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When will I ever use maths?

A question everyone has asked themselves
If you're on the brink of HSC subject selection and wondering whether you'll use maths, or if you're eyeball deep in trigonometric ratios ahead of your next exam and questioning if you'll ever need them, read on. We have just the answer.

While it may not feel like it, there is more to maths than meets the eye. When you transition to university, maths takes on new meaning. It becomes a tool to help you solve real-world problems and challenges, to innovate, design and predict, and ultimately, to thrive in science, technology, engineering, business, and maths-related degrees and careers. 

We've put together an A to Z of how maths is used across disciplines and spoken to our students, alumni and academics to find out how they use maths in the ‘real world’.

How do you use maths in...

From tracking biological changes in animals to modelling cancer therapies, mathematics allows us to explain and predict a range of biological processes. With an increase in the availability of data, biology has become more quantitative than ever before. Maths will allow you to analyse data about animals, plants or microbes, and to provide meaning results and predictions. 

Your choice of major in commerce will determine how important maths is throughout your studies. Some majors, including accounting, banking, business analytics or finance, will require a more advanced understanding of maths in the form of algebra, calculus and statistics. If studying commerce, you'll make use of your maths skills in almost every subject.

Computer scientists use their knowledge of programming and algorithm design to create efficient computer systems required to solve real-world problems.

Whether these problems are engineering, scientific, or business-related, computer scientists need to understand from a mathematical perspective so that mathematically founded solutions can be derived and translated into computational algorithms.

These solutions in computer science are often derived and implemented using subfields of mathematics including algebra, calculus and statistics.

Economics is the study of choice. Mathematics is key to economics because it provides the building blocks for modelling the choices of individuals, business, governments and other economic agents in a rigorous way. 

The usefulness of mathematics in economics extends beyond model building. Maths, especially statistics, is central to understanding how the world around us works. Data generated by the myriad of transactions and interactions we engage in each and every day is increasingly analysed by economists to understand the choices economic agents make and how they are shaped by the constraints agents face. 

Understanding, appreciating and interpreting mathematic theory, formulae, solutions and equations is a core competency engineers require when solving real-world problems. 

For instance, mathematics is used by civil engineers to accurately determine how much weight can be safely distributed throughout a bridge, and by aeronautical engineers to design and build fuel-efficient aircraft. 

Across engineering, developing that understanding, appreciation and the inerpretation skills does require a good background and practice in 'doing' mathematics. 

Exploring and understanding the past, present and future of our Earth as you do in geosciences involves more mathematics than you might think. Maths is essential when studying how the planet has formed, changed and developed. It will provide you the tools to determine the age of natural materials, measure variation of Earth's temperature, and even model the effects of climate change. 

The spectrum of tasks a nurse completes everyday requires maths. From more clinical skills such drug calculations, medication preparation and administration, counting cardiac compressions and checking vital signs, to calculating ovulation dates, body mass index, glycemic index and length of stay in hospital, nursing requires accuracy in maths on a daily basis.

Maths is an integral skill that underpins the practice of pharmacy, whether the pharmacist works in community, hospital or industry. Basic algebraic maths is used to calculate drug doses and adjustments; whereas calculus is applied in determining drug degradation rates and medicines stability, and understanding drug pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics in patients. Mathematical ability is also an important skill in the business aspects of pharmacy, from ordering stock to managing invoices and payrolls. 

The technical aspects of project management require competence in managing schedules, resources, budget and risks. Such skills are important whenever an organisation is delivering a new product, service or infrastructure, or any other process that ultimately effects change. 

Having a good grasp of mathematics aids in project analysis such as the calculation of project schedules, in understanding how resources, duration and effort estimation are interlinked, as well as in variance analysis and risk modelling. 

How do psychologists analyse and predict human behaviours? Studying the brain, our behaviours and cognitive disorders all require the help of mathematics. Statistics plays a pivotal role in psychology. You will regularly use statistics to determine whether experimental results are telling you something useful, to read and interpret data, and to understand underlying relationships between variables. 

Maths is used in interpreting speech pathology test results and in measuring the efficacy of speech-language interventions. As evidence-based practising clinicians, speech pathologists rely on maths to critically appriase new research by intepreting statistics. 

Maths in our daily lives

Nalini Joshi

Professor Nalini Joshi,Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow and Chair of Applied Mathematics

“Maths underpins just about everything – from the technology in your smartphone the banking and financial systems that support our economy, to how we measure and predict our health. We are in the era of big data but what good is data without the ability to interpret and analyse it? We need people who have the skills to take that raw information and turn it into something useful.”

Eddie Woo

Eddie Woo, Wootube founder, Bachelor of Education (Secondary: Mathematics)(Honours) 2008

“Mathematics has enabled us to design machines at subatomic scales. It’s the backbone of artificial intelligence that can play chess, drive cars and identify cancers far better than humans ever could. But the thing I feel most strongly about, amidst all the futuristic technology, is how mathematics can make us more human.”

Adrianne Jenner

Adrianne Jenner, PhD candidate (Mathematics and Statistics)

“I use mathematical modelling in my research to investigate how different treatment regimens and heterogeneity within tumours can affect the outcome of treatment. I hope that my research will highlight how useful mathematical modelling can be, and that we can obtain invaluable insight into biology and medicine through the use of mathematics.”

Geordie Williamson

Professor Geordie Williamson, Director of the University of Sydney Mathematics Institute

“Mathematics is both useful and deep. We all use mathematics thousands of times a day when we communicate using our smartphones or search on the internet. And old questions like the distribution of prime numbers, or the possibility of squaring the circle, have occupied humanity for millennia. Mathematics provides a key both to the modern world and to the rich intellectual heritage of humankind.”

Last updated 11 November 2019
1 August 2019

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