Careers - Helen Armstrong

"I was astonished to discover just how employable I was."

With a mathematics degree you can do anything, because:
"mathematics teaches you HOW to think, not what to think".

I graduated with honours in pure mathematics in 1992. I was "snapped up" by the Boston Consulting Group, one of the two international leaders in strategic management consulting (McKinsey the other). Note that I was employed as a generalist management consultant, not as a mathematician or financial analyst.

I then succeeded in securing a job as the Australian based publisher for an international academic book and journal publisher, and was responsible for developing and managing the Australian sourced list. I later became more involved in the international marketing for the Group, and made directly responsible for the Japanese office as well as becoming an integral part of the US and UK strategy development.

After 4.5 years running the Australian office, I decided to change tack and headed for the finance sector. I landed a job as the Australian telecommunications and IT analyst for Cazenove, a London stockbroker. However, after 6 months in this role (in which I was very successful being responsible for roadshowing a major client and producing a number of well received stock reports), I realised that I was not, at heart, a "suit" and was happier in an academic environment. So I resigned and took up an APA scholarship at UNSW to do a PhD in mathematics where I am using mathematics to indulge my passion and follow my curiosity about stochasticity versus complexity in the universe (what is "randomness"? is it just that which we do not understand because we are of limited understanding, or is there an essential element of stocasticity that would pertain even in the face of absolute knowledge?)

If I'd had a "professional" or more focussed degree, I would never have had the necessary talents to secure and be successful in all the above roles. Employers find mathematics graduates very attractive because they are skilled at problem solving on a conceptual level. A mathematician's problem solving skill is not limited to one industry, one area, one field, but is transferable for use in any situation.

What advice would I give to someone who doesn't want to limit themselves to one profession? Do yourself a favour, do maths!!

Updated: 18 Sep 2007