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Is doing a maths degree harder than other degrees?

  1. Dec 27, 2013 #1
    For Cambridge, where you need perfect A levels to get in to any subject (except you do extra tests to get in to maths), I've read that if you do badly at maths, they make you switch to physics or CS.

    Obviously most of the pure autists pick maths, and the fact that an autist picks physics instead of maths doesn't make him dumber. But does doing maths give you such intellectual anal devastation that other subjects become easier by comparison?

    Also, on an unrelated note, I read that there was this guy from Pakistan who got something ridiculous like 20 something A levels, went to cambridge to do CS, and then switched to politics after getting a 2.2 in his first year.

    Also should I feel intellectually inferior to people who do maths (I do chemeng)? What about if they do applied maths and it's a few years after uni? Did they learn random **** that they won't care about after exams, or did they learn the secrets of the universe?

    I mean there's a lecturer in my uni (mid tier) that did maths at oxford (got a first), got a maths phd somewhere else, and is doing engineering here. I just look at my own curriculum and think wtf can I do that he can't? What's the point of this chemeng ****?

    In the end everything boils down to problem solving and stamp collecting, and it sure as hell would have been better to build the tools (maths degree) rather than collect the stamps.
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  3. Dec 27, 2013 #2
    No, you're not intellectually inferior to people doing math. And even if you are, so what?

    Chemical engineers won't discover the secrets of the universe, that's not what they're trained for. They're trained to be good chemical engineers. A mathematician is trained to become fluent in mathematical structures. Those are two completely different things.

    Now, if you feel like you would be happier studying mathematical structures, then you might consider switching to mathematics. But you should not switch because you think somehow that math students are smarter than all the rest (they're not).
  4. Dec 27, 2013 #3


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    I know plenty of people who would die for our uni to have a chemical engineering program. And you're doing chemical engineering at a top university. Unless you feel a strong urge to do number theory and abstract algebra then maybe consider yourself lucky?
  5. Dec 27, 2013 #4


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    Your argument is based on silliness.

    This is stupid, so you're saying all autistic children are vastly intelligent or that you need to be autistic to do math? That would be wrong considering autism is a developmental and mental disorder. If you're thinking about "high functioning autism" or whatever they call it now- the most self-diagnosed form of autism by any kid that’s shy- then you're still wrong.

    Why should you? There isn't a single degree in all of education where you can say you "learnt the secrets of the universe." Not even physics.

    You don't think for one minute that he had to go through learning some of the same stuff you're learning right now to get that job? No, I guess it's simpler to assume that a math PhD prepared him with all the requisite knowledge to do engineering.

    No, no it doesn't. That is the most asinine quote I've ever heard—and it’s repeated so often. You should study what you have a passion for; each field serves a uniquely important purpose.
  6. Dec 27, 2013 #5
    It all depends in the culture of the country in which you live in.
    Here mathematicians aren't that respected, because they don't have "applied" jobs, you would be much more prestigious as an engineer etc. :P
    Butt it's probably true for any country, that the major with the most cash has the most prestige...
  7. Dec 28, 2013 #6


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  8. Dec 28, 2013 #7


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    or maybe no.
  9. Dec 29, 2013 #8
    I think your views have been too much influenced by popular culture and media. The depiction that you are a genius if you do heavy pure math, or physics, and that the fellows in such fields are somehow "born special", can do all problems thrown to them, even those that are practically outside their fields.

    While history knows several people who can seemingly do everything, the "polymaths", I don't think achievement like that is still feasible or relevant in modern day.
  10. Dec 29, 2013 #9
    I think this is a culture thing in mathematics as well.

    The math majors at my school take every opportunity to tell the physics and engineering majors how much they don't actually understand what they're doing because they haven't done abstract algebra, functional analysis, topology, differential geometry and so on.
  11. Jan 7, 2014 #10
    Yeah I think the show "Big Bang Theory" and Academia in general have a jaded notion of what Engineers actually do. Most all of my Engineering professors had no "real world" experience they all got their doctorates shortly after their MS and Masters shortly after their BS.

    I don't know about Physics as a profession in relation with academia, but your Engineering professor should not be "the be all end all" in advising career development.

    There is also very big disconnect in academia vs private industry. This is why you see so much misinformation on this board regarding physics in relation with engineering. No, your BS/MS in Physics or BS/MS in Math won't land you a decent engineering job. You may land a terminal "Technician type Engineer" role like "Process Engineer" but not "Product Engineer" or "Design Engineer" Yes, I'm aware of exceptions. but there are exceptions for degrees like Chemistry or Biology.

    You are not special. Employers don't look at BS/MS in Physics or Math and say "Oh My god Sheldon Cooper"
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2014
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