Role models to inspire young people into careers with maths

Here are five career role models to inspire young people to explore careers with maths.

What does a career in maths actually look like? Maths is everywhere, but sometimes it can be hard to spot. Read about other Australians who use maths in their jobs.

Dr Ropafadzo Moyo, park ranger

Growing up in Zimbabwe, Ropa Moyo always loved wildlife. But her family were a bit puzzled when she said she wanted to study marine biology.

‘Zimbabwe is landlocked,’ she says, ‘so when I said I wanted to do marine biology, my father and uncle both thought I was crazy.’

Ropa moved to Durban on the South African coast to do her bachelor degree, then went to the University of Cape Town to complete her masters degree. The biostatistics skills she learned in second year came in useful for studying the ecology and behaviour of burrowing prawns.

Biology and mathematics go hand in hand – think about how data is used to conservation of habitats. Check out our some more examples to see how maths is part of peoples' day to day work role.

After working as an ecologist back in Zimbabwe for a year, Ropa came to Australia for a PhD in geography at Macquarie University. She now leads a team of women park rangers for the Ngadju Conservation Aboriginal Corporation in Western Australia. Ropa’s team works with Indigenous elders and communities to manage and protect cultural and natural resources on Country.

‘Biology and mathematics go hand in hand,’ she says. ‘You can’t interpret research data without mathematics.’

Professor Jodie McVernon, epidemiologist

As a parent of two teenagers, Jodie McVernon understands the challenge of making maths seem relevant. Fortunately, she has a pretty compelling example from her own job.

‘I tell them, hey, I got you out of lockdown!’ she laughs. As the Director of Epidemiology at the Doherty Institute, Jodie’s work has been at the forefront of Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jodie practised as a paediatrician before moving into public health. ‘The biggest health initiatives for kids have been things like seatbelts and vaccines, which come down to policy and legislation,’ she says. ‘In public health you can benefit many lives at scale.’

Jodie’s multidisciplinary team includes people with computer science, maths, physics and engineering skills. ‘I’m not a mathematician, more of a jack-of-all-trades who is good at joining the dots,’ she says. ‘Having all kinds of expertise on the team helps drive innovation to answer the complex questions in front of us.’

I’m not a mathematician, more of a jack-of-all-trades who is good at joining the dots.

Dr Joanna Aldridge, environmental scientist

‘I use my maths skills all day, every day,’ says Joanna Aldridge. As a principal scientist for insurance company IAG, Joanna’s job is to model extreme weather and climate events so that the business can set their insurance premiums. 

‘I look after tropical cyclones and coastal events like coastal inundations. Tropical cyclones are my favourite natural hazard!’

Joanna’s love of numbers began with her engineer father teaching her algebra and differential equations.

‘As soon as I could hold a pencil, he’d teach me to solve algebra problems using pictures instead of symbols.’

After studying maths and geography, her first job was risk and weather forecasting for an oil and gas company. ‘They had the scale of investment to do the sort of modelling that wasn’t even being done at the Bureau of Meteorology at the time.’

Joanna says there are plenty of opportunities for people who love maths.

‘Even though you may not recognise a mathematician on the street as we're not as visible as teachers or nurses, there's a lot of us,’ she says.

Sam Leheny, 3D character rigger

Sam Leheny says he hated maths at school. But partway through studying digital art at university, he realised he would need it in order to work in game design. He decided to go back to basics and learn maths from scratch.

‘I went all the way back to the simplest stuff on Khan Academy and blew through grades 1 to 5 in a couple of days,’ he says. ‘Once I hit high school trigonometry, that’s when I started to see how it was applicable to the work.’

Working through all the modules took several years, but it paid off. Sam now leads a team of five riggers at animation studio Pixel Zoo. 

‘I came on as a modeller – they’re the ones who create the assets,’ Sam says. ‘The animators make them move. Riggers are the people in the middle who make them functional. We turn a statue into a puppet, and then the animators are the puppeteers.’

Sam now enjoys maths and is always learning more. ‘It's very interesting to be able to look at the world in terms of the numbers that are underneath it,’ he says.

It's very interesting to be able to look at the world in terms of the numbers that are underneath it.

Elizabeth Deterding, insights analyst

The first line on Elizabeth Deterding’s resume is, ‘I don’t like Excel … I love Excel’.

It all started in secondary school when Elizabeth’s dad showed her how to use Excel to solve a problem for a maths project. ‘Many people think that it’s an infuriating program, but it’s like a puzzle to me and I love how many ways there are to get to the end point.’

After studying geography and sociology, Elizabeth’s Excel skills helped her rise through the ranks at the printing company where she worked for a decade. 

‘I kept finding things that could be done better or cheaper and designing Excel spreadsheets for them,’ she says. ‘Upper management took note and eventually I was managing a factory.’

Elizabeth is now an insights analyst for global workplace culture and employee recognition firm, O.C. Tanner. The company offers a range of software and services that help organisations improve their work culture, and Elizabeth mines client data for clues. She says she is proof of how far data skills can take you.

‘It's an extremely transferable skill and, surprisingly, not as common as you might think,’ she says. ‘You just need to be okay at maths and a good storyteller. Working as an analyst has been the best job I’ve ever had. Ten out of ten, would recommend!’