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How to Succeed in Math

  1. Apr 2, 2012 #1
    Hello all,

    I am a freshman Evolutionary Biology and East Asian Studies double major at a prestigious university in the US. Although I love school and have done fairly well in most of my classes, I find myself really struggling with math. My first quarter of calculus, I ended up with a D and last quarter I retook the class with a different teacher and got a C+. My goal has always been to get a PhD in Either Biology or History and I am concerned that my sub-par math grades will haunt my grad-school applications.

    This quarter I am taking the next calculus class in the series (2/3). I am planning on finding a tutor, forming a study group etc, but I have done this for the last two quarters and I obviously have not done too great. What do all of you do to learn math, especially when you do not find it to be interesting?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2012 #2
    I'm only a Math minor (CS major) but the key to lower mathematics like single variable Calculus is just practice. Honestly, the professor can't throw anything too crazy at you, most problems would be from the book.

    I can't think of one Calc I/II problem that can't be plug and chugged into some function/lemma/corallary. You're a Bio major right, shouldn't you be good at memorizing stuff? haha
  4. Apr 2, 2012 #3
    Memorizing those things is certainly not a good solution.

    I know you don't find this interesting, but you'll have to put in some time anyway. Here are some suggestions:

    - Go to Khan academy and look at the calculus videos
    - Get a good tutor
    - Use this site to ask questions
    - Solve many exercises (ask here if you don't get it).
  5. Apr 2, 2012 #4
    Thanks for all of the advice, I will take it to heart. One more question though, what about math do all of you find interesting? I, unfortunately, find it to be dry and feel as if only a samll amount of the things I learn in math actually will apply to my studies/career. How can I look at it in a new light and respark my interest?
  6. Apr 2, 2012 #5
    Practice, practice, practice. My problem in calculus was that I was too lazy to do problems that were suggested rather than assigned, and so when exam time came around I was always unprepared. You need to be able not just to understand how to solve a problem but to remember how when the book's not in front of you.
  7. Apr 2, 2012 #6
    I felt almost that same way before as well. Just a year ago when I was in High school, all of the Math I saw seemed so dry and dull. It was all "memorize this, plug this into this, [insert step three here], etc,..." I hated it. But then I started studying what I call the "real" math. The "kind" of Math that is proof based. The theoretical side of Math, and I love it. I guess what I like most about it is that fact that studying it sorta puts you in a journey of discovery. People start thinking about all these abstract objects and ideas, and the way in which you thought of them have extremely unexpected consequences, and your job is to discover and prove these consequences. Now I AM just starting this to see this new side of Math, so I've only really encountered a minute part of it. But yeah, that's what I like about Math.
  8. Apr 2, 2012 #7
    You know biology is becoming progressively more quantitative in addition to the years of statistics used in bio? Sure, your particular research may not be very mathematical but if you want to be a great biologist and have an appreciation for what is happening in your field you need to understand math so that you may understand very well thermodynamics, reaction kinetics, etc, etc. For example, one of the most effective cancer treatments developed for late stage metastatic melanoma was developed by a physical chemist at caltech considering cancer cell thermodynamics. There's also tremendous research being done in the field of biophysics - heavily involving math under the guise of statistical mechanics. I would imagine you would want to understand this research as a biologist even if you won't be researching it yourself.

    Further, what you should really get out of calculus for applied work, in my opinion, is not so much, say, how to take derivatives (though you should know how of course) but what does the derivative mean physically? What is the interpretation of a derivative, of a derivative being zero, etc, etc.

    I find math fun because 1) I like problem solving 2) it's incredibly useful for everything.
  9. Apr 3, 2012 #8
    It's like solving a puzzle, and it concisely describes the world around us at the same time. It's pretty awesome, even if it can get frustrating and difficult.
  10. Apr 4, 2012 #9
    I know a professor in the mathematics department at my school has done research on the spread of cancer cells using game theory. Interesting stuff.
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