mathiq

Am I Cut Out for Mathematics or Sciences?

[Total: 7    Average: 5/5]

We often get threads by new members asking whether they are cut out for mathematics/physics/engineering/whatever. For some reason, they have become discouraged in high school and don’t think they can make it. I am using this insight to provide an answer to those question.

My IQ is too low.
This is a very common one. High school students who did an IQ test and who don’t like their final result. They argue that since they score only 110 or whatever, that they definitely won’t succeed in mathematics.

First of all, it is important to realize that IQ was invented as a test for mental retardedness. So if somebody scores 60 or 70, then (for example) he needs to get professional care. The IQ test is not necessarily a good meter for higher IQs.

Also, don’t trust IQ tests on the internet. They’re not very reliable at all. The only IQ that should matter is one that you took from a licensed professional. And even then, the IQ is a number that doesn’t really mean much. I have been relatively succesful in academia and I have obtained a score of 96 on an IQ test. So if I can do it, so can you.

Truth is that math requires some natural talent. But it most of all requires a lot of hard work. That is the most important part. If you get decent scores on your math tests without excessive studying, then you should be able to do well. Just be prepared to work hard and to work smart.

I suck at math competitions!
So do I. I have always done very badly at mathematics competitions. I have done somewhat better on physics competitions though, a subject which I understood far less well than mathematics. Don’t worry, your ability on math competitions is not a meaningful indicator at all.

You see, in order to do well in mathematics research, you must be able to really digest a problem slowly. Attack its core from all side. Peel away all the layers carefully. This requires patience, hard work, a lot of knowledge, luck, hard work, careful planning and hard work. On the other hand, math competitions require you to solve a number of problems in a given time frame. The two worlds could not be more different.

My high school results were too low.
Yeah, that’s not a good situation. In university, the high school system will essentially go further. You will continue to get tests and exams. So if you’re already not very good at math tests, then university will be more difficult.

However, it is not impossible for you to make it. I suggest taking a long and deep thinking about what went wrong in high school and how you could improve. There are a whole lot of factors which could influence your results. It doesn’t always mean you’re not cut out for university. It just means that you might not be ready right now. Do some thinking. Try to improve. Maybe go to community college first.

Last word
Throughout your entire career, you will meet obstacles. Everybody does. Some people meet the obstacles earlier than others. Some people meet more obstacles than others. What determines your worth as a scientist is how you deal with obstacles. Do you give up? That would be a respectable response. Not willing to put in the effort to overcome an obstacle does not make you dumb or lazy, but it doesn’t make you a scientist either. The scientists are exactly those people who attack the obstacle over and over again. Like a river encountering a stone, the stone will try to stop the river. The river yields to the stone, but slowly and slightly, the stone is being removed and the river regains its worth. Be the river.

 

 

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  1. Binky
    Binky says:

    I am not particularly intelligent, I don't have any gifts for maths or physics and I am left bewildered at some of the discussions here. I have little understanding of what the formula mean or the terms used, but I enjoy my time here very much, and little by little I am learning. I am teaching myself as I have no other way of doing it, and the experience I have here is very positive.I am driven by a crazy curiosity, physics fascinates me it's like an endless rabbit hole, the further you fall, the more it delights and frustrates you. I'll never come up with a theory or a breakthrough, never work in a lab but I will keep trying and keep learning.This insight is very motivational, thank you.

  2. QuantumQuest
    QuantumQuest says:

    A really good insight. Times are tough, competition is very high, through all fields and levels in science, so this justifies up to a point an easy discouragement; on the other hand the only viable way to succeed, is covered very well in the insight. And yes, it is very hard – if at all, to find a reliable IQ test on the net. The real IQ test, is done through high efforts and time spent to overcome the obstacles.

  3. Stephen Tashi
    Stephen Tashi says:

    The insights focus on giving answers of the form: “Don’t worry about X, you can do well in (advanced) mathematics or science without having it”. What about some insights of the form “Worry about Y, you’ll have trouble in advanced mathematics or science if you don’t have it.” (?)

  4. Dr. Courtney
    Dr. Courtney says:

    Good Insight. Majoring in math or science is more of a test of one’s perseverance and work ethic than anything else.

    Are you a quitter when the going gets tough? Don’t bother. No matter how smart you are, the going will get tough.

  5. Mastermind01
    Mastermind01 says:

    Excellent insight! As a high school student aspiring to be a physicist – there are often moments where I feel like giving up – it’s too hard for me , maybe I’m not smart enough! This post underlines most of what goes through our minds. Thanks :smile:

  6. micromass
    micromass says:

    The insights focus on giving answers of the form: “Don’t worry about X, you can do well in (advanced) mathematics or science without having it”. What about some insights of the form “Worry about Y, you’ll have trouble in advanced mathematics or science if you don’t have it.” (?)

    I do believe I covered that implicitely. I didn’t want to put the focus on it though. But I’ve been very clear what you need to make it in the sciences: hard work, smart work, a little bit of talent, seeking the possible opportunities and taking advantage of them instead of letting them pass, good mental health, etc.

  7. Stephen Tashi
    Stephen Tashi says:

    hard work, smart work, a little bit of talent, seeking the possible opportunities and taking advantage of them instead of letting them pass, good mental health, etc.

    Doesn’t that describe what you need to succeed in anything ?

    Your insight encourages people who have studied science or math to some extent to persevere. That’s probably good advice for most people who frequent physicsforums. But if you imagine yourself in the role of a guidance counselor to a more general population, surely there are cases where you’d advise a person differently – or warn them that they need to change some mental traits if they want to continue.

    Of course, “negative” advice is not always correct. One can cite cases like “X’s teachers told him he would never suceed in science, but he became a great ….”. However, there are also cases like “Y’s teachers told him he would never succeed in science career and he didn’t”. Perhaps the latter case is statistically more frequent – so frequent that it examples of it don’t become prominent.

  8. Dr. Courtney
    Dr. Courtney says:

    Doesn’t that describe what you need to succeed in anything ?

    Not really. Most cashiers jobs you don’t need to work very hard or very smart. You can get by with a mediocre work ethic as long as you are honest and don’t steal any of the cash passing through your hands.

    I worked a bit of retail in high school and college. I got mad when I figured out they kept putting me as a cashier because I wasn’t stealing from them. I liked the other jobs better. The most important lesson was to aim for a career where one had to offer a bit more than simply not stealing.

  9. Stephen Tashi
    Stephen Tashi says:

    Not really. Most cashiers jobs you don’t need to work very hard or very smart. You can get by with a mediocre work ethic as long as you are honest and don’t steal any of the cash passing through your hands.

    As a consumer, I see good cashiers who are honest (with me) and not-so-good cashiers that are honest. If we are discussing the standard as “getting by” then what would that mean when referring to science and math ?

    All I’m suggesting is that there could be some explicit insights of the form “You need Y” to balance out those of the form “You don’t need X”. – Or perhaps the conclusion is that you don’t absolutely need any particular thing to succeed specifically in science or math ?

  10. micromass
    micromass says:

    As a consumer, I see good cashiers who are honest (with me) and not-so-good cashiers that are honest. If we are discussing the standard as “getting by” then what would that mean when referring to science and math ?

    All I’m suggesting is that there could be some explicit insights of the form “You need Y” to balance out those of the form “You don’t need X”. – Or perhaps the conclusion is that you don’t absolutely need any particular thing to succeed specifically in science or math ?

    So what would be some of the things you need according to you?

  11. Stephen Tashi
    Stephen Tashi says:

    So what would be some of the things you need according to you?

    With the caveat that I’m not a guidance counselor, I think that to understand pure mathematics, one must have a tolerance for “legalism” – i.e. interpreting things exactly as they are written, splitting hairs, tolerating less ambiguity in statements that is normal in common speech etc.

    I’ve encountered people who expect devices like cars, dishwashers and voltmeters to “just work” by themselves and become impatient and indignant when it’s necessary to fiddle with them. Can such a personality succeed in experimental science?

  12. micromass
    micromass says:

    With the caveat that I’m not a guidance counselor, I think that to understand pure mathematics, one must have a tolerance for “legalism” – i.e. interpreting things exactly as they are written, splitting hairs, tolerating less ambiguity in statements that is normal in common speech etc.

    Good suggestion. But is it something you have to have, or is it something you gain during your education?

  13. Dr. Courtney
    Dr. Courtney says:

    As a consumer, I see good cashiers who are honest (with me) and not-so-good cashiers that are honest. If we are discussing the standard as “getting by” then what would that mean when referring to science and math ?

    All I’m suggesting is that there could be some explicit insights of the form “You need Y” to balance out those of the form “You don’t need X”. – Or perhaps the conclusion is that you don’t absolutely need any particular thing to succeed specifically in science or math ?

    You probably need at least an average intelligence to go along with a work ethic.

    You’d be surprised how a good work ethic can make you smarter and smarter if you keep working hard in the educational process.

    If you are interesting in “just getting by” pick another major.

  14. symbolipoint
    symbolipoint says:

    Not really. Most cashiers jobs you don’t need to work very hard or very smart. You can get by with a mediocre work ethic as long as you are honest and don’t steal any of the cash passing through your hands.

    I worked a bit of retail in high school and college. I got mad when I figured out they kept putting me as a cashier because I wasn’t stealing from them. I liked the other jobs better. The most important lesson was to aim for a career where one had to offer a bit more than simply not stealing.

    As a consumer, I see good cashiers who are honest (with me) and not-so-good cashiers that are honest. If we are discussing the standard as “getting by” then what would that mean when referring to science and math ?

    All I’m suggesting is that there could be some explicit insights of the form “You need Y” to balance out those of the form “You don’t need X”. – Or perhaps the conclusion is that you don’t absolutely need any particular thing to succeed specifically in science or math ?

    Some or at least a few people in scientific careers who are not handling money are also dishonest. Usually a matter of social and personal deception for the purposes of gaining power and position.

  15. Stephen Tashi
    Stephen Tashi says:

    Good suggestion. But is it something you have to have, or is it something you gain during your education?

    I think there are people who innately lack the ability to use precise language. For example, there are people who seem to be infested with pronouns. They say things like “I’ll get it done when they find it and he brings me the one that fits onto its other thing.”

    As another example, I know a small number of people who are very capable at practical matters, but simply cannot write. I don’t mean that they write badly. I mean that when they need to write something, they face a “mental block”. They can’t start the process of writing.

    There are people who reject formal presentations. For example, one encounters forum posters who take the view that they know what a certain mathematical object “really is” and reject formal mathematical definitions. I think such a person can be educated in mathematical formality if they can retain their enthusiasm for mathematics after they realize their limitations. However, I think the statistically most frequent result of a collision between education and a person who thinks they know how mathematical things “really” are is that the person either rejects the education or he understands the education and loses his enthusiasm for the subject because the subject is disappointingly different that what he expected.

  16. symbolipoint
    symbolipoint says:

    That was motivating.

    If this is about post #15, he is just trying to be realistic based on the people he has met. Some people or students resist trying to learn, for whatever reason – they actively resist to learn. You find reactions like, “that was not the way I was taught”, or “this is too complicated”, or someone will refuse to draw a diagram or picture. Others…

  17. Mark44
    Mark44 says:

    I think there are people who innately lack the ability to use precise language. For example, there are people who seem to be infested with pronouns.

    This is a pet peeve of mine, as well, especially when two occurrences of “it” in one sentence have different antecedents. For example, if a student says, “It converges because its limit is zero,” with the first it being “the series” and “its” referring to the general term of the series.

    I’ve often advised students that they should use the word “it” in a math class only when what it refers to is crystal clear.

  18. Titan97
    Titan97 says:

    If this is about post #15, he is just trying to be realistic based on the people he has met. Some people or students resist trying to learn, for whatever reason – they actively resist to learn. You find reactions like, “that was not the way I was taught”, or “this is too complicated”, or someone will refuse to draw a diagram or picture. Others…

    I was talking about the original post :smile:.

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