Minnesota Center for Industrial Mathematics
With the Center's Director Professor Avner Friedman being on leave, Professor Fadil Santosa is the Acting Director and Professor Rachel Kuske is the Associate Director. During the past summer the Center placed twelve mathematics graduate students as interns with 3M, IBM, Unisys, Symbol and Corning, as well as Vital Images, a local medical imaging company, which hosted two students. During the Fall Semester these students gave reports about their research at our Industrial Problems Seminar, which is run jointly with the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA). For example, two of the students who did their internships at Corning reported about their research on problems arising in optical communications. In addition to the student presentations, the Industrial Problems Seminar features talks by scientists from industry introducing students, and IMA postdocs, to problems in which mathematics plays a significant role, often leading to collaborations between these scientists and members of the Center. Some such recent collaborations included scientists from Deluxe, Vision-Ease, Cardinal Glass and Symbol. More information about internships can be found on MCIM's web site at www.math.umn.edu/mcim.
In conclusion, we asked Dr. John Hoffman from Lockheed Martin Corporation to tell our readers about his experiences as a mathematician in industry. His stimulating contribution follows.
What's it Like to be a Mathematician in Industry?
Hi, I'm John Hoffman, I graduated from the U of MN with a Ph.D. in Probability in 1993. I was recently asked by Fadil Santosa of the IMA to write about how I decided to become a mathematician in industry, describe my work, and to describe how (or if) a Ph.D. prepared me for my job. The event of my life that made me even consider getting a Ph.D. was a summer internship at Eli Lilly & Co. (one of the larger pharmaceutical manufacturers) between my junior and senior years of college at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana. As summer interns we received special treatment, and got to tour a number of the corporate facilities, and meet a wide variety of people working in many aspects of the company: research, production, finance, and operations. Every person I met that summer, who had a job that I found interesting, had a Ph.D. Clearly, this implied that I needed to get a Ph.D.! So, my motivation for attending graduate school had never been to become a professor (which, at that time, I interpreted as being a teacher instead of a researcher). Later, I learned the only people in academia who made any money were those that did research, so if I were to stay in academia, I'd have to become a researcher. I enjoy research immensely; but in the early 1990's opportunities for academic researchers were extremely limited, paid poorly, often required extensive moving, and had little job security. Since I had had enough of all that in graduate school, I decided to work as a researcher in industry.
Presently I work at Lockheed Martin in Eagan MN. I'm in the Advanced Signal Processing and Algorithms Group. Ostensibly, our group's mission is to monitor sensor technologies, and algorithm developments that could impact the P-3 Orion Maritime Surveillance Aircraft and its missions. Eagan has been responsible for all the electronics systems (including sensors) on this aircraft for the past 50 years (The P-3 is one of the older aircraft in the inventory). Our group has a number of core technical competencies which we use to pursue research programs sponsored by various government agencies. Our goal is to develop (or learn about) new technologies that can be applied to the missions of the P-3. Since the sensor suite on a P-3 is quite broad, we are usually able to make a solid business case for a wide variety of technologies, and for how those technologies would aid our divison. To give a feel for the breadth of projects that I've worked on in my two years at Lockheed Martin:
How has my Math Ph.D. prepared me for the work I do now? My math Ph.D. really accomplished two things. First, it gave me a set of credentials to get in the door; having a Ph.D. is strong evidence to any knowledgeable (and not all are knowledgeable!) employer, that I have the tenacity to wrestle with a problem until it gets solved, and that I can work on hard problems. In addition, my area of specialty, probability theory, is a crucial component in much of the work performed in our group at Lockheed Martin. Secondly, solving my thesis problems educated me in the language of mathematics research. When I came to the University of MN, I had none of the knowledge or skill needed to understand research articles. I in essence learned how to think mathematically. Again a vital skill for my current employer.
But what about the skills that didn't come with the Ph.D.? It takes more than a piece of paper to get (and keep) a job in industry. Probably the most crucial skill in industry is communication. In industry I have almost always worked with a group on a project. Thus communicating within the group and "playing nice with others" are vital to success. In addition, since our work always has a customer (who often doesn't understand, nor cares about the details) we need to communicate to them in words they understand our accomplishments, and show them the value we add to the project. Communication skills are important to any job, it just cannot be emphasized enough.
So, in closing I decided to get a Math Ph.D. and work in industry to have a fun job, do research, and make some good money. Getting my Ph.D. aided me in obtaining this goal by getting my foot in the door, while my work ethic, communication skills, and the knowledge that I have allowed me to keep it. I hope you found this article interesting. I sure enjoyed writing it.
Editor's comment: Whereas the academic job market was bad in the early 1990's, as John Hoffman points out, it is much better now due to increased college enrollments and many faculty retirements. Salaries are also much improved, particularly at the entry level. At present mathematics provides very attractive career opportunities in both academia and industry.