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I love math but I'm not that smart. I don't know what to do

  1. Jan 19, 2007 #1
    I'm sort of in a bad dilemma right now and need some advice. I'm a CS major and I've slowly grown to like math more and more and coding and the usual CS stuff less and less. In short, math has become my new passion and I'm thinking of changing my major even though I'm 2.5 years into my CS degree (and I do like CS).

    Here's my problem: I love math, but I'm not good at it. I like math so much now. I think about it and do it all the time; I'm totally fascinated by it! I LOVE IT!! But I just don't feel I was born a math person. What I mean is I'm just not that smart. I can do the exercises in my math books but that's only because we're given the general form of the solutions in the chapter introductions, you know what I mean?

    I'm sure I'm smart enough to get a math degree if I went for it, but I'm worried that if I were to try and get a job I wouldn't be able to because as I said earlier I'm just not that smart. I really don't want to live with financial instability for the rest of my life and I don't want to be broke all the time. There are so many careers out there for CS grads, and I'm good at CS...but I like math so much more now.

    I know it's important to follow your passions and do what you love, but what should I do? Is there anyone here that's been in a situation like mine?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 19, 2007 #2
    Maybe think about double-majoring? It might take an additional year, but that really isn't a big deal. Besides, I think the combination of the two majors would look great on either a resume or a grad school application.
  4. Jan 19, 2007 #3
    I use to have the same dilemma as you but followed by passion and dream and switched out of commerce. The worst case senario is for you and I to end up with a permanant tutoring job in a Uni. The pay isn't big but should sustain you for basic living. And a true mathematician shouldn't go for the money any way and shouldn't have the time to spend money because they should be too engrossed in their work. But I believe if you love it enough, you will spend lots of time on it which means you will become good at it eventually.
  5. Jan 19, 2007 #4
    If you like it, do it. And maybe you will come smarter at it or something. Don't smoke dope would help.
  6. Jan 19, 2007 #5


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    Bah! How do you know you're not smart??

    Get out there and do what you love!
  7. Jan 19, 2007 #6


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    Alright, I guess I'm the one who has to burst the bubble. If you aren't smart, then don't go in math. You'll waste everyone's time. If you think you're not smart, then you probably aren't smart. Again, don't waste anyone's time. Dumb people are just dumb.

    So, how much of that did you think was real? HAHA! None of it. Yeah, you sound like you got whatever it takes to join the math world. Math is my passion too, so I know for a fact that you will have a blast if you love it too.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2007
  8. Jan 19, 2007 #7
    Go talk to a maths advisor and explain your situation. Ask your maths professors if they think you would make a good math major.

    Also, if you feel you aren't "smart" enough to really understand math, then you should devote more time to developing an understanding of it. If you can't figure out how to construct this on your own, go talk with some math teachers, as I am sure they can help structure your studying.
  9. Jan 19, 2007 #8
    how can you know for sure you're not good at math? I'm pretty sure that you can complete the math major program successfully as long as you work really hard even if you don't have a really high IQ. What's the highest level math you've taken?
  10. Jan 19, 2007 #9
    I am still not satisfied with the definition of IQ. I have yet to see any real empirical evidence of it's significance. Especially if you consider the cognitivist approach to intelligence, which has more empirical evidence.

    As far as I can tell, the IQ is at best, an indicator of how well you will do in a North American school setting (assuming you take a North American IQ test).

    What one person considers an 'aspect of intelligence' another might not consider. For instance, knowing differential geometry isn't going to help you survive any better in the jungles of the amazon -- instead, you will need survival intelligence. So in this case, having a 'high iq' would make you pretty much a useless idiot.

    I hate the phrase 'intelligence quotient'.
  11. Jan 19, 2007 #10


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    Don't look for external validation. You don't need a professor or an IQ test or forum members to give you permission. (More importantly, you don't any of need them putting you off).

    If you really enjoy it, your "smarts" will take care of itself.
  12. Jan 19, 2007 #11
    I don't consider myself smart, and I am nearly done with all of my math classes for my math major. In my opinion the only thing you need to have is a good work ethic. I like the idea that someone already suggested of doing a double major.
  13. Jan 19, 2007 #12
    Are you confident enough to know that you could get a profession that will involve math and leave you happy in the career? If not, you might be happier in a career in CS, and just do math as a hobby.
  14. Jan 19, 2007 #13
    Look at it this way: if you don't pursue a degree in Math, you are always going to look back and regret it and wonder what would of happened if you would of chosen that path instead
  15. Jan 20, 2007 #14
    If I were you I would double major. Math is fun, and if you like it that is great. But if you are also worried about having a good job in the future, then I would say don't drop the CS major. But if you like math, then deffinetely go for both. As long as you or your family can afford the extra time it takes for you to go to school to do it, then why not. I'm still in school though, so I really don't know what I am talking about though.
  16. Jan 20, 2007 #15
    I kind of had the same situation, except I've got real proof I wasn't a "math person." I was a major in philosophy, planning to go to law school, and then decided to add math as a concentration.

    The trouble was when I added math as a major, I was about a year and half removed from my last math course multivariable calc, tried to take linear algebra, and failed miserably. Every academic advisor I talked to advised against continuing, but I still managed. Some of that was because math was hyped up to be tougher than in should be. I received better advice from the math profs, and decided to continue.

    In all honesty, getting "smart" at math involved putting in a lot more study time at the library, and just having a little confidence that I could be good at it. Eventually, I pulled my GPA out of the toilet, getting B's and A's in the concentration courses. The world didn't end even though I tried and failed the first time.

    If you like math, you ought to try and add it as a concentration. Just watch out for some of the pure math courses. If you haven't had a course in symbolic logic yet, take one. It'll help.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2007
  17. Jan 20, 2007 #16
    It sounds like you didn't respond well to drills-based calculus and algebra courses. I am sad when people are discouraged from math by these courses, since I do not think they are characteristic of what math is about.

    See my thread "Arithmetic = Math" in the General Math forum.
  18. Jan 20, 2007 #17
    Actually, it was kind of the opposite. At my university, Linear Algebra is the first place you get exposed to the concept of proofs, theorems, and logic. I hadn't seen stuff like proof by induction, linear transformations, or vector spaces before, and couldn't handle the transition to that kind of thinking so well. I eventually got over that wall with a little hard work.

    In response to the OP, you should throw away this idea that there are math people and non-math people. Everyone can do math. It's just that some people might take more time than others to get good at it. If you like math, the only thing that should influence your decision whether or not to add it as a concentration are financial constraints, and time constraints. If you switch without properly weighing all of the economic considerations involved, you might wind up failing a course like I did.

    Aside from that, I've found a lot more people seem interested in you career-wise if you've studied any of the sciences and have a strong math background. It's even better if you can handle the basic concepts of accounting and finance. If you're interested in mathematics, you might also consider focusing a little on the mathematics of finance, probability, linear algebra, Diff Eq, etc. That is, if you're worried about career opportunities. If you're already well-versed in computer science, then you'll have a lot of marketable skills when you start hunting for a career.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2007
  19. Jan 21, 2007 #18
    OK, I was reading the OP's first post and could picture myself saying the exact same thing.:eek: I was a Computer Engineering major for my freshman year and was pretty decent at it, but never excited about getting to code and was never really eager to get more involved then my classes forced me to. Second semester freshman year, I was digging through the university library and came upon some dusty Physics books. I'd taken Advanced Placement Physics in High School but did very poorly and thought that I had given up on Physics, because I just figured I wasn't "smart" enough. It's exactly what you said.

    So all Summer after my freshman year I was studying Physics on my own, whatever I could get my hands on. It gave me chills to know that if I kept it up I would be able to wrap my head around the whole Universe. First semester Sophmore year, I took my first University Physics class. Coincidentally, it was taught by a fantastic and inspirational professor. I knew that Physics was my inspiration and saw myself losing interest in Computer Engineering.

    So, now I was in the same dillema as you. I still thought I would never make it as a Physicist because I wasn't "smart" enough. But I set my mind to it and knew I would never forgive myself if I didn't switch. So I switched and now whenever I see

    Major: Physics

    on my transcript it gives me a real boost, because it reminds me that now I really have the chance to do what I love.

    So how do I deal with the not "smart" situation? Well, my IQ, which is the only intelligence indicator I can think of, is a very average 135ish and I never really saw myself as a math wiz so I was a bit worried at first. However, I resolved that I would do whatever it took to be a successful Physicist, even if it meant working harder and practicing more than others. I still think some people are naturally more intelligent than others, but I think through hard work and dedication, you can still be successful at any level.

    I don't know about Math but I always remember that great Physicists like Ernest Rutherford were quite terrible at Mathematics and were not generally all that brilliant and much of their success came from their power of will.

    So, In conclusion. I switched majors, and I'm very happy with my decision. If you love math, I suggest you do the same. Any initial adversities will just make you a better Mathematician in the end, when you overcome them.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2007
  20. Jan 21, 2007 #19
    Why is there such emphasis put on IQ tests? What empirical evidence is there to suggest that an IQ test is demonstrative proof of whether or not someone qualifies as a 'genius'.

    I seriously doubt IQ tests are capable of determining someone's aptitude for approaching mathematics creatively, or having an intuitive feel for the universe.

    I just think if you want to do something and put enough effort into it, you will be fine and stop worrying about IQ tests.
  21. Jan 21, 2007 #20
    I would guess that after taking lots of math courses that a person's IQ score would go up, since they gain logic skills, which are heavily tested in IQ tests.
  22. Jan 22, 2007 #21
    I'm also in a bit of the same boat. I don't necessarily want a degree, but I want to do theoretical physics, and I need so much math for it. Problem is, I was never able to beat the average. Actually, I had a number of math classes in which I was always the worst student. I study hard, but math just doesn't seem to click with my brain the same way as other people get it... I don't know if I'm crazy to try doing something I'm not naturally good at, or braver.

    I mean, the real question is -- should we pursue a career because it's something we're talented at, and we'll do very well/make meaningful contributions? or, should we pursue the thing we're more passionate about, even though not good at it? I just fear that if I take the latter path, I'll never be good enough to make a meaningful contribution to my field.
  23. Jan 22, 2007 #22


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    And the answer to that is to discover why you are passionate about what you are passionate about.
  24. Jan 22, 2007 #23
    Which can take a whole life time. :-)
  25. Jan 23, 2007 #24
    Thanks for the inciteful comments everyone.

    I'm going to try and stick it out with CS for a little while longer and see how things go, and continue thinking this over. The double major sounds like a great idea, but I don't think it's going to happen. I think it would be cool if I could maybe keep up with CS and minor in math, then later specialize in theoretical CS (which itself is a bunch of math :smile:). Or, because the parts of CS I like are those that involve math, maybe I could major in math and minor in CS? That sounds like fun too and was actually recommended to me by a math professor. That way I could take all the fun math courses and pick and choose which CS courses I take, skipping the boring ones like software engineering.

    I think I may also talk this over with a math professor I know. He might have some advice for me. He knows me pretty well and he's the one that got me interested in math in the first place so seeing him may help me out.

    BTW americanforest, a 135 IQ isn't average at all. It's two standard deviations above it (plus 5). You're a smart guy if that's your real IQ. I would have huge self confidence if that was me.
  26. Jan 23, 2007 #25
    This is in regards to the IQ, so skip over if you are not interested:

    Aside from the fact that I have never seen any empirical evidence which extensively proves the correlation between intelligence (perhaps genius) and the intelligence quotient, I only have one anecdotal experience involving a person with a genius IQ. In high school during wrestling season, I wasn’t allowed to eat during the week (I had to maintain a strict weight for my weight class) so instead of sitting with my usual friends, I would hang out with this dude Eric who was considered a genius. He was our Valedictorian, had either a perfect or near perfect score on his SAT and ended up going to some Ivy League school for pre-med. The dude was taking classes at a local university when he was in 10th grade. I, on the other hand, was ranked in the BOTTOM 10 of my ENTIRE class, and graduated high school with a cumulative GPA of 1.2, so academically, I looked like a retard. However, even with his genius IQ and perfect SATs he had the most difficult time having conversations with me about philosophy. I would discuss Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Hegal and some other pretty abstract but really brilliant philosophers. He had a ridiculous memory (which I am sure had a lot to do with his intelligence) and could recall word for word, what he had read in for instance, Hume’s “Enquiry concerning Human Understanding”, however, could never construct a logical argument in favor of or against anything that he had read philosophically. We would often times, exchange our critiques of a particular philosophy and mine would completely go over his head, while his seemed more-or-less a recounting of what he had read. This kid was a genius and I am an idiot but I was able to consistently think many levels above him when it came to philosophy and he was always baffled by his inability to transcend whatever barrier he had.

    My point is basically that I think people need to stop paying attention to IQ’s and just work hard. Your IQ isn’t going to change much (if it even changes at all), however, your ability to understand and apply information will. While an IQ might represent a person’s ease in learning in a particular academic system, I don’t think it necessarily represents a person’s critical/analytical thinking skills, knowledge, or passion to learn.

    I could be wrong.
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