Even for non-majors, a little more mathematics can be a competitive advantage.

Professor Adam Piggott, mathematics, says the nature of his discipline is often misunderstood. For evidence, he cites the oft-used phrase "do the math." "When people say 'do the math,' they really mean 'do the arithmetic,'" he explains. "Arithmetic is to mathematics what grammar is to writing a novel. Where's the creativity, the wonder, the joy?"

According to Piggot, students in mathematics move beyond computation to analysis, deduction and interpretation. A t-shirt designed for graduates of his MATH 280 says it all: 'My Brain After MATH 280' written across the back with an image of a brain twice the size of the 'My Brain Before MATH 280' featured on the front.

"MATH 280 is where our students learn to write proofs," Piggott says. "They have to figure out what they know, what they can deduce from what they know – this requires creativity – and how to communicate their reasoning with precision."

Although learning how to think creatively and communicate abstract and technical concepts with precision are skills that have a wide range of applications, Piggott says it's often difficult for students to picture where a major in mathematics might take them. He points out that here are few professions with "mathematician" in the title. Instead, he says, students should think of the word "analyst."

Thanks to popular films, students can easily imagine themselves handling statistics for an athletic team. "But what about actuaries and computer programmers?" he asks.

Mathematics majors, he points out, generally do exceptionally well on LSATs and MCATs. "Even for non-majors," Piggott says, "a little more mathematics can be a competitive advantage." He cites a letter he received from a recent graduate saying the probability theory she learned at Bucknell has been invaluable to her in graduate school where she is studying biomedical informatics. How helpful? Three of her four new textbooks begin with a review of probability.

*Posted October 3, 2013*

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