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Computational Biology

I actually knew I wanted to go to med school but figured if I was going to do biological stuff the rest of my life (had no idea I'd end up doing NIH funded research), I should do "something else" while I could. In those days, one couldn't get into med school with humanities so math seemed the way to go, and I liked it. The other thing I have always told people is that, while I have not used math directly, what it really trained me to do was "sit and focus" on solving a problem. One can't be jumping up every 10 min. getting coffee, checking email (of course, that did not exist then) and expect to "solve" a math problem. That being "forced to focus", and learning how to do so, has been extremely helpful throughout. More information from the Rice News. (BEM - class of 1969)

My path is "conventional" in that I'm a faculty member. But, I study neuroscience rather than math, and I have a "wet lab" in which one sees live mice and lots of fancy equipment. But I nevertheless use math (sometimes very simple, sometimes more sophisticated) on a daily basis. For example, one of the things we do is build new and better microscopes for looking at the brain. The manuscript draft I'm working on right now (the editor window is open next to this email) is tackling the problem, "what performance metrics of our optical system do we need to collect so that we can better understand what it does to the light rays emitted from the sample?" It turns out to be a problem that uses a smattering of differential geometry, and for which it's actually useful to prove a theorem or two based on the fundamental physics of light propagation. Other times we think about signal analysis, image registration (which results in huge, nonlinear PDEs that need to be solved numerically), and clustering.

I'd characterize most of the pure math we use as "late 19th/early 20th century," with many of the applied/numerical methods rather more up-to-date than that. Neuroscience is increasingly getting to the point where data collection will not be the rate limiting step; instead, people who have good ideas about how to analyze data (invariably a mathematical problem) will make contributions of increasing importance. (TH - Class of 1991)

I graduated from Rice with a Math / CAAM B.A. in 2005. During my final semester, I took a seminar course in soil science, and decided I would like to work in soil and groundwater remediation. After graduation, I returned to California and applied for an internship with the Groundwater Department of the Alameda County Water District in Fremont. I was not very optimistic, since the website stated that they were looking for engineering or geology graduates. It turned out to be my lucky day - one of the groundwater engineers was writing his own modelling program to simulate the intrusion of seawater into the aquifer, and I was hired as his intern. I helped him with a finite element model of aquifer head levels, and a finite volume model for both head levels and seawater and contaminant transport. I did not write any of the code itself, but I prepared input files, designed grids, calibrated the model, and ran the model under various scenarios. I often reviewed my notes from courses I took at Rice, particularly CAAM 452: Numerical Methods for PDE's. I am glad I soldiered through that class even though it got tough! It was quite exhilerating to apply things I learned in school to do something so eminently useful - help preserve a community's water supply.

In addition to working on the models, I helped oversee soil and groundwater remediation work, and operated a pilot ultra-filtration device at one of ACWD's treatment plants. When my internship expired after 1.5 years (coincidentally, on the same date as my graduation from Rice two years earlier), I applied to San Jose State University's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department to pursue a master's degree. That's where I am now. I will graduate in a couple years and hopefully go on to work in municipal water supply.

One reason I decided to study mathematics (besides the fact that it's fun) was that I didn't yet know what I wanted to do, and I hoped a math degree would allow me entry into whatever field I eventually chose. This turned out to be a pretty good plan! (MA - Class of 2005)

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It's nice to hear from the Math Dept after so many years (I graduated in 2002). As for career paths ... I was a double major in Chemistry (which was more my primary major) ... I proceded to go to MIT for a year before joining an MD-PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign getting my PhD in physical chemistry working in an electrical engineerig / bioengineering lab. So certainly not your typical pathway for a math major. (FN - Class of 2002)

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You can certainly tell your students that a math degree comes in very handy for what I do, which is rendering engineering for video games. I work with the Wii, XBox, PC, DS. Although of course it's primarily a programming discipline, there's a lot of 3D math involved, and I do use a surprising amount of trig, discrete math, even a little bit of topology. I recommend pairing a Math degree with a C.S. degree, as I did, and at least in '98 the Math department made that an easy and worthwhile fit. Although CAAM seems a natural fit, I actually found that specializing in both "pure" disciplines was the way to go because I got a really solid grounding in each. Certainly certain individual CAAM classes were very helpful though. (AH - Class of 1998)

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I got a Ph.D. in economics (from Maryland) and now work for the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. We have a number of math majors in our economics department here and at least one math Ph.D. (JL - Class of 1996)

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After leaving Rice, I worked as a computer programmer until last year when I became a quantitative analyst in the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) department of PNC Bank (in Pittsburgh, PA).

Regrettably, I haven't used much "pure" math in my old or current job. However, I feel the training and ways of thinking that I was exposed to helped me a great deal in making sense of voluminous amounts of informationand classifying it and breaking things down into useful pieces.

In programming, I used a lot of elementary logic (De Morgan's Law, etc ....)and a little bit of optimization to make my programs run faster.

In my current job, I do a lot of data mining and use a lot of descriptive statistics to present my findings to my users. I also occasionally use probability theory (things like Chebyshev's inequality) to determine"normal" behavior and to help set thresholds that trigger anti-money laundering alerts that are then investigated by the department.

When dealing with new questions that come up, the process is similar to research in general: observations lead to hypotheses that are then tested and either supported, eliminated or further tweaked.Having a degree in math has been a great asset and generally has made my ideas and suggestions well received. (AG - Class of 1997)

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I'm a Rice alum who graduated in 2003 (Math, CAAM, English). I received your newsletter asking alumni to provide updates as to what they're up to so I thought I'd write and let you know.

I currently work for an energy trading firm, specifically in the role of quantitative analytics. I sit on the trade floor and work for our electricity & natural gas options trader pricing deals, developing new ways of modeling stochastic processes like price volatility or correlation and building out data systems & databases that make these tasks easier. It's frantic and unregimented but rewarding, sort of like Rice. If you have any undergraduates who are interested in the more quantitative aspect of finance or just curious about financial mathematics in general I'd be happy to talk to them. (JT - Class of 2003)

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I started by getting my math Ph.D., with the sure intent of being a professor:

1994 - 1998 Ph.D. in Math at Duke, Probability Theory

However, in my 4th/final Ph.D. year, I decided to pursue a career in business and began taking MBA courses and applied to consulting firms. After graduating, I took a job with the Boston Consulting Group (a management consulting firm) in a position as if I had an MBA. BCG recruits a fair number of Ph.D.s and lots of generally smart folks from the undergrad ranks regardless of major, thus this is a very accessible path for a math major.

So from there my career has been

1998 - 2001 BCG

2001 - 2003 El Paso Energy (I went to work for my client)

2003 - 2008 Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co (KKR), the global buyout firm

For the last 5 years I have worked for KKR in a group called KKR Capstone helping improve the operations of companies that KKR buys. For anyone interested in the private equity world, I'd be happy to talk with them about the possibilities.

I would be very happy to talk to any Rice undergrad in math about how to pursue strategy/management consulting with a Bain, BCG, or McKinsey or how to pursue private equity. (CF - Class of 1994)

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To keep you updated on where your alumni are ...

After getting a PhD in Physics and wintering-over for two years at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, I'm now an Asst. Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH. So, sorry to say that I won't be able to help you gain additional perspective on where math majors can go beyond academia. :-) (CM - Class of 1994)

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My own story, for what it's worth: I was a math major at Rice, and added a dual major with CAAM early on when I discovered a whole lot of interesting stuff going on there. In fact, Steve Cox encouraged me to get a Master's in CAAM during my senior year, and I even had my own office in the basement of Herman Brown. I worked with Danny Sorensen on large-scale numerical linear algebra, which led to a summer job at the Mathworks.

Senior year, I took a couple of DSP courses from Sid Burrus in ECE and found a whole other set of interesting math problems I had never heard about in the math department. So, I went to grad school at Princeton for a PhD in electrical engineering. Now I'm a tenured associate prof in electrical, computer, and systems engineering at RPI.

I really value the mathematical education I got at Rice, and it's still very useful in my professional life. RR - Class of 1996)

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I graduated with a math degree in '02, but wasn't terribly interested in a programming job with Google or Microsoft like so many math majors I knew were. While the prospect of a career in research did pique my interest, I instead decided to give the corporate world a try by becoming an actuary. I interned with Towers Perrin here in Houston the summer after my junior year, and wound up sticking with them after I graduated. I hadn't really heard much about the actuarial career while at Rice (I know UT has the big program which churns out actuaries on a regular basis) so I pretty much learned on the fly. I started taking the requisite exams during my internship, and finished up the full slate (roughly 12 of them) this past spring.

If you have any math majors who would like additional information on actuarial careers or corporate life in general, please feel free to have them contact me. We're always looking for talent and I know your department has plenty of it. ( DS - Class of 2002)

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I graduated in 2005, and I too wondered "What am I going to do as a math major?" I wasn't sure at all whether I wanted to work at Microsoft or the NSA, or teach, or pursue a PhD, or..... etc. But for now, I joined Teach for America and am just finishing up my second year teaching 9th grade in Donna, Texas (in the Rio Grande Valley). So that's my story! Turns out I love teaching, and plan to keep doing it for a few years, but I do see graduate school in my future, and who knows after that. (AK - Class of 2005)

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I received my BA in Math in 1976 and my MA in Math in 1979 (both from Rice)....I took on a position with the MITRE Corporation in June 1979 (then working with NASA), and have been with this company ever since. Right now I'm working at Ft. Bliss (El Paso) and the White Sands Missile Range on integrating some new technology into the US Army's tactical networks and information systems....I've never regretted studying mathematics instead of some more directly "applicable" field. Plus, it's easy to wow one's colleagues with a few derivations of basic formulae that they never understood, but just committed temporarily to memory! (RM - Class of 1979)

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Professionally, I continue love the work I do as a health care venture capitalist. I became a Managing Director in my firm about 4 years ago and have gotten to work on some really wonderful companies. The most recent one is called iPierian, which is an iPS cell (“induced pluripotent stem cell”) and cellular reprogramming focused company co-founded with George Daley, Doug Melton, Deepak Srivastava (a Rice grad!), and Lee Rubin based in South San Francisco. It’s a pretty exciting space and we are getting a lot of press coverage, in part because of the science, in part because of the people, and in part given the way this technology could change the face of medicine (also, Al Gore has been very demonstrative about our company and the potential of this area, which certainly excites the media). (AL - Class of 1998)

Update from the Rice News ...

Thank you for sending these newsletters. I appreciate hearing about what is going on in the department after having been gone for so long (I graduated in 1995).

I appreciate the education I received at Rice and strong foundation I received as a math major. I taught high school math in Houston for two years after graduating for Rice and then caught the .com fever of the late 90's. I started with IBM in 1997 and have been here since then.

I have been working on project at IBM for the past 5 years that I have thoroughly enjoyed called World Community Grid. It is a volunteer computing initiative that is funded by IBM's philanthropic arm. Like Seti@Home, it asks volunteers to register on our website and download a small software client. The client downloads packets of work and runs the research at lowest priority on the system. Collectively, our volunteers are providing about 340TFlops of computing power (or about 2000 years of processor time per week). The research that runs on World Community Grid is selected from research proposals submitted to us. The research is selected based on it having a humanitarian benefit, suitability to run on a volunteer computing grid and that the research is performed by a research institution capable of seeing the project to its conclusion. (KR - Class of 1995)

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My group's research is focused on developing predictive models of molecular recognition using high-resolution structural modeling. We are currently working to predict the specificity of protein-DNA and protein-peptide interactions. We develop and apply new algorithms for molecular modeling within the framework of the Rosetta software package, a set of tools for the prediction and design of protein structures and interactions. (PB - Class of 1995)