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Math major supplies?

  1. Jul 16, 2013 #1
    Hello, I am a prospective mathematics major and I have a couple of questions. 1) Will I most likely use math software like Matlab or Mathematica in my studies? 2) What supplies would a mathematics major need (any recommendations on a calculator, etc.)? 3) I am looking into buying a new laptop for college and I was wondering what would be the best for a mathematics student with a $400-$500 budget? All responses will be greatly appreciated!
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  3. Jul 16, 2013 #2
    If you have selected one or two schools then you might very politely ask one or two of the professors at each of those schools. You might ask professors who teach the branch of mathematics that you are interested in.

    Some branches of mathematics are more applied and might use more software tools to do calculations than others, but a substantial part of becoming a math major is making the leap from doing rote calculations based on rules you have been taught to doing more abstract mathematics and learning how to understand and write proofs.

    Even if you are going in the direction of applied math, making the transition to abstract math will be the essential step you will need to master. Software and laptops will not help you make that step and they might even be a distraction that can keep you from spending the needed time and energy on learning how to think like a mathematician.

    I once hoped there might be a software tool that could provide immediate specific feedback to help math students make the transition from solving simple algebra problems to the initially much more uncertain problems in abstract mathematics and master the writing of proofs, but I have not seen anything that can do that yet. And I think some in the math community would oppose any such tools.
  4. Jul 17, 2013 #3


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    I would get consider getting a netbook, 1.2GHz or something like that. The reason is you want it for access to the internet but not for games or anything distracting. Something that slow would struggle to play flash games which is the point. It's so easy to say "I'll take a five minute break", you end up goofing off for an hour watching some rubbish on Youtube or playing "shoot the snowman" or whatever.

    A computer is useful to show you what a function looks like, and for researching topics online. Looking up alternative proofs, things like that. It has a use but can be terribly distracting.

    Something like this would work. Caveat: if you decide to get a laptop/netbook, confirm it'll run the software you need.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2013
  5. Jul 17, 2013 #4


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    ti89 platinum calculator and a good laptop. I use an acer aspire 5517 and it works just fine.
  6. Jul 17, 2013 #5


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    Both Matlab and Mathematica will always be handy. The student version of Mathematica is only $139. I believe it has all the same features as the standard version, so that's a great deal. The student version of Matlab is $99, but if I recall correctly it imposes some limits compared with the full version. There's also Octave, a freeware alternative to Matlab. Your university will probably give you access to this software as well, but probably only on their computers, not yours.

    Aside from that, a bunch of pencils, erasers, and paper should be all you need. Consider putting aside part of your budget to buy supplementary books instead of fancy equipment.

    Oh yeah, and you will probably want a TeX implementation. Assuming you get a Windows laptop or PC, I think MikTeX is still the standard choice. It's free: http://miktex.org/ It might be handy to have your own printer too, to avoid being dependent on the ones provided by the university.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2013
  7. Jul 17, 2013 #6
    1.) No, unless you take a math programming class or do research.
    2.) Pencil, Paper and an eraser.
    3.) doesn't matter you wont be using it for math, except for wolfram or maybe Latex.
  8. Jul 17, 2013 #7


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    I donno about your university, but the one im at. our homework is online and if you didn't have a computer you would be forced to use the library on campus
  9. Jul 18, 2013 #8


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    1) Although the software you mention might not be required, it is certainly helpful in computational courses like DiffEq where things can get really messy and algebraic mistakes are easy to make. You can use such software to check your answers when doing homework.

    2) I would not spend money on a calculator. It probably won't be allowed on any of your exams, and you should learn to do the mathematics without one anyways. Wolfram Alpha can be used in place of an expensive calculator when it is necessary or helpful to check your work.

    That said, most of your upper-division courses will be proof-based; something with which a calculator cannot help you. Therefore, all you will need is your brain, lots of paper, and a pencil with a good eraser. :smile:

    3) Any laptop within your budget will be fine.
  10. Jul 18, 2013 #9
    If you're an applied math major you'll most likely use matlab or Mathematica. At my university the calculus sequence had a lab attached where you had to use maple to solve practical problems, for example one of the projects was to build a gauntlet with certain specifications that could hold a certain amount of liquid. You had to use piece wise functions, and integrals, etc to do it. My linear algebra class had a lab in which we used matlab to do practical things and learned to create matlab scripts. You'll want a decent calculator because even though you can't use it on exams in lower level classes like calculus 1-3, it's indispensable for checking your work and it'll really be useful once you start a career if you do anything with applied mathematics involved. I recommend the TI-89 Titanium. For a laptop, you're going to want something that will hold up and I highly recommend saving an extra $400 for a MacBook Air. It's sufficiently powerful, lightweight and durable. It also lets you run windows and OS X. I went through 3 pcs before I got my MacBook Pro and its been working and performing the way it did when I got it 09. Pcs in that price range tend to be cheaply built and have a lot of little pieces that break off like the lid hinge, customer support is also terrible.
  11. Jul 18, 2013 #10
    As others have said, I wouldn't want a calculator. You probably wont be able to use it, and wolframalpha will be sufficient usually. As for programming, if you have the $100 to spare, MatLab is nice. If money is tighter, you can go with Python (free!), which is nice to learn and can do a lot. For computers, I've heard a lot of good things about the new Google laptop, but have no experience with it. As for other supplies, I like a legal pad for scratch work.
  12. Jul 18, 2013 #11
    It completely depends what your focus will be on in your degree. I did a 4 year bachelors honors pure math degree and it is safe to say I never once used a calculator... nor should I have. That is not something I'd go out of your way to buy. You may use tools like mathematica or maple or matlab etc but these may also be offered on your school computers or you may even be given access. I wouldn;t suggest running into purchasing it unless you are just genuinely interested in the programming aspect and it's power (which is quite fascinating!). More than anything you will just buy books! I have developed quite the little mathematics library.

    Besides that, I used the same laptop from the end of high school throughout university. But the quality of computer really depends on what you intend to use it for. If you will be running several programs, like Maple, matlab etc. maybe you should look for something a little bit above low end.

    Go into college/university with the necessities (paper, clipboard, pencils) and if any additional resources are needed you can ask your professors or find out through the appropriate department. That worked very well for me.
  13. Jul 18, 2013 #12
    I really don't think you should be stressing out about programs yet... unless you are just genuinely interested in fooling around with them on your own. Although a lot of the advice given in regards to this is very good and well advised... it could be a little premature. Chances are if you use these programs it won't be for the first year or two (This really depends on how specialized your program is), and there's always the chance you decide on another path ( I did this several times before being exposed to the beauty of mathematics). And please please please... don't go out an buy an expensive calculator that you probably wont use (unless you are in incredibly applied classes- at which point you will probably use the appropriate programs instead).
  14. Jul 18, 2013 #13


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