Mathematics and Statistics

Theoretical or applied mathematician? Or a statistician? Which one is the right fit?

alt text for the imageAt Cornell, classes meet for three to four hours a day, but this does not mean three to four hour lectures. Professors use the extended class time for group projects and collaborative problem solving, allowing you to develop teamwork, communication, and presentation skills to supplement your mastery of math or statistics (or both).

For example, you might work with a team to find the optimal arrangement of housing designs in an apartment complex or serve as expert witnesses in assessing the safety of a local skate park. And in Data Analytics, which is team-taught by professors of statistics and computer science, you can learn sophisticated ways to work with, analyze, and visualize data.

And the best part, you get to focus on just one course for each 18-day block, immersing yourself in an experiential study of the material at hand.

Using sports analytics to model archery

Using sports analytics to model archery

Theoretical vs. applied math

What differentiates theoretical mathematics (sometimes referred to as pure math) from applied math? Good question. Let’s think about what you’ll do as a master of theoretical math versus an expert in applied mathematics.

The theoretical mathematician sees beauty in abstract math theories. Curiosity is the driving force of a theoretical mathematician. What if …?—and their work begins with a question or an idea and in the end (if there is ever an end) their work may not be applied to any concrete, real-world problem. Theorists gravitate towards careers in research and academia, where they can pass on their ideas to the next generation of mathematical masters.

On the other hand, sometimes by following the mathematician’s muse, world-changing applications like the computer, become a reality not just a heavenly idea. (Thanks, Alan Turing.)

Just as the name suggests, an expert in applied mathematics solves tangible problems, down here on earth. Their initial impetus is a real-world problem and they apply quantitative techniques towards practical solutions. You’ll find applied mathematicians in a diverse array of fields—engineering, physics, biology, sociology, economics—as they get the job done across many different industries.

A statistician tells a story reliant on data

alt text for the imageAs a statistician, you’re analyzing data in order to discover patterns—patterns that tell a story. Some mystics might say that a statistician is like a fortune teller, but instead of peering into a crystal ball, you’ll dig into carefully documented research. Get comfortable working across a swath of interdisciplinary fields as you work with the spreadsheets of data pertinent to the subject matter at hand. What does it reveal? What predictions can be made?

Finding patterns in data to identify when doctors might misdiagnose
Cellular automata - a way to model complex systems that involves collections of cells based on a defined set of rules

Husani Newbold, Class of 2018

Data analytics major

"I've told people in the data analytics industry a few of the things we've done in classes at Cornell. They tell me that they really need people who have those skills."

Learn more about the block plan