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Becoming an Expert in Math

  1. Mar 18, 2015 #1

    I apologize if this post is in the wrong area!

    How does one become an expert in Math? The only experts I know personally in math are either professors or this tutor that studied math in Vietnam and the math classes she is taking are basically review for her.

    I would consider someone an "expert" on a particular math concept if they: know where this concept comes from - be it a fundamental property/concept or built from a former property/concept; knows how to derive this concept and show it visually/graphically, if possible (there are other ways to show a concept but if you can show it visually it suggests, IMO, that you just don't have a formula memorized!); and lastly, how a concept connects to other concepts (in other words, they should be able to connect the dots from an advanced concept all the way back to a fundamental property/concept).

    *Of course, connecting the dots to other concepts is limited by whatever level of math a person has reached. That's why the professors have the high level view of things. I feel the education curriculum (USA), at least in my experience, is extremely inefficient. But I digress...

    I am fed formulas and concepts and told to memorize them. This drives me crazy and I know it's not the only way to learn. I am in calculus 1 now and just finished up a pre-algebra - algebra 2 self-study review. I used many different resources and I have a much stronger understanding/appreciation of this material.

    It seems I am doomed to re-learn every math class that I pass. As a side note, I earn As in these math classes, but getting an A and having a strong grasp of the knowledge can be two different things. This is evident with many of the student tutors at my college. They can show you the formula and then it comes down to plug-and-chug.

    What are your thoughts/experiences? If you're a math expert, what advice would you give to someone striving to be one as well?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 18, 2015 #2
    Work a lot of problems, and then, after that, .... work a lot more. Ask yourself all the questions about where this came from, why, etc? and then dig out the answers for yourself.
  4. Apr 1, 2015 #3
    Thank you for your response.
  5. Apr 2, 2015 #4
    I have had similar experiences with you in my high school / early college times. I think the most important thing that schools can teach you is how to teach yourself. I know it might sound strange, but classes/lectures only have so much time (few hours a week for a few months) to teach you a subject that you could learn over a whole lifetime. Essentially, classes introduce you the material but it is really up to you to look into it and understand it for yourself. If classes had time to walk you through all the concepts and steps, the class would take years.
  6. Apr 2, 2015 #5


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    You will see a transformation when you hit proof based courses. They are much more difficult then plug and chug and you WILL learn the intricacies of math in proof based courses. Now, if you succeed at these courses and put everything together you will have what it takes to reach your goals!

    I say this as someone in a similar situation, aspiring to understand math on a very high level, I've A'd all of my math courses and have had to repeatedly go back to the subjects to relearn and learn more about them, but when I hit my first proof course a lot of it started to connect to me on a deeper level.
  7. Apr 2, 2015 #6
    Mathematics is a tool which can't really be mastered independently of its applications; I would say that even though I did well in calculus, linear algebra, mathematical physics and so on I did not master any of these subjects until I really applied them for a considerable period of time, especially in research. The algorithms I know best are those I've worked with for several years now.

    EDIT: To add to this, as you work with implementing a new algorithm or use a particular technique, you find increasingly that your need to understand the motivation behind it increases. I effectively "learned" all of the background on kinetic Monte Carlo techniques and Markov processes, and could repeat the various connections and the reasons for their existence, but I did not truly understand them until I was building Markov models of my own and needed to delve deeper.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2015
  8. Apr 2, 2015 #7


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    People are different. For some, what you say is true; for others, applications are just a distraction and the mathematics is mastered only in isolated purity. Your way is not the only way.
  9. Apr 3, 2015 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    starrynight108 got the answer. You become an expert by studying, understanding, and applying what you learn. There are no shortcuts to diligent study and hard work.
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