certainty and confidence from clear starting points. Mathematics is fundamental to almost all situations that require an analytical model-building approach. Statistics encompasses the science of collecting, analysing and interpreting data and has become much concerned with the design processes for observational and experimental studies."

(You will find further statements describing skills derived from a maths degree in the QAA Subject benchmark statement for Mathematics, statistics and operational research)

From an employer's perspective

Looking at transferable skills from an employer's perspective, and using their language, the skills you can be expected to have gained from your degree at Cambridge are:

  • Analytical Skills - A general analytical approach to problems. An understanding of data sets and the ability to derive meaning from data.
  • Problem solving skills / creativity - A logical approach to problem solving, working from the known to the unknown and coming up with new solutions by applying your knowledge to new problems and situations.
  • IT Skills - From your general IT knowledge and CATAM project work.
  • Planning / time management - Completing your work requirements on time during short intense terms, while also engaging in other activities at Cambridge.
  • Independence / Confidence - Independent tripos work, supervisions, arguing a case in a supervision.
  • Verbal communication skills - Talking through problems during supervisions.
  • Adaptability / Persistence and 'Stick-ability' - Continually learning and adapting new material and applying this to new and varied problems. Working in a pressured environment. The rigour of working complex maths problems through to a solution.

Skills you may not necessarily gain directly, or sufficiently, from your course alone

There are other important skills that employers frequently seek, which you will not necessarily pick up directly from your course, and some of those skills which you develop on your course can be further developed elsewhere. "Elsewhere" can be in relation to positions of responsibility or other extra-curricular activities at Cambridge or to real world employment during vacations or in a gap year. Some of these other important skills are:

  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Commercial awareness
  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Presentation skills