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Saving Planet With A Career In Math


Here’s a quick post about the handoffs that occur in this human race as one generation proffers advice to the next.

In a recent and noteworthy post at, Gavin Schmidt, a founder of the blog and NASA climate modeler, published and answered this question from a young student pondering next steps:

I am someone with a deep-seated desire to help the planet remain as habitable as possible in the face of the trials humanity is putting it through. I’d like to devote my career to this cause, but am young and haven’t chosen a definitive career path yet. My bachelors is in pure math and I am considering graduate study in either applied math or statistics. I’m curious what you would recommend to someone in my position. Between getting, say, a PhD in statistics vs. one in applied math, what positions me best for a career in the climate science community? What are its acute needs, where are the job opportunities, and how competitive is it?

Schmidt’s answer gets into specific statistical methods attuned to the interests of a math student, but includes this more widely applicable overarching thought:

I do suggest working from the top down. What do you see specifically as something where someone like you could have maximum impact? Then acquire the skills needed to make that happen.

My advice to young people, including my “Blogging a Better Planet

” students at Pace University, is generally three-pronged:

1) Make room in your life and education for just a little global-scale awareness, and a little long-term thinking. (This is not easy for anyone these days, given day-to-day demands.)

2) Acquire and hone skills that can be applied to any problem (including statistical literacy, which I had to acquire on the run through three decades of science writing). Adaptability is a key to personal and global sustainability. These skills should include the capacity to recognize one’s own biases and blind spots. (This is not easy, either.)

3) Learn to use the explosively growing collaborative capacity of today’s communication tools to maximize your chances of turning a good idea into a breakthrough, and getting that resulting innovation where it needs to go to make the biggest difference. (Also learn how to use them critically, as Keith Kloor discusses here.)


  • bchristo
    bchristo Tuesday, 05 February 2013

    Math Scores

    I wish I knew

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