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Ive had some revelations about maths in the last couple years.

  1. Oct 6, 2012 #1
    About three years ago or so, I came to this site complaining that for the life of me, I couldn't pass calculus 1. I just couldn't grasp it. I thought I was bad at math, couldn't do it, and was destined for something far less. Fast forward to now and I am about to graduate with a double major in mathematics and economics (with a specialization in econometrics), and boy did I learn a lot.

    First thing I learned was that I wasn't actually bad at math; it turns out I was actually one of those guys who "gets" math; I was just a lazy piece of crap. I was always one of those people who would go to a lecture, understand everything, then never do a practice question. Obviously this is ridiculous and a recipe to fail. What I would later learn is that a great majority of my classmates would leave the same classes having no clue what the professor just said, but they would go home, grind out the questions for hours and pull an A while I managed to scoot by with a pitty D. Idiotic. I think of the money I wasted failing functions, failing calculus... just head shaking.

    Secondly I noticed something strange about the pure vs applied route. I was ALWAYS interested in the applied route. I loved things like all the levels of applied linear algebra, financial mathematics, probability and statistic applications, time series, combinatory stuff... but I always struggled in it. It was tough for me. This is ironic because I remember taking my 2000 level math courses, looking at my schedule in the fall when I had ODEs, PDEs, applied algebra 2, and my econometrics courses and just DREDDED when I looked at the winter semester... Real analysis, number theory, discrete, algebraic structures. Time came for me to actually take the courses and I didn't get a single mark under a B+, and I had no trouble with any of it... considering the fact that the semester before I got a C in ODEs... I definitely learned a lot about my brain after that point.

    There isn't much point to this thread except that I was curious as to whether anyone else made similar discoveries to this, and I just wanted to say that taking mathematics was the greatest thing I have ever done in terms of "self discovery", and managing to obtain a degree in it is the most satisfying thing I have ever done, and I envy all those struggling freshman college kids going to do it right now.

    Soon I'll be starting my MSc, and i'm hoping to continue the journey!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 6, 2012 #2
    I haven't really made any revelations about anything. What I have learned about myself is that whenever I think I'm interested in something, I am usually interested in something else. I have been chasing my interests for the last 5 years, and I think I've cought up with them.

    I discovered my interest for mathematics during the first year of sixth form, when I was 16. Since then I phased into theoretical physics and then to chemistry. I ended up starting university as a chemistry student, but I quickly realized that I really wanted to do physics and switched to the physics department after one semester. One year later (spring 2012) I took a course in differential topology, and it was the most fun course I had taken to date. It made me settle for a double degree in physics and mathematics, which is where I am now, and I have roughly 6 months to decide whether I want to do mathematics or physics for my MSc. I am currently thinking about mathematical physics, but the point is that I have come full circle and am finally back where I started 5 years ago. I guess what I found is that I will always come back to mathematics, but I need some physics for context, or a change of pace.
  4. Oct 6, 2012 #3


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    This is quite a motivating thread! I would like to offer my congratulations and wish you the best of luck in your masters.
  5. Feb 20, 2013 #4
    I have had a similar experience. In high school I had no idea what I wanted to do, no direction. I never applied myself to my education and generally rejected the system. I spent my time on computers which has paid off in some ways, but I earned poor grades. The highest math I took in high school was 'Algebra 2'. After graduating (I did graduate! :) I went to a 9 month technical school for 'Automotive Technology', basically, "how to be a mechanic"....

    I loved working on older cars growing up, and it seemed like a program I would enjoy, also, it got my parents off my back saying I needed to go to a University... After that program I spent about seven or eight years working in the automotive and powersports fields, I had a good career established.

    Then my wife got accepted to medical school and we moved. I took that opportunity to set my career aside and begin a proper education. My brother-in-law (a mech. engineer) had nudged me off and on, always letting me know how awesome engineering is. He said that my background, growing up working with tools, my experience from my career, etc., would be a fine foundation to build on.

    So, we moved to a new city, and I enrolled in a Mechanical Engineering program. I had been out of school at the time for about eight years. I was starting at the very beginning. In fact, "Beginning and Intermediate Algebra"...

    It's taken me a while to adjust to this environment, but now, I absolutely love it. I'm in the second semester of Calculus, I've taken some pretty challenging classes so far and can't wait for whats to come. It's an entirely different situation now that I value my education.
  6. Feb 21, 2013 #5
    I've had almost the same revelation. Be prepared, this will be a bit long.

    I spent most of grade school thinking I wasn't good at math. But after taking physics my junior year of high school, I wanted to do physics. But I went to university in the fall of 2000 as a music business major. But I kept being drawn to the physics building, looking at their images of the galaxies and other space objects with awe. I elected to take a physics class that I didn't need to take.

    Fast-forward to about a year later, I had to withdraw from school because I began to have panic attacks and severe depression. I spent the time between my withdrawal and my entrance to a school closer to home reading The Elegant Universe and Stephen Hawking's Universe. I decided that, even though I wasn't great at math, I would work as hard as I would need to to become successful at physics. So I changed my major to physics.

    Well, for the next few years, my grades weren't...stellar. I did get A's and B's in physics, but also D's and F's. There were many aspects to my problem- severe depression, severe hearing loss, but laziness was also a component. So, even though I entered university in 2000 and declared a physics major in 2002, I still have no degree.

    Then I ran out of money to even afford gas to get to school (which is an hour away from where I now live), and am now at home. About a year and a half ago, I also went fully deaf. I decided to spend the time studying what I missed during all those years of taking physics classes. I also decided to start working on my mathematical skills more. I had no idea how beautiful math could be. I've gotten better and better at it actually practicing problem solving and studying hard. I've discovered pure math and have never seen anything so beautiful.

    I won't lie- math has a hold on me that nothing else ever has. Here's the thing- I'm 30 now, and am irritated that it's taken me THIS long to find something that I'm completely in love with- math. But better late than never, though, right? My GPA is low, so the possibility of getting into grad school to do a PhD in math is very low, but I'll find someone way to do what I love. Staying at home has also allowed me to work on my emotional health. I am much happier now than I've ever been.

    I don't know the moral of this story. I guess math = awesome, everything happens for a reason, and me, too to the original post.
  7. Feb 21, 2013 #6
    Very nice stories from everybody! The problem with this forum is a bit that everybody comes here in utter desperation and ask us for advice. But few people actually come back years later to tell us what has become of them and what the solution to their problem actually was.

    Threads like this are very good for the panicking students. They get to read the experience from a student who has been through it all and they get to see what their solution was.

    Please keep the stories coming!
  8. Feb 21, 2013 #7


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    This is a great story. Good for you Zill1!

    I think we all eventually hit a wall where we realize we have growing up to do and need to change our behavior for the better. I know I have. With some people, the growing up is in the personal sphere, with others it's in the professional/academic areas of life. This is a normal part of progressing in life I think.

    Good luck in the future!
  9. Feb 21, 2013 #8
    I whined on physics forums when my freshman year went super south (B's and C's in math and physics courses) because I took too many hard ones (Courses like general topology).

    I got straight A's last semester and seem to be doing fine now!

    A comment regarding mathematical talent: Most of it is just hard work. The main difference in fluid intelligence between individuals appears to be working memory, and depending upon your work habits in mathematics and physics, I suspect both subjects can improve your working memory. Probably there are genetic differences in working memory but I imagine they are so slight that most people can be perfectly competent mathematicians or physicists, much in the same way that most people can be perfectly competent basketball players even when only a small percentage of the population is tall enough for the NBA.
  10. Feb 22, 2013 #9
    Actually, I would like to hear your story, micromass. Reading your blog and some of your posts I must say I'm impressed that you're still in high school. You have incredible command of math for being that young.
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