Computational and Applied Mathematics

The Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University offers the following undergraduate degrees. Download our degree program flyers to learn more:

Both of our majors provide rigorous mathematical foundations, data science, modeling and computational skills. They serve as strong backgrounds for a variety of quantitative careers in fields such as consulting, data science, logistics, finance, and engineering.

O-Week FAQs

Why should I study Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM)?

Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM) focuses on building mathematical models of real-world systems, analyzing these models, and interpreting their results. These skills are in enormous demand across industry, including consulting, banking, energy, e-commerce, services, and so on. CAAM is also terrific preparation for graduate school, or professional schools such as medicine, business, or law.

Some of the real-world systems studied by CAAM majors arise in the physical world, and CAAM majors learn how to build mathematical and computational models of these physical phenomena. CAAM majors also study complex systems that arise in society, such as how to best use scarce resources. This is known as operations research. The CAAM department is planning to start a separate major in operations research in 2021. Contact the CAAM undergraduate chair for more information.

The CAAM major requires significantly fewer courses than other engineering degrees and having four electives provides great flexibility. This allows CAAM majors to customize their education to an unparalleled degree within engineering.

What do students do when they graduate with a CAAM degree?

About half of CAAM graduates work in industry upon graduating. Many are management consultants or work at software firms such as Amazon or Microsoft. The other half continue on to graduate or professional schools (many in CAAM-related areas). Several CAAM majors are pre-med and one 2020 CAAM graduate is starting law school at a top-ranked program.

If I am considering one of these majors, what classes do I have to take this year?

If you are considering a CAAM or Operations Research major, you should continue with the appropriate next mathematics course. See the department of mathematics for placement advice.

The CAAM department encourages students to take MATH 221 and 222. You should take a programming course. You may take CAAM 210 or, if you’re interested in a general-purpose programming course, you may substitute COMP 140 (Python) AND COMP 182 for CAAM 210. Students interested in operations research are particularly encouraged to take the COMP sequence to learn more about algorithms.

Learn more about our degree requirements.

If I have AP credit, should I use it or are there classes I should consider retaking anyway?

The CAAM department recommends that prospective majors take the appropriate mathematics course as guided by the Department of Mathematics placement policy.

How should I decide whether or not to use my AP credit?

If students feel comfortable with their calculus background, they are encouraged to take 200-level math courses (i.e. MATH 212 or MATH 221).

Can I study abroad? If so, when is the best time?

Yes! CAAM’s flexibility and relatively few course requirements make studying abroad a very natural choice. Every semester multiple CAAM majors study abroad. With appropriate planning, CAAM majors may study abroad as sophomores or juniors for either a semester or a year. CAAM majors often double-major as well. Contact a CAAM undergraduate advisor for more information.

What kind of research opportunities are available to CAAM students?

The CAAM faculty are very enthusiastic about undergraduates participating in research. Students may pursue applied projects, computational projects, or abstract mathematical projects. The goal should be a research publication.

Upper-level CAAM classes are small by School of Engineering standards, so CAAM majors find it easy to get to know faculty and learn about research opportunities.

Recent research projects have included modeling liver transplantation, political redistricting, medical imaging, and predicting when NBA jerseys will be retired.

What extracurricular activities or projects do CAAM students normally participate in?

CAAM majors are active throughout the university. CAAM tends to attract students who are mathematically strong and also interested in the broader world, and this leads to a wide variety of extra-curricular activities.

What do classes in CAAM normally look like?

After the first year or two, CAAM classes are relatively small. Material in upper-level CAAM classes is motivated by a real-world system and students build mathematical models of these systems. These models are then solved using sophisticated algorithms and students learn the computational aspects of these models.

Is the curriculum flexible enough for students to pursue other interests? i.e. Can I complete a minor, take classes outside the major or specialize further within the major?

Yes! CAAM is considered the most flexible major in engineering. It requires only 49-51 credit hours (compared to over 100 for some BS degrees) and 12 of those hours are electives that can be taken in CAAM or in other departments. This flexibility leads to CAAM majors being able to study abroad, double major, enhance other technical skills (e.g. software development or statistics), or take electives across the university.

Are there any other things I should know about CAAM?

CAAM is sometimes described as the “second-most mathematically rigorous” major at Rice (behind pure math), and the “second-most computationally rigorous” major (behind computer science). Most CAAM majors have a deep love of mathematics, but greatly appreciate how math (and computers and data) can be used to help society. CAAM majors learn how to understand a complex real-world system, build an abstract model of that system, and use math, algorithms and data to generate important insights into the real-world system. These skills are in enormous demand. The CAAM department has some of the smallest classes in engineering allowing close relationships to form between CAAM majors and faculty, and among CAAM majors.

New Major in Operations Research

The Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree Operations Research (OR) is a brand-new departmental undergraduate program offered by the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University.

Nature of Study and Research in Operations Research

Operations Research (OR) is the scientific approach to decision making in complex environments. OR is pervasive in nearly every aspect of society, including medicine, finance, logistics, transportation, public policy, manufacturing, and information technology.

OR majors at Rice take introductory sequences in computer science, mathematics, and statistics. The intermediate and advanced OR courses focus on 1) building and calibrating models of decisions arising in various complex environments, 2) analyzing these models mathematically, 3) solving these models using sophisticated algorithms, and 4) interpreting the solutions of these models. OR majors take advanced courses in supply chain management, financial optimization, large-scale optimization, and simulation. They also take three electives drawn from across engineering and economics.

Operations Research graduates are in high demand in all sectors of industry, and the number of OR jobs is projected to grow 25% over the coming decade. Rice OR faculty prize collaborations with undergraduates in their research, some of whom subsequently join top PhD programs.

What makes the BA in Operations Research Unique?

The Bachelor of Arts in Operations Research will provide undergraduates with a deeper level of understanding of mathematical modeling of decisions and a broader perspective on its applications than they can obtain in any of the current degree programs. The curriculum has a strong foundation in modeling, mathematics, algorithms, and software.

A Rice OR graduate will:

  • understand the salient aspects of decisions arising in a variety of contexts;
  • build a mathematical model that captures these aspects;
  • analyze the model mathematically;
  • calibrate the model with appropriately estimated parameters;
  • design and implement algorithms to gain further insight; and
  • communicate the results to a broader audience.

These goals also relate to the current CAAM, STAT, and COMP majors, but the Operations Research degree creates a distinct set of skills and insights—an outcome that is different in an intellectually interesting and practically important way—than in any of those existing majors.

Industry recognizes the importance of Operations Research.

Operations Research graduates find jobs in many sectors, including shipping, distribution, transportation, retail, supply-chain management, resource allocation, and financial engineering. The breadth of application is staggering. Operations Research techniques lie at the heart of processes that range from scheduling instructions on microprocessors to optimizing the distribution of transplantable organs.

Students with training in the theory and practice of OR are in high demand; the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 25% growth in demand for OR graduates from 2019-29. To put the burgeoning market for OR majors into context, the projected growth in chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering jobs ranges from 2-4% over the same time period.

Visit the CAAM website for learn more about the Operations Research degree program.