The most recent alumnae math majors work in finance, quantitative research, consulting, the computer industry, biometrics, actuarial fields, secondary school teaching, and higher education.

CIGNA was so pleased at having a number of BrynMawr alumnae working for the company that it gave the department a gift fund used for two years. Rated as one of the most desirable of all professions, actuarial employment requires hundreds of hours of study every six months for exams designed to limit the number of lettered actuaries so that they remain in demand. This means, however, less of a glass ceiling for women precisely because promotions are usually based on exam progress. Actuarial career tracks include property and casualty, life, health and pension and can be used as springboards into underwriting and brokering for insurance risks.

Sponsored by the math department and the Center for Science in Society, Scott Patterson of GlaxoSmithKline spoke to undergraduates in February about the burgeoning job opportunities for statisticians in the multinational pharmaceutical industry. His and other companies in the area offer competitive internships for undergraduates that provide on-the-job skills in teamwork and consulting, programming, working with databases and software, time management, report writing and presentations. (Just learning the "magic words," thousands of three-letter acronyms, can take all summer.)

Patterson said that although an M.A. is generally required for full-time employment, the hope is that former interns will return to the companies after graduate work. Statisticians may formulate the analytical design of a clinical trial. They typically calculate the sample size required in a study, and determine the method of analysis based on the type of the trial. Good communications skills are needed in this industry as much time is spent with customer groups. The working environment is relaxed, similar to academe, and continuing education and personal development are encouraged. "It's an opportunity to be a part of providing benefit to people, and to see a drug go from beginning to end of the process, although only about one in 10 are approved," Patterson said.

Bryn Mawr breadth pays off
Yoko Adachi '97 is a programmer in the biostatistics department of Parexel, a contract research organization (CRO). "I used to think that pharmaceuticals and clinical experiments are all about medicine," she says. "It's not. There are a lot of career opportunities for people who studied math and/or computer science. You don't necessarily need to have a strong background in applied math in order to find a job either. When I was in college I took mainly pure math courses, hardly any applied math courses."

Adachi was hired in Japan and points out that she was able to find a career opportunity in "a country that is suffering from a serious economic depression and where only about 50 percent of new women college graduates are employed. This would not have been possible without my degree in math and ability to speak both English and Japanese."

Keli Kringel '93 is system manager for a Silicon Valley internet "start-up" company. She designs, programs and manages internet customer satisfaction systems. "I really love the entrepreneurial environment-'cutting edge'-doing things that haven't been done before," she says. "I think a background in math is valuable for this position in the ability to think abstractly, conceptually, systematically. That is crucial to creating new systems and understanding the programming and processes involved with a rapidly changing technology. The breadth and emphasis on thinking rather than skills that a Bryn Mawr liberal arts education provides is also very concretely valuable to start-up companies, which are rapidly-changing and bank everything on ideas."

Applying math to finance has become a important area in new academic mathematics programs that have been developed in the last five years. The research of Laura McKinney '95, who received Bryn Mawr's European Traveling Fellowship and is completing a Ph.D. in statistics at Yale, involves the development of a model for clustering stocks that is useful in the design of portfolios.

As a senior, Karyn Folland '96, a double major in math and physics, was interested in financial services and also attracted by the nature of the work of a consultant, as well as the lifestyle.

"Oliver, Wyman seemed to be the perfect intersection of my two interests, as it is a strategy consulting company that specializes in the financial services industry," she says.

"Much of the work during one's first few years is with rather complex modeling in Excel, Access or other software. While I did not use any of these applications in college, the analytical approach to problem solving that I learned through my classes in math and physics has been tremendously valuable in my career."

After three and a half years as a consultant, Folland has moved to the corporate development side and now focuses on strategic planning. "My day-to-day work is much less quantitative now, and I am grateful for my liberal arts background that helped prepare me for the 'softer side' of business-especially with communication skills-both written and oral," she says. "That said, my boss still does rely on me quite heavily for occasional quantitative analysis, and an analytical approach to problem solving."

With Morgan Stanley Dean Witter since 1999, Dana Niblack '93 has been in finance since graduation, working first for portfolio managers and then with a start-up hedge fund, where she "wore many hats and in areas where I had no prior experience. I think my Bryn Mawr degree helped me enormously in that I knew I could work through something I didn't know how to do and figure it out."

A. Heather Coyne '94, who majored in political science and minored in math, works for the White House Office of Management and Budget. "As I'm sure many BMC students are finding, a graduate degree is becoming a pre-requisite for more and more jobs." she comments. "And once students get into a graduate program, I do have a tip for them. I got my job through the Presidential Management Internship program, which takes graduate students who have a commitment to public service and places them in a two-year position with the federal government, after which they convert to permanent positions. It is a great program if you are interested in government. Originally aimed at public policy students, the program has now reached out to graduates of engineering, physics, and other science programs as well, and places people at NSF, NIST, NASA, NOAA, and a variety of other agencies that might be of interest to a math major." (For more information, go to

Major careers

As just a sampling of the careers of majors from the 60s through the 80s: Sylvia Young Wiegand '66 is a professor in the department of mathematics and statistics at the University of Nebraska and a past president of the Association for Women in Mathematics. Fern Y. Hunt '69 is a mathematician at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Trustee of Bryn Mawr College. Elizabeth Margosches '69 is a statistician with the Epidemiology and Quantitative Methods Section, Office of Pollution, Prevention and Toxics, Environmental Protection Agency. Ragini T. Joshi '73 is an engineer with the Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles. Robin Renn '76 is a senior vice president at American Express. Jacqueline MacDonald '86 is senior staff officer at the Natural Academy of Sciences. Janet Talvacchia '82 is associate professor of mathematics at SwarthmoreCollege, and Annalisa Crannell '87, associate professor of mathematics at Franklin and Marshall College. Crannell, profiled in the March 30 Lancaster New Era, gave the keynote address, "Crayons & Computers: Awesome Pictures of Mathematics," at the 14th Annual Glenna Hazeltine Women in Mathematics and Science Conference on April 3 at Millersville University. The day-long conference encourages girls ages 7 to 12 to pursue math and science careers.

Alumnae majors of the 90s who have received Ph.D.s in mathematics or related fields include: Gwendolyn Lloyd '91 in mathematics education, University of Michigan, assistant professor of mathematics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute; Leslie Cheng, '91 in mathematics, University of Pittsburgh; Zvezdelina Stankova-Frenkel '92 in mathematics, Harvard; UCLA; Yi Wang '94 in operations research, MIT; and Fang Chen '94 in mathematics, Yale, assistant professor of mathematics at Oxford College, Emory University. Those in the process of completing Ph.D. programs include Laura McKinney '95 and Michelle Lacey '94 in statistics at Yale; Rebecca Segal '94 in applied mathematics at North Carolina State University; Patti Purdue '95 in physics at California Institute of Technology; and Rachel Vincent '97 in applied mathematics at Rice University. "This is an impressive list!" says Helen Herrman Professor of Mathematics Rhonda Hughes.

The math of theology

Hilary Cooke '98 is a graduate student at Princeton Theological Seminar and plans to practice pastoral counseling, but math still informs her study.

"In Systematic Theology we discussed the existence of the trinity," she explains. "I showed my TA section how this worked mathematically by saying that 1+1+1=1(mod 2). (I am not sure they were convinced). I also tried to explain to my church history professor why conflict transformation looks like a piecewise continuous function (something he had never heard of, but did agree seemed to work).

"We discussed how my classmate, Jay, also an undergraduate major, used math in his critique of design arguments for the existence of God, Hubert Yockey's comparison of the origin of information to Goedel's incompleteness theorem, and then visited Goedel's grave here in Princeton.

"Lately we have been seeing math in our Theology of Barth class as Barth used math to describe the relation of Jesus to God and the world. Sometimes we just sit around, make S'mores and contemplate statements attributed to theologians like Luther such as, 'medicine makes people ill, mathematics makes them sad, and theology makes them sinful.

"Last month we were asked to entertain people at a coffeehouse talent show by telling math jokes. We politely declined the invitation knowing full well that not everyone here has the same appreciation for math as we do."

cover icon Return to Summer 2001 highlights