No one would ever question the difficulty of a Maths degree. Widely accepted to be on of the most challenging subjects on the syllabus, Mathematics has the ability to confound and confuse many people.
Yet while you will get respect from your peers for opting to study Mathematics at university, you may well ask the question: what will I do with my degree?
This is a question that has undoubtedly been asked by thousands of students over the years, including some names you may well be familiar with. In this article we will look at some of the famous faces that have studied maths at university – some more surprising than others.
Let’s take a look:
It perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise to read that celebrity Mathlete and familiar face on Countdown, Rachel Riley is good with numbers. And she is one of the people on this list who have directly applied the skills learnt through her degree course within her chosen career.
Prior to her role on Countdown Rachel studied Mathematics at Oxford University. Upon completing her degree she briefly considered a career in the financial sector, completing an internship in the City of London at Deutsche Bank. However, she decided that this was not the career for her and instead she took a job as a statistical analyst for a start-up price comparison company.
While Dara O’Briain first became a household name because of his status as a stand-up comic and presenter of comedy panel shows such as Mock the Week, he has also regularly shown his prowess as a scientist and mathematician by working on TV programmes such as The Sky at Night, School of Hard Sums and Dara O’Briain’s Science Club.
Before finding fame, the comedian graduated from University College Dublin with a degree in Mathematics and Theoretical Physics.
As the lead guitarist in one of the most famous rock bands in history, Bryan May was as cool as they came throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Yet he was also clearly a studious individual, having studied A-Levels in Physics, Mathematics and Applied Mathematics before he went on to study Maths and Physics at Imperial College, London. In fact, May became a Maths teacher before his career with Queen took off.
Although May has continued to perform in music since Queen went on hiatus after the death of frontman Freddie Mercury, it is his work in science that has taken up much of his time. In 2007 he achieved a PhD in Astrophysics from Imperial College, London and was even a “science team collaborator” on NASA’s mission to Pluto, named New Horizons. A lesser-known fact about Bryan May is that he has an asteroid named after him.
As one of the founders of Google, Sergey Brin could both be considered one of the wealthiest people in the world and also one of the most influential. The technology company he founded with Larry Page in 1998 needs no introduction, but perhaps fewer people are aware that Sergey Brin received a BSc with honours in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Maryland at College Park in the mid-1990s.
Despite finding fame as one half of Simon and Garfunkel with a string of global hits, Art Garfunkel didn’t let his burgeoning career stop him from continuing with his studies. Even as he was making music, Garfunkel achieved a Masters degree in Mathematics from Columbia University and began training at Columbia Teachers College with an eye on becoming a teacher. As his music career continued to grow, juggling the two became unmanageable and he was forced to drop out of Teachers College.
Eileen Collins occupies the illustrious position of being the very first female pilot and female commander of a NASA space shuttle. After majoring in Mathematics at university, Collins went on to become a military instructor and a test pilot before entering the NASA space programme. Collins retired from NASA in 2006 having logged an incredible 38 days, 8 hours and 10 minutes outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
It speaks volumes about Alan Turing’s status as a Mathematician and Computer Scientist that he is revered in global companies such as Google and Facebook as one of the founding fathers of modern computing. Perhaps best known for his work on cracking the Enigma machine in World War II, Turing led the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, which was Britain’s codebreaking centre.
In deciphering the code used by the Nazis during the war, the mathematical prowess of Turing and his team helped the Allies to defeat their enemies. In the words of Winston Churchill, their work served to shorten the war by two years.
While it might be surprising to hear that one of English Literature’s most famous figures displayed as much scientific prowess as he did artistic, nevertheless Lewis Carroll – otherwise known as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – was a very capable mathematician.
In addition to his works of fiction Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Carroll produced many books on mathematics under his real name of Charles Dodgson. His expertise lay in geometry, mathematical logic and recreational mathematics, as well as linear and matrix algebra. Indeed, Dodgson held a role at Christ Church College, Oxford as a Mathematics lecturer.
The actress known for playing roles as Lois Lane may have found acting relatively early on in her adult life but before she found fame in front of the cameras she studied Mathematics and Engineering at college in California. This is perhaps not surprising, given that Hatcher’s father was a nuclear physicist and her mother was a talented computer programmer.
As the last British woman to win a Wimbledon title, Virginia Wade will go down in history as one of the country’s greatest ever sportswomen. However, before she won her first Grand Slam title (she would go on to win 7 in total), she studied at Sussex University in 1966, eventually graduating with a BSc in Mathematics.
Test the water and find out if a Mathematics degree is for you
Whether you see your future as an astronaut a computer scientist, a serial entrepreneur or even a television personality, the benefits of a Maths degree are undeniable. If you are thinking about studying Maths at university but aren’t sure if the course is quite for you, why not think about testing the water with a summer school placement.
Enrol on the Cambridge Immerse Mathematics summer course and receive 40 hours of expert tuition over a two-week period in which you will also gain a feel for university life. Each programme gives students a solid foundation in the principles and fields of study that one can expect when undertaking a full undergraduate degree in Maths.
From Constructive Mathematics to Probability to Integration, don’t miss your opportunity to try out the undergraduate experience and even give yourself a head start so that you hit the ground running when you finally do leave school behind. Find out more about the Cambridge mathematics summer school.