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Another should-i-be-a-math major thread

  1. Oct 11, 2012 #1
    Hey you guys.

    I thought I sucked at math for ages. I remember in algebra class staying up till the wee hours of the morning and still not understanding that substitution concept. I'm still not sure if I should blame my teacher for not explaining the concept at all and generally being a dick, or myself for not 'getting' deductive thinking.

    I then took calculus at community college and regularly received among the top 3 grades in my class. When I enrolled in university, I was able to ace the rest of the calculus sequence with apparently little effort. I passed advanced calculus and differential equations for engineers in my sophomore year without going to class or doing the homework. I hit a wall after I took some time off, transferred to a different university, and flunked a differential equations class.

    I've been feeling badly about myself ever since. It's not that I'm lazy - I really enjoy math and I'm definitely willing to put in the work. Unfortunately, I've been too distracted with extracurriculars to put the time in. I can't help but wonder how much this has to do with my lack of ability, and how much has to do with other stuff which I can't control. I meet a lot of really talented people in my upper level classes, and while I know that I'm not so bad, it's still... discouraging. I need all the 'natural advantage' I can get! It seems that 'good enough' is very good indeed.

    At this point, I'm trying to figure out whether it's worth it to put the time in and finish a degree, or just go to technical school for some sort of computer science diploma instead. Finding the time and energy to study will continue to be a problem, unfortunately, and I've become hugely rusty since taking so much time off. Am I making a mistake? I need a second, and third, and fourth opinion. Pep talks are always appreciated, but, first and foremost, please be honest with me.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 11, 2012 #2
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that you don't really put much work in your classes. If this is true, then that is probably the reason why you failed your class in the first place.
    Math requires some natural ability, sure. But the most important thing is to put in a lot of work. If you think you can get a math degree with minimal effort, then think again.

    I understand you have a lot of extracurriculars. But if necessary, you can always take less classes.

    I don't think you should give up math so quickly. Try to give it your best shot. And if it doesn't work out, then you can always switch.
  4. Oct 11, 2012 #3
    I'm probably not qualified too give advice in this area since I'm just fresh out of highschool, but to give you an outsiders perspective, I'd have to ask, why be a math major when you can't make it too your classes as it is?

    Just because you've done some differential equations and passed easily does not neccesarily mean you are gifted at math, it simply means you have natural ability. It still takes work.

    The one thing I hear from all of my math teachers is that you should never miss a class if you can help it, and to study for a good solid few hours each night. There are a lucky few people who can pass with high marks without it because they are extremely good with math and numbers. For the rest of us unfortunately it takes complete dedication and A LOT of hardwork to be good at math.
    I'm fresh out of highschool, about to apply for university and to get my A's and B's, I had to spend the majority of my waking life reading a math textbook, and thats in my free lessons, and after school even sometimes till late at night, literally anytime I had a chance too I would grab my textbooks and keep learning and theres still many things I got wrong come test time.

    let me put it this way, just because your a good runner doesn't mean you could just sign up for the oylmpics and run a race. Even Usain Bolt whos born with a body that perfectly built to run fast, still has to train to be the best and qualify for the Olympics.
    and it's the same with math, you may be able to figure out parts of calculus easily, but without a solid understanding of mathematics your never going to make it to the Olympics :)

    with all that being said, if your willing to put the work in you've got as good a chance as anyone, so go for it and good luck with it!
  5. Oct 11, 2012 #4
    The parts that I boldfaced seem to contradict one another. One works hard to do well. If that level of work isn't successful then one works harder. It's as simple as that. Not every successful maths major is going to be a gifted mathematician, so you shouldn't let not being one discourage you. You have obviously proven you can do maths, so now all you have to do is prioritize and apply yourself. If you're easily distracted, maybe you should consider a field to which you are more devoted.

    To what extent can you not control these distractions? Is there really no way out? Do you rely on them for income?
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2012
  6. Oct 12, 2012 #5
    I'm going to ask a direct question; you are free to answer or not as you see fit.

    Were you not able to do well in math when you were younger because you couldn't seem to really focus on it, no matter what you tried?

    The reason I'm asking this is because I went through the very same thing when I was younger. I'd always felt drawn towards math, but I couldn't make myself focus on it long enough to let the concepts sink in to the point it became intuitive. Patterns in verbal communication (writing and speaking) were very intuitive to me, so I was an advanced reader through public school. Sometimes the talent hides.

    On another note, I'm just going to have to point out that you need to go to class, if for no other reason than you probably pick up something you didn't know before or see another way of looking at things. If you know the material good enough, you don't have to hang on to every word your prof utters. You can just 'keep your ear to the ground', as it were.

    I'm telling you, I speak from experience on both accounts. Take it as you will.

    Best regards,

  7. Oct 12, 2012 #6
    I would reconsider how important your extracurriculars are if you want to be a math major, and do well in it. That seems to be your main problem. You say you're WILLING to put the work in, which implies that you're not putting any in. There are few people on this planet who can get through a math major without actually working.

    I think your past success has made you... I don't want to say lazy, but something similar. I got my AA with honors, working full time and hardly studying. Now at university, I'm not doing well because I'm used to putting in a certain amount of hours, studying the way I used to, and seeing As. I think you need to re-think two things: how you study, and what you do with your "free" time. When you say you're re-thinking your math major to do computer science instead, it sounds like you're just giving up because you're used to everything coming easily. But when you get into 300-400 level courses in just about any discipline, it's not going to be a walk in the park.

    So... my opinion? Stick with the math major, but actually do the homework, and make sure you devote enough time to studying. This means probably cutting out some clubs or sports or whatever you're doing on the side. Or do as micromass said and cut some classes each semester, but that would stretch out your degree (and probably budget). I think you can do it and are just bummed about an F. Get your confidence back by getting an A on your next math test. :)
  8. Oct 18, 2012 #7
    Oops, I think you all have misunderstood me.
    I am not lazy, however, my college career has been sadly abbreviated several times by postviral/chronic fatigue syndrome. I don't go to class because I don't care, but rather because I can't get out of bed.

    I have a hard time gauging my ability because I'm stupid one semester and smart the next. I do my work sometimes and sometimes I can't do my work. Pretty much, I can't tell whether I suck or don't suck. I was looking for some honest, objective, third-party feedback which you have provided, so thank you.

    Please don't call me lazy. It hurts my feelings. :(
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