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Self-Taught vs. Academic?

  1. Apr 16, 2012 #1
    Is Academia really necessary to become a mathematician? What about self-taught mathematicians? If someone has the maturity to learn by themselves, why need to go to university and spend time and money to sit in an overcrowded class with who knows what kind of lecture you get...?

    The only advantage I see is that someone cannot teach at the university unless they have a related graduate degree. But what about publishing math papers? Do we need to have this graduate academia license to publish something or author a book?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 16, 2012 #2


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    Self-taught in any field is just as good as academic study, provided it produces the necessary result. That last part is the hitch -- the result. Can you be assured that, working alone and without guidance, you are going to be doing anything worthwhile? Certainly as far as learning the existing material, if you are really bright this can be done on your own although it may be difficult and you may go down some long blind alleys. The really bad part is when you get into the original research that isolation can be a major danger.
  4. Apr 16, 2012 #3
    Well I tried Academia before at both levels, and before I wasted more time and money I'd realized that it's a business that really gives you nothing but a certificate. The ones who did well and succeeded are because they worked hard and out of their classes.
    But can you give me an instance where I may be lost in teaching myself? My argument again is that if someone get the maturity and knowledge about the subject, what does the university have to offer more other than an official license? I reconfirm here I have met many many at the university or at work who got PhD.'s from well recognized unis but they don't know much outside their academic research paper.

    I can list what I see as the pitfalls of the academia, and here is a few:

    1 - Too expensive
    2 - Too unnecessarily lengthy
    3 - Inadequate resources
    4 - Too many in a class that we don't get the focus of the lecturer
    5 - Stressful exams and grading policies, which vary from one prof to another
    7 - High percent of unrealistic research topics
    8 - Staff attitude

    Time to do some rework on academia to get it out of the 17th century.

    Where's recognized distance learning?

    Why don't we have classes and courses designated for more advanced students, with varying maturities and capabilities?

    Why is it so linear? BS --> Master --> PhD or DIE

    Things we need to consider.
  5. Apr 16, 2012 #4
    1 - Nothing to do about this. Move to another country where it is cheaper?
    2 - There is a LOT of material to cover.
    3 - Could you be more spesific?
    4 - I disagree. This sounds like a personal problem. Could you clarify what you mean?
    5 - Exams tend to be stressful. Nothing to do about that. Still, it's the only way to effectively and economically evaluate a student. What do you have against the grading policies?
    7 - Please be spesific.
    8 - This must vary from university to university. I have never seen any problem here.
  6. Apr 16, 2012 #5


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    Since this is now turned into a more general issue regarding academia in general rather than just specific to mathematics, let me ask you to look at this: How many papers that have been produced recently (say, the last 50 years) had only ONE author?

    I'm not saying such things don't exist, but what are the odds that one can work in isolation, especially nowadays, when the field is so vast, and so interdependent on many other things?

    One is in at an academic setting NOT just to sit in a class and absorb! This is a fallacy, and this is maybe only true at the undergraduate level. But go beyond that, and the RESOURCES available to you is incomparable. You have access to people who are experts in different fields, you are introduced to colloquiums and seminars on a variety of topics, you have contacts with others that you simply do not have outside of such a setting.

    Distance learning? What's that when you are doing experimental work and have to be on site to actually DO an experiment?

    If you want to stick it to the mathematics program, then be specific. Otherwise, don't pass wholesale judgement on programs that you don't know anything about.

  7. Apr 16, 2012 #6
    You have the same bitterness about academia that I was carrying around a few years ago. I decided to go back after trying to do something on my own. If you're serious, you'll get over it, and get back to school. If not, your chances of success are extremely low. All that stress and hard work and dealing with professors is necessary to push yourself to learn new things. You won't do it alone. Sorry.

  8. Apr 16, 2012 #7


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    Before you earn a PhD, you can rely to some extent on other people to teach you things. After you finish a PhD, almost everything you learn past that point will be self-taught. That is what a PhD is all about in the most fundamental sense; it is learning how to learn about just about anything you need to learn. Once you pass that point, you will rarely be able to find a teacher for anything you want to learn, so it all becomes self-taught learning.

    That does not mean that there is not a benefit to being in a community of people doing similar work for most purposes; there clearly is, because the exchange of ideas generates more ideas. But it does mean that you can go off and work entirely alone, if need be, and still expect to do the job. But it may be slower going.
  9. Apr 16, 2012 #8
    Usually a person that has someone teaching and guiding them is more likely to excel in what they are trying to learn because the path they need to take has already been created.

    That isn't to say that it is impossible to learn by yourself but it is much more likely that you'll be using a lot of time making mistakes you shouldn't.
  10. Apr 16, 2012 #9
    I'm misunderstood here. Sorry.

    First let me be more specific and pick math as a theoretical subject. So yeah I don't mean anything like Medicine or Law, or even physics that need some experiments in a lab.

    I agree that a basic undergraduate degree is something necessary to get started. I'm talking here about someone who already has a degree and mature enough to educate themselves. They know well about their subject of interest. They probably have a lot of related work experience as well. So I'm not talking about an average teenager who has no education beyond his high school. :D
    Add to this the technology we have now to dig into all kind of resources and connect with many experts from all over the world, internet! This forum is an excellent example.
    We can learn and exchange ideas here while we are at our most comfortable place, home.

    Would not that make a difference?

    Again what mistakes you talking about? So in Academia students don't? Oh they all got A+ I see I see. :D
  11. Apr 16, 2012 #10
    Still, you would face tremendous odds, and will have to work aimlessly and un-paced on your own for an indeterminant amount of time, until you finally realize that you should have just studied somewhere in the first place.

    If you already have a degree you can more easily (well, not "easily") get another undergraduate degree in 2 years or less (no liberal arts courses would probably be required.) You might even be able to spend some time studying for a graduate degree, but that would be difficult, and you would have a hard time getting recommendations. I just think that to succeed in this field you have to spend some time working very hard and very focused, and that without people pushing you beyond what you think you're capable of it is just so highly improbable that you will get anywhere.

    Connections are a benefit, your support network is a benefit, the resources of a university are a benefit, your professors and colleagues are a benefit, the scrap of paper you get at the end is a benefit (perhaps of the least importance, yet still important.)

    Most people that try on their own simply plod along. If you were so exceptionally talented that you didn't need school, you probably wouldn't be asking in the first place. Such people are so extremely rare.

  12. Apr 16, 2012 #11
    What about this:
    People who are not talented enough that they need to go to school for higher education, and those who don't trust their mental abilities, are extremely many.

    I see it as a self confidence issue. If it's not through Academia then we cannot do it.

    Again, you cannot study Medicine because it's Medicine. And I'm not talking about undergraduate studies either, only graduate level.
  13. Apr 16, 2012 #12
    Imo you certainly do NOT need a university to learn in this modern age, universities are now boxes you put money and time into and get a network and a certificate out of.

    Does having a certificate mean you KNOW more about something that someone else? No, it does not.

    The only real aid to education a university can give you over reading from books is
    1. different insights from lecturers (although reading multiple books on one subject is kind of equivelant to this)
    2. structure, a university will tell you what you can learn and when to learn it, this may or may not help with your motivation and continued efforts
    3. pace, a university will give you a set pace to complete work in, good if you're used to a slow pace

    It really depends on what kind of person you are. If you are extremely passionate about your subject and spend most of your time learning about it then university isn't really going to do much for you (other than a certificate that tells people you have done this and a network of contacts). If you're not so much in this category then university will help you keep on track.

    Either way you're probably still better off getting yourself a degree if only for the certificate that says you have a degree
  14. Apr 16, 2012 #13
    Honestly, if the only things you got out of University were the lectures, then you weren't a very good student. The only thing that my formal courses did for me was to give enough background knowledge to start learning properly in the lab. Everything worthwhile that I've learned at University has been the result of either consulting with my professors and working with them in the lab, or through my own independent studies that emerged and were largely directed by issues that arose in said labs. I don't know how you're going to teach yourself anything worthwhile if you don't have the means to determine what is and isn't worthwhile, which almost requires that you be in a research environment.
  15. Apr 16, 2012 #14
    Thank you genericusrnme. This is exactly what I'm trying to say.
  16. Apr 16, 2012 #15
    If phrasing it that way makes you feel justified, then ok. Sounds like you've already made up your mind and are looking for approval, rather than a realistic perspective.

    Good luck.

    -Dave K
  17. Apr 16, 2012 #16
    I believe once an individual has come to an intersection of their life, where they know what their focus is and how to communicate their ideas properly...the purpose of college starts to collapse. For example, many colleges today try to give direction within a specific field. However, when individual(x) has the ability to surpass a given field(y)...a new coordinate must be set. ( A new standard of direction )

    [Use (z) to link (x)&(y) to determine best fit/ratio. Once a 1:1 ratio of (x&y) has been determine along the (z) axis... (You can keep going if you choose)]

    College only allows me to go so far. When I choose to push myself further, only I can determine my direction that will best fit the world today. It's a messy ordeal. People who can move at a faster rate are still bound by the rate of others.
  18. Apr 16, 2012 #17
    Which is exactly why most people should go to college if they can. Because, let's be real here, you can only read so many textbooks before dying of boredom, and it's a real pain to stay motivated when learning on your own (of course, I'm sure there are people who don't have this problem, but those are probably few and far between). It's of course much more interesting to work on cool projects 'n stuff, but college is perfect for getting a good grounding for almost everyone.
  19. Apr 16, 2012 #18
    That's what I think of college at undergraduate level, necessary direction and guidance about a specific field. Mainly it helps with establishing the necessary tools to get started. In the end you will be working after Bachelor degree, unless someone prefer to hide and stick to Academia and stay away of the real world. Then this is a different matter. When at work you will be facing variety of challenging problems sometimes open research unsolved problems and you need to do the research yourself. It's very uncommon that someone faces a problem that they did not study at college that they want to go back to pursue a graduate degree to get the problem solved and then go back to work? Unrealistic. This is what the basic degree does for you, prepares you and helps your maturity to learn new stuff by yourself. Otherwise what's the purpose of first undergraduate degree then?
  20. Apr 16, 2012 #19
    Why did you pose the question if you are sufficiently satisfied you already know the answer?
  21. Apr 16, 2012 #20
    Agreed. One can't gain insight on the complete other side without first opening his eyes. You sound like one who can't learn from a teacher simply because you think you're automatically doing it the right way, and that your way is the only way.
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