The truth about co-op for Math students

Waterloo Math student sitting on a bench in the Math and Computing building
Written by Stephen, student

Discovering co-op jobs in Math

I know from volunteering at Waterloo open houses that a question on many prospective students’ minds is, "What will co-op be like?" This is the case especially for students in Math.

Admittedly, it can be confusing. Since Math programs are so specialized at Waterloo, you're probably asking questions like these:

  • How likely am I to be pigeonholed in a particular type of job based on my co-op work terms?
  • Are there a lot of industries looking for Math students?
  • Will I have many employers to choose from?
  • How do co-op placements differ for Math students?

In this post I’ll try to answer some of these questions, pulling largely from my own experience and the experiences of my friends.

Large lecture hall area filled with students watching a presentation at a Waterloo open house

How does my major impact the co-op jobs I can get?

The first thing I always try to stress is that your major, although it may steer your work term preferences, does not determine your work. While a relevant major might give you a bit of an edge, I see students across the Faculty of Mathematics doing jobs that are “not in their field” all the time.

Take me, for example. I’m a Pure Mathematics student and I’ve done one research-based work term that was closely related to my program, a work term in market regulation, and I’m currently applying to (and getting interviews for!) jobs in finance.

I recently met one person in Computer Science who discovered he really likes working in healthcare and so, he's done all three of his past co-op work terms in the healthcare industry. I’ve known other Pure Math majors doing tech jobs, Combinatorics and Optimization majors doing business jobs, and Computer Science majors doing pure math research terms. In short, your major absolutely does not limit your freedom in choosing employment. Which leaves you with another (very common) question: "What is a Math job?"

What is a Math job?

The answer is quite obvious for some programs: a Mathematical Finance major would be best prepared for a job in finance; a Computer Science major would be best prepared for a job as a web developer, a computer systems analyst, or software engineer; an Actuarial Science student would be best prepared to do jobs in the actuarial field. However, job prospects for the more theoretical majors can be quite broad.

While all Math students can apply their skills in the jobs above, there are many more options out there to explore. As I mentioned before, there are research grants that can be used to fund research work terms for students interested in a career in academia. There are government jobs for students interested in policy. Plus, every sector needs statisticians!

Math tour guides at a Waterloo open house

The best part about being a Math co-op student, and I’m actually using this in interviews all the time, is being able to market yourself as having “transferrable skills.” So if there's a job that catches your eye, give it a shot! You might be surprised by how it goes.

To wrap up, this is my philosophy of Math co-op: you have six terms to explore careers, so try things out, not just different companies but different industries, if you can. I’ve been told it’s much harder to do once you’ve graduated so make the most of it while you’re here.


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