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Becoming a mathematician - I am so depressed

  1. Sep 15, 2011 #1
    I know this sounds awful. I know this is just a bunch of whining to you guys, but this really upsets. I have almost entered a state of depression, simply due to this issue.

    Im a 17 year old high school student, living in denmark. I live and breathe mathematics! It is my passion, my way of life, and i feel it always will be. It is my greatest hobby, and my dearest pastime. And like luther, i have a dream - i want to obtain a math PhD, and become a mathematician working with mathematical research and teaching at college. I want to become a college professor so hard, that its basically all i care about.

    There is just some complications involved in my dream:

    1. My iq is approx. 135. When i first found out, it was devastating to me. I had done a lot of reading about mathematicians, and to me it seemed like you would have no chance what so ever to be competitive in higher end mathematics, if you are not 150+. I have tried to forget that i am of low intelligence, but i simply can't. Everytime i work with math, i am always reminded reminded that i am not smart enough to accomplish my goal.

    2. Instances have been seen, where low iq ppl (like feynman) are excellent at their field of study. This is just not my case - i have never been a child prodigy, learning calculus at age 12 and so on. I did teach myself calculus at age 16, but that is only 1 year prior to our high school introduction to the subject. It seems that i am of low intelligence, and i do not have a mathematical talent.

    3. People around me keep saying that if someone can complete a math PhD, then it must be me. This is of great annoyance to me! Out of all the 600 pupils on my school, i am the best at mathematics. I teach in the schools "homework help cafe", even the 3. year students despite the fact i've just started 2nd year. My math teacher says i am the most brilliant math student he has encountered in 20 years of teaching A level high school math (the 3 year course).

    I have created proofs on my own for the Taylor series, the arc length formula etc. I can solve differential equations such as y''(x)+xy'(x)+y(x)=0 by series solutions and understanding what i am doing.

    In my head the guy described in the above paragraphs sounds like someone capable of completing a math phd - but the truth is, thats not enough! Why is it that in our subject, mathematics, you have to be an utter genius in order to qualify for a phd program? You can't imagine how discouraged i get, when i read about studying mathematics on the internet. Higher education math seems to be something reserved for the high iq geniuses, and the rest might aswell just apply for another job. Why do you have to be able to complete your bachelor at age 10 in mathematics, but not in other fields? I am no child prodigy. Im just a young guy, with a passionate dream about contributing to the world of mathematics.

    This text turned out to be one big whine i know - but this issue is ruining my life. You guys - who are so unfairly gifted - have no idea what it is like to have a mind that is so determined to contribute to mathematics, but is simply lacking the raw processing power to do so. I would give everything for a drug capable of eradicating my passion. This sounds horrible, but you have no idea how hard it is to want something so much, but knowing you will never be able to achieve it.

    Im sorry, but i had to get this out to someone who understands me. Everyone around me seem to think I'm crazy. If i couldn't complete a math phd, who could? The answer is: The prodigies, the naturals and the people who are born to do maths. I cannot say that i am among equals on this board, but at least i am among people, who understand my deep frustration. Imagine if your mathematical talent was taken away from you, leaving only the deep desire to do and practice math - how would you feel?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 15, 2011 #2
    IQ tests generally measure things like pattern recognition. This isn't the same thing as math ability. There are more intricate tests that may measure other things, but these aren't equivalent to math ability either. They may be correlated with math talent, but once you get beyond a couple standard deviations (which 135 generally is), it's not going to really tell you much. Basically the only thing it MIGHT tell you is that you aren't going to be a math professor if your IQ is below 100.

    The fact that your teacher told you you're the best math student he's seen in 20 (!!!) years tells a lot more. You probably have the talent to be a mathematician if what he says is even remotely true.

    I also don't know where you got the idea that only math prodigies complete math PhDs. Do you really think every math professor was a math prodigy, let alone every PhD?

    Hell, you may be a prodigy yourself based on what your teacher said. Being a prodigy doesn't necessarily mean being good at every piece of math you encounter and teaching yourself calculus at 12.
  4. Sep 15, 2011 #3
    Where are the sites that say that you need to have a high IQ to do a math PhD?? I have never read that... ever.

    There are three things that are important in order to be a good research mathematician:
    Talent: You must be born with a little bit of talent. I won't deny this. But if your high school teacher says that you're good, then this usually is enough.
    Hard work: This is much more important than talent. You must really prepare to work hard and the breath math every single day. This is where many people fail.
    Enjoyment: Enjoy what you do. This is the single most important criterium to decide whether somebody will be succesful in math.

    I don't think you're whining, I had the same doubts as you. But thing is that you just need to try. You'll see how it turns up.

    Here's something that took a long time for me to learn: IQ is just a number. It is meaningless. It means whatever meaning you give to it.

    Oh, and if you're getting depressed about it and if you keep obsessing about it, then you might want to see a councelor. Talking with professional people is a great way to relieve stress. And maybe there's something they can do for you.
  5. Sep 15, 2011 #4
    But every time i read about a mathematician, they always have iqs > 145-150. Even every time i read about the connection between intelligence and mathematics, i just end up in forums with questions such as "What does your iq need to be in order to become a mathematician" with answers such as "Hello, i've completed a math phd and my iq is 145+ ..." It it so god damn discouraging to read, that i could almost kill myself. I have always been a very competitive person, and i might have a tendency to envy people of their abilities :( Everytime i read the biography of mathematicians, even lesser famous ones, they have always been brilliant from an early age. I have never met a mathematician in real life, yet asked him about his iq. From what i've learned from the internet, i would say that i can conclude that you almost have to be a child prodigy in order to obtain a phd in maths, and be even brighter to contribute ..

    I would trade 85 years of life with my slow brain, for just 15 years of life with the brain of this guy: http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/03/26/12-year-old-genius-expands-einsteins-theory-of-relativity/
    How wonderful it must be to be so intelligent - to reach such levels of enlightenment is just fantastic, at age 12! When i was 12, i was simply playing with sticks. I want to do things like that, but this stupid vessel of a body is not capable!

    I have no idea if my math teacher may just have gotten unlucky with his students the past 20 years of his teachings, as it sounds rather unlikely, especially since I'm not very intelligent compared to the average mathematician. But nevertheless, thats what he is saying ^^
  6. Sep 15, 2011 #5
    The mathematical talent on these boards was accomplished through hard work mostly - talent probably played second fiddle to most people here. And being able to teach yourself (and more importantly understand them) aspects of higher order math such as calcuus or differential equations IS talent.
  7. Sep 15, 2011 #6
    Seriously, stop saying that you need >145 IQ to have a PhD in mathematics. It is simply untrue. I work with mathematicians everyday, and I can assure you that there are many which do not have such an IQ. I have never had my IQ measured, but I guess it would be something about 120. And still I can do advanced mathematics.

    You really seem to have a very low self-esteem. Take this advice: see a counciler or therapist. They will help you with it.
  8. Sep 15, 2011 #7
    OK, I gotta ask, what is your source for this stuff claiming you need an IQ of 145+ to get a PhD in math. And why are you not listing the IQ test. You do know every test has a different standard deviation right?
  9. Sep 15, 2011 #8
    To answer micro mass and diracula; I have no direct source, it is just my conclusion from doing research about mathematicians in general. Obviously all the great minds of maths had a high iq - tao and all the other prodigies. But when i search in regular forums, it seems that regular forum users who conduct mathematics also have an iq of 145+ (or at least thats what they state), and this is with standard deviation 15, like my score of 135. This is why it bothers me so much - if it was just one or 2 sources, claiming that you had to have such a high iq to be competitive in math, i could look past it. But it just seems that the more research i do about studying math in general, the more it seems to me that you have to be an utter genius to do something useful in math.

    Just look at the criterias for getting a research position at a university - you have to hold a phd in math. This is according to my impression an accomplishment reserved for the quickest of minds - and on top of that, it is required of you to have published several quality articles, bringing something into math. Lets say i ended up barely getting a phd - how the hell am i suppose to come up with a new publication, contributing to mathematics? I am nowhere near smart enough to figure out something innovative right after college, and to be truly great you have to do this while in college. I just can't see how this can be done by a mediocre person like me? this is why i think my level of intelligence is not enough.

    But yes micro mass, self esteem is a problematic area of mine - i basically have very low self esteem, in pretty much everything ^^
  10. Sep 15, 2011 #9
    False. I have met many mathematicians who were quite slow in their thinking process. But it is perseverance which bring them to the top.

    Don't worry about that now. That are worries for later. Enjoy your mathematics now.

    Seriously, see a psychiatrist. You have a low self-esteem, you sound depressed, you have no self-confidence, you have obsessive thoughts, etc. This will hurt you much more than a lack of IQ (which is not important at all). Go seek professional help, it'll be a huge relief for you. If you don't, then things will only get worse. I'm talking from experience here.
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2012
  11. Sep 15, 2011 #10


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    Seriously, your concern is even sillier than all those 21-year-olds who come here to ask if they're too old to start studying at the university. If you have a 135 IQ and your teachers say you're doing great, then you're smart enough. However, the fact that you're getting depressed about not being perfect when you're actually very good is a serious issue that you really need to work on. If any of your current flaws will be a problem for you in your career and your life, that's the one, not your "low" intelligence. To be honest, you seem quite irrational. You demand things from yourself that only comic book geniuses can pull off, and you don't even see that the "evidence" that suggests that you need to be a genius to even try is very weak.

    That's because those are the stories that people like to read. You have no reason at all to think that the authors didn't carefully select who they wanted to write about, and then exaggerated the stories.

    This is crazy. That guy has a few years head start on you, and is a bit better at doing IQ tests than you were five years ago. But he suffers from Aspberger's, and is delusional enough to think that the big bang theory is something that can be "debunked". You shouldn't envy him at all, unless he's doing Morena Baccarin for extra credit.
  12. Sep 15, 2011 #11


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    I don't understand your issue. If you like mathematics, and claim that your professor praises your skills in it, why are you here condemning yourself? I probably have a very low IQ but I love learning differential geometry/topology regardless because, well, I like it. Simple as that. Micro watches Spongebob 24/7 but he is amazing at math, what does that tell you =D?
  13. Sep 15, 2011 #12
    An autistic man takes the same I.Q test as a non-autistic man. Both men are of equal mathematical ability. Who scores higher on the test? The point I'm making is that I.Q tests are incredibly biased and attempt to set in stone what intelligence is (a number) even though we don't even know what constitutes intelligence. Math is the study of formal patterns, an I.Q tests recognition of formal patterns. So to some extent it measures intelligence i.e why most of the time it can distinguish between the less intelligent and more intelligent in some interval (80-120). I took an I.Q test albeit an online one and my teacher did too whom has a math degree. He got twenty points lower then me yet if we were to talk about math in front of a crowd of people they would surely think he is of greater intelligence. The results are arbitrary ergo the I.Q test can't be trusted to some measure as a test of intelligence and furthermore of mathematical ability.
  14. Sep 15, 2011 #13
    Fredrik and micro mass, i do agree with you that i need to work on my self-esteem. I might even see a therapist about it, since it is slightly inhibiting other factors of my life - it is certainly a great nuisance.

    but the fact is, I'm not very good - thats the point. The stuff that i do is easy. Who cares if i can proof some arc length formula, or the taylor series. Lots of people have come up with proofs like that by themselves, it is not extraordinary. In order to gain success in math, i have to be extraordinary - otherwise, what is the point of trying? I know i really enjoy math. The thought about getting out of bed and working with math all day long for a salary is just amazing to me. But i don't want to be a lousy mathematician.


    It wasn't my professor, it was my high school teacher :) I don't know if it is that much of a compliment that he thinks of my skills as extraordinary, since its high school and not college.
  15. Sep 15, 2011 #14
    You may very well be right - but the issue is, that most high-iq people say this :) I do not know whether is should take it as the truth or just modesty. I really do hope you are right - maybe all is not lost for me.
  16. Sep 15, 2011 #15


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    I think you would be surprised to learn just how ordinary math professors are. They are more like Michael Richards than Reed Richards.
  17. Sep 15, 2011 #16
    If you go into math, then it must only be because of your love for the subject. You must say: screw everything, I love math, so I'm going to go into math.
    You seem to want to go into math because you want prestige and honor. If this is the case, don't go studying math. Looking for succes in math is not the correct mindset to have.
  18. Sep 15, 2011 #17


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    Levis2 - it sounds to me like you're using this IQ thing as an excuse not to pursue your passion.

    You'll run into enough roadblocks in your life. There's no point in creating artificial ones. If math really is your passion, then pursue it until you can't anymore - not because someone tells you that it's not possible, but because you struggle too much with the problems and lose passion for them (if that ever happens at all).
  19. Sep 15, 2011 #18
    Are you aware of how mathematical learning works? It generally starts on primary principles i.e arithmetical operations. Following that, one finds proofs for simple mathematical ideas and learns algebra. The process is continuous and builds upon the principles of the previous steps. There is no apex but a perpetual climb upwards like Penrose's stairs. You cannot leap ahead of these steps because missing them would be a flaw in structure and knowledge. If you're dissatisfied with your proofs the rigour and beauty can only get greater and before you know it, you may be deriving a proof of the Riemann Hypothesis. At this point, it isn't reasonable. Taylor series proofs are impressive and are among the first steps to becoming a mathematician.
  20. Sep 15, 2011 #19


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    have you had any professional psychological help? or have you had some scary stuff happen in your life? it makes no sense to most of us who worry about our actual failings that you, who are having mostly success, are so worried.

    Would you rather have a measured IQ of 185 and still not be able to prove anything, or have a measured IQ of 92 and be solving problems independently. Apparently you prefer the former, and we don't get it.

    depression is a sickness caused i think by a chemical imbalance, it does not have logical reasons. most of us wind up taking pills for ours. and it helps frequently. you might get checked out though.
  21. Sep 15, 2011 #20
    I agree with Mathwonk and micromass, it sounds like you have depression, which is quite common amongst teenagers and high achievers, i suggest you look into getting that sorted before you worry more about a Phd.

    Why do you want a mathematics Phd? Is it to make you feel intelligent? To vindicate a belief in yourself? Or is it because you can't imagine doing anything else? Could you see yourself as a Physicist, Engineer or Economist? If you can't enjoy pure mathematics maybe you should look into some of those careers? If not, and you simply love mathematical beauty, then i am having trouble seeing the problem!
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