27 Oct 2023

When Maths Meets the Mission – How a Talent for Numbers Can Turn into a Rewarding Career With GCHQ


Laura, Molly and Sarah all work in roles where maths is a main component. Here, they reveal why maths is more creative than people realise – and how they’ve turned their passion into a fulfilling career.


Laura: “We’ve had all kinds of reactions when we’ve told people we studied maths or that it’s the main component of our jobs. It’s safe to say that maths has a bad reputation, or at least, it feels like it’s a subject that’s misunderstood.”


Sarah: “We’re nothing like the mathematicians you see in TV and film. There are never any women! People outside of the maths community also seem to think we do maths 24/7; reading about it in our spare time, taking it on holiday with us, or competing with others in our field. For me, it’s just refreshing to be able to use these skills as part of a larger toolkit. We use them to tackle the unique problems we encounter in our day jobs and leave it there!”

“In education, it’s often made out like it’s a binary choice between a logical or creative career path. Honestly, the way I relax and express myself outside of work more often than not, falls into the arts. And I think we’ve collectively found through each of our journeys into higher and further maths that this separation falls away. Mathematicians don’t all arrive at solutions in the same rigid way; we don’t solve problems to fulfil a singular marking scheme, which can subdue the creativity and breadth of what’s possible. There are multiple ways to tackle challenges or find the right answer. Take it from us – we seek to beat computers!”



Molly: “In fact, a lot of the problems we face aren’t clear-cut. Even as experts, we don’t have all the answers, so the chances of coming up with the right solution the first time are low. Quite often, our days are spent on big problems and trialling different strategies. Everyone can experience failure and unsuccessful days, but these are an important part of the process. The learning we take from that can be applied to future projects.”

“Feelings of frustration are offset by having such supportive and collaborative teams who are happy to lean in and offer constructive advice and suggestions. We share research and products, all to enable each other’s success.”


Sarah: “So, what does starting out in a maths discipline look like? For us, it meant joining a cohort of peers into a Maths and Cryptography role with an 11-week training programme covering areas like mathematics research, statistics, and programming, delivered by internal and external tutors. It’s great to get a broad view of various maths disciplines – without needing any experience. It gives insights into the roles available, as well as areas to pursue as you progress in your career.”


Laura: “GCHQ is an organisation that uses complex maths and programming at the heart of the mission. Knowing I directly support that is extremely rewarding. I’m so glad we discovered the diversity of the STEM roles available here and applied. Who would’ve known that a day trip to Bletchley Park and a university presentation from the Intelligence Agencies would lead to all this!”


Do you have a passion for numbers? How about a knack for problem-solving? If you’re feeling inspired, it’s time to think about turning that talent into a rewarding career. GCHQ will be recruiting for Maths and Cryptography roles from now till the end of November, so make sure to keep an eye on the careers page. In the meantime, why not have a go at some of their puzzles? Visit the GCHQ website to see how you get on – good luck! https://www.gchq.gov.uk/section/news/puzzles

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