“So, do you want to become a teacher?”
This is the most common question people ask when I tell them my major is applied mathematics, and it is usually followed up by inquiring about my future career plans.
I most commonly reply that no, teaching is not in my goal, but a field of study related to engineering or data analysis/mathematical modeling will most likely determine my future professional path.
Northwestern University´s McCormick School of Engineering defines applied mathematics as the field which implements the use of math to scenarios present in science, engineering and other areas to explain observed events or predict future behaviors of a pattern.
Applied math can be utilized for topics from modeling how a disease spreads among certain populations to city planning and development.
This closely relates to the reason I chose applied math as a means for real-life applications instead of teaching. Mexico City, where I was born and raised, has a severe infrastructure issue rooting from a lack of city planning, which mostly affects the impoverished neighborhoods of the city. With a staggering approximate of 22.1 million citizens in its metropolitan area, this issue impacts many. Furthermore, majoring in this field can allow me to apply useful concepts that could be part of crafting a solution to issues like these in my home city and country.
While living in Houston, I witnessed the severity of Hurricane Harvey. Upon investigating, I found out that studying concepts such as the water absorption of the ground and population density through mathematical models could be used to diminish the damage done by tropical storms in the future.
Nevertheless, some may think interchangeably between the terms applied and pure mathematics. Although the exact distinction between the two is somewhat debatable, usually pure math involves solving problems based on the laws of mathematics instead of the physical world. This option is most commonly chosen by those who wish to become math instructors.
Since applied mathematics involves a diverse plane of disciplines, those who are interested in engineering commonly pick this topic as their major. I like to think that this is partly due to the fact that math is a method of explaining how nature behaves. It seems logical to think about all the ways this area of knowledge is used throughout engineering and other sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology. From the atomic structure to displacement equations, mathematics is the foundation from which these specific fields operate on.
And while some imagine math majors as teachers, I picture myself building models, predicting outcomes, recognizing patterns and deducing new forms of explaining how the world and universe behave around us.