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My lost dream of being a mathematician

  1. Jun 21, 2014 #1
    I respect all of you
    I'm a computer programmer from Egypt
    When I finished my high school, I wanted to join the faculty of science math department
    My father refused because he has a private hospital and wanted me to be a doctor
    So I joined the faculty of medicine that I hated more than any thing else, obligated
    It is 6 years
    After the second year, I refused the situation and left their house and got rid of their
    money, deciding to follow my dream, that has superior power over me
    Imagine what happened in Egypt
    The employees refused to give me the permission to change "Your father has to agree"
    "He's your father and knows your life more than you"
    "He's to decide for you"
    It didn't do any thing when I shouted or cried "This is the law"
    Right now, I want to be a mathematician
    What do you think I can do, without a teacher?
    Right now, I finished my computer institute and I'm a programmer
    Thank you very much
    Hatem Al-Naggar
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 21, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

  4. Jun 21, 2014 #3
    Welcome to PF! :smile:
    Its sad to hear what happened with you. Often parents overdo their guidance to put our life in order which results in more disorder. But at least they do it with good intention.

    Unfortunately I don't think it is possible to become a self taught mathematician (specially on higher level) without any institutional guidance. Of course you can get a lot of help from internet and it is certainly possible to learn a lot without direct contact with teachers. But the main problem would be to keep up the motivation. Seriously.
    Also an academic atmosphere is very necessary.

    It would be best if you can convince your parents. But if that's really impossible then perhaps by aiming to be a mathematician (presumably a professional level mathematician) all by yourself, you are choosing a really really hard path.
    It may seem that I am too negative here. Anyway if you really have nothing to loose, and you are so determined, perhaps give it a go!

    You told that you are now a computer programmer. I think people here can give you better suggestions if you mention what your current mathematical background is.

    Last edited: Jun 21, 2014
  5. Jun 21, 2014 #4

    Slightly outdated, but:

    "Green's life story is remarkable in that he was almost entirely self-taught. He received only about one year of formal schooling as a child, between the ages of 8 and 9."
  6. Jun 21, 2014 #5
    Got any recent example?
  7. Jun 21, 2014 #6
    Also, according to that wikipedia cited, he did have institutional guidance even though he accomplished before it.

  8. Jun 21, 2014 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    He's an exceptions, we cannot count on be an exceptions.
    But, OP, I also came from a rigid family, probably not as rigid as yours. My father wanted me to be an engineer because I'm good with math, but I decided to be a physicist despite the low paying jobs and the amount of time I have to dedicate to get a 'real' job. But I talked to him and said that I'll be able to get the job eventually and I will have a good future.
    Your father is probably concern with your future, but you can show him that being a mathematician can give you financial security.

    Talking about being a self thought mathematician is simply impossible, unless your a genius and even they go to college. You must have your undergrad degree to get to grad school to get your PhD and be a proper mathematician.
  9. Jun 21, 2014 #8
    With regards to being a self-taught mathematician, I argue that most of a mathematicians knowledge in their field comes from self-teaching through reading books and, more so, papers. It's really just independence in a way, and it can be done earlier, though it's more difficult.
  10. Jun 21, 2014 #9
    Yes, and almost all of these have done an undergrad and grad in a university and have had research guidance with a established researcher. I do not know any (recent) counterexample to this.
  11. Jun 21, 2014 #10
    With absolutely no offense to OP, though it's possible but certainly not probable and hence not sensible to assume that a future George Green or Friedrich Gauss (who is said to have learned to calculate before he could talk) has made a post here.

    But if it's so, by the way, I guess we all are very lucky. Because this thread will be very famous then!!! :cool:

    (Though as a PF member, I would say if there is or will ever be an online forum from which one George Green can come out, that forum would be Physics Forums :biggrin:)

    OP, the last word is, do what your heart desires. No one is intentionally discouraging you here, but just sharing opinions.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2014
  12. Jun 21, 2014 #11


    Staff: Mentor

  13. Jun 21, 2014 #12
    Alternatively, ask someone with sufficient knowledge to teach you. This has happened before.
  14. Jun 21, 2014 #13
    Ed Witten, while obviously learning a decent bit of mathematics through physics, was not a mathematics major or anything of the like. He probably took something like calculus, differential equations, probability and statistics, differential geometry, linear algebra, a bit of analysis, and a bit of algebra, but that's hardly enough to have the basis for winning the Fields Medal. Sure, there aren't any big time modern mathematicians that I know of who didn't go to college in some field related to mathematics, but I'm sure there are some small-time ones out there, and it should also be noted that you really don't get that much guidance in college. Most of what you learn you have to teach yourself. Sure, you can go in during office hours and the like, but many do not take advantage of this (many don't even ask questions) and instead rely on their own abilities to self-teach after being presented with the necessary material.

    It is, of course, easier to receive some help, but it isn't impossible to be an autodidact with abilities and knowledge comparable to a mathematician.
  15. Jun 21, 2014 #14
    It's possible but just not probable.
    IMHO OP should be encouraged to try for formal education in Mathematics. That's the best way to success both academically and professionally.
    Only if eventually that doesn't happen, then self learning can be an option for someone too inclined.
  16. Jun 21, 2014 #15
    He worked on and earned a PhD in physics studying under an accomplished physicist. He spent years studying and working on mathematical physics in an academic setting before winning that prize.
  17. Jun 21, 2014 #16

    Well yes, but mathematical physics is not mathematics. It is uncommon that a mathematician or chemist wins the Nobel Prize in physics, just as it is uncommon that a physicist wins the Fields Medal. Sure, you can learn a good bit through physics, but he obviously needed to learn a lot of mathematics on his own.

    It wasn't supposed to be a perfect example fitting the description of the autodidactic mathematician.
  18. Jun 21, 2014 #17
    Its an example that even with a non-traditional background a formal education is the way to go if you want to be a professional in a field. Suggesting otherwise to the original poster does him or her a disservice. Ed Witten did have a basis for winning the Fields Medal, a basis he developed in his university education and beyond.
  19. Jun 21, 2014 #18
    I'm not saying one should not try to get a formal education in math, I'm just saying it isn't a requirement to understand modern mathematics or even do research.

    I think it's also important to note than many of the great mathematicians who have a formal education came into classes having already known a lot about the classes they were taking, sometimes even knowing everything about the classes.
  20. Jun 21, 2014 #19
    Saying that is not helpful to the original poster. The chances of becoming a "mathematician", as in getting paid to do mathematics, is very, very slim without a formal education of some sort. You might as well suggest the lottery as a retirement plan.
  21. Jun 21, 2014 #20
    Unfortunately, this post is very true. Nowadays it's very important to have all sorts of documents certifying what you "can" do. As much as it is entirely possible to learn everything about Mathematics that is taught in a University at home, studying at home nets the person with zero number of documents that "prove" the abilities of that person.
  22. Jun 21, 2014 #21

    I haven't personally read through this whole thread (mobile isn't a good platform really), but at least I hope I haven't been taken as suggesting that the OP not get a formal education. It is a tough road to learn mathematics and start research by yourself. Anyone seriously pursuing a career in math should go get at least a Bachelors but probably an MS or PhD preferably (especially for a job in academia or something similar, as a high degree is a requirement even if you're very good at what you do). That might just not be an option for everyone at any given point in time.

    I did it without formal schooling and I know it would have been much smoother if I had some guidance, I'd probably be better at it too, and now I am in a college as an undergraduate and I can take advantage of guidance and the like, but it still stands that I can and have done research and rigorously learned much of modern mathematics independent of that system. Self-teaching just pushed me ahead, and now I can really take advantage of the educational environment surrounding me. I'm not saying it's the best way, even if you ignore the difficulty, but it is a possible and a valid pathway. If you have no other choices, then I think it better to sit down with a textbook and work through it or explore problems you make, etc., than just do nothing.
  23. Jun 21, 2014 #22
    It takes more than pure knowledge to be a useful mathematician too though. You need other complimentary abilities like being able to communicate, debate and interact with others in your field. You cannot duplicate this at home by yourself. Also, even though it may be possible to learn it all at home... Its far easier and quicker to learn it with peers and experts in an academic setting. The inability to take the path of least resistance does not bode well for ones ability to produce as a professional in an organization.
  24. Jun 21, 2014 #23

    Precisely, formal education is very helpful and is necessary to certify you know your stuff (rare exceptions exist, but eventually everyone has to get some kind of certification or something, especially today). However, meaningful learning and research can be done at home.
  25. Jun 21, 2014 #24

    One can develop skills like communication through non-mathematical experiences and the Internet, or am I missing something here? Sure, again, it's tough, but not impossible.
  26. Jun 21, 2014 #25
    Exactly. It is only unfortunate, that in most cases, getting the necessary level of education is a rather expensive endeavor for most people. It's sad that education is actually something that is not accessible easily enough and it forces people like OP to be in a situation like this. Either way, a very very self-determined person has some chance of going forward by working hard even through self studying, however it will also require some networking/personal connections to land on a job or research position. All in all, self-studying is helpful but it alone cannot realistically achieve any prospects. It's a must to get a certificate of some sort from an educational institution, and the trickiest part of it is affording it in terms of money.
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