Should I Become a Mathematician?

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  • #2,001
mathwonk
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I would think any kind of legitimate publication would count as something unusually good before grad school. of course there are programs, in which students are guided through relatively easy research projects by a researcher, and it results in a joint publication, and these might mean somewhat less, but even so, it is a good experience that I would think is relevant to the grad school experience.

as to the gre,it seems that my dismissal of them as almost a joke for grad school admission was based on the level of the general one, which is apparently just another sat test.

most people agree the subject test is harder and is a useful test of the topics taught in a typical undergraduate major. i still maintain however, that admission to top schools is based on something else entirely, something less cut and dried, something hopefully deeper, the opinion of teachers that an applicant has the potential to excel in the world of mathematical research.

this ability is something I feel when talking to a student, and noticing that they catch some relevant significant point more quickly than I do, or generate some original idea that impresses me.
 
  • #2,002


The Story of Maths - Part 1 of 4 (6th October 2008).avi

The Story of Maths - Part 2 of 4 (13th October 2008).avi

The Story of Maths - Part 3 of 4 (20th October 2008).avi

The Story of Maths - Part 4 of 4 (27th October 2008).avi


thank me later
 
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  • #2,003
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My school was going to offer a course in mathematical problem solving(heuristics), but no one signed up but myself. The course is intended to build skill for contests like the putnam and solving problems in math journals. What would you recommend as far as good books for problem solving techniques suitable for self study?
 
  • #2,004
mathwonk
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i am borrowing this link from the forum on books, but it answers perfectly to the questions posed here on how to become a research mathematician.

I especially recommend the first article in this section by atiyah, on becoming a researcher staring from grad school.

http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/gowers/gowers_VIII_6.pdf
 
  • #2,006
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Mathwonk,

I have noticed quite a bit of dismissal of mathematical logic as a field of study. It seems to me though, that model theory and proof theory and recursion theory have elicited some fruitful discoveries in other fields of mathematics.

I was wondering, being as you are a professor and we have the benefit of a disassociated conversation over the internet so I feel that I will get a more pure response from you, how is the field of model theory viewed by most mathematicians? I am asking as someone with an interest in the field.
 
  • #2,007
mathwonk
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i may dismiss logic because i personally do not enjoy logic much. but some of the very smartest people i have known have enjoyed it a lot, my colleague at my first job, a colleague i have now, and a moderator here, hurkyl. thee are very very sharp people and they like logic. so maybe i am just mot smart enough to be a logician.

so i personally cannot help you much there, but it is certainly a field with limited but dedicated and very accomplished practitioners. another name, is paul cohen, (solver of the continuum hypothesis problem), a man who was described by one of the smartest men i ever knew, maurice auslander, as the smartest man he knew.

try googling model theory and see whether anyone in that area has been a speaker at the ICM, or whether you can find other evidences of high level activity, such as practitioners located at top places.
 
  • #2,008
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i may dismiss logic because i personally do not enjoy logic much. but some of the very smartest people i have known have enjoyed it a lot, my colleague at my first job, a colleague i have now, and a moderator here, hurkyl. thee are very very sharp people and they like logic. so maybe i am just mot smart enough to be a logician.


But why then has the fields medal only gone to one mathematical logician so far?
 
  • #2,009
mathwonk
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well you are asking the wrong person, but since you asked me, this is consistent with what i have said. It is apparently a narrow field, which appeals mostly to very smart people, but which has only a few very widely appreciated problems. was cohen the last guy to get one?
 
  • #2,010
mathwonk
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If interested in mathematical logic, the university of georgia in athens is a good place to work in it, especially in connection with number theory, due to the presence of Robert Rumely, a number theorist, who is famous for generalizing Hilbert's 10th problem (positively!) to the case of algebraic integers.

I.e. the original problem of whether an algorithm exists to decide existence of solutions to equations in ordinary integers was settled negatively by Putnam and Robinson and ??, but Rumely developed capacity theory on algebraic curves to show there is such an algorithm over the algebraic integers.

To see some of his impact you can search under his name even on Amazon books.


we are an attractive place especially for US citizens to apply now because we are looking for about 17 new students next fall, and we have a VIGRE grant that supports US students generously with lower than average teaching. Along with the stipends to students we also support faculty in the teaching of useful seminars introducing research topics to PhD students, especially those getting started.

we have strong programs in algebraic geometry, number theory, geometry/topology, and representation theory, just to mention the ones I am closest to. We also have significant presence in applied subjects, and analysis.

I.e. we are good, and not on everyone's radar, we currently have more money than average, at least for US applicants, and we have more openings than we are likely to fill. So it is a good time to apply to the PhD program.

if interested, check out our website at http://www.math.uga.edu/

If you are more of a larger city person, Emory and Ga Tech in Atlanta are also good. Ga Tech is strong all around, and at Emory I personally know Professor Parimala, for example, who is a world famous algebraist.
 
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  • #2,011
tgt
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well you are asking the wrong person, but since you asked me, this is consistent with what i have said. It is apparently a narrow field, which appeals mostly to very smart people, but which has only a few very widely appreciated problems. was cohen the last guy to get one?

Cohen was the one and only person to be awarded in mathematical logic.

I actually asked a guy working in the association associated with the fields medal and he said the medal is simply given to the best mathematician 40 years or under. But since only one mathematical logician has received it, this suggests that the best mathematicians don't work in mathematical logic.

The fact that its narrow probably has something to do with it as the probability of the best mathematicians working in it is small compared to the rest of mathematics.
 
  • #2,012
mathwonk
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it seems we are going to fill about 12 grad slots. we have about 5 of the vigre openings, which pay about $25K per year for 2 of the years one is here. We also have a campus wide competition for some fellowships which pay about $24K per year, maybe for more years.

As a related topic, may i ask people what factors most influence their decision as to where to go to grad school?

1) presence of researchers working in a subject of interest.
2) supportive grad program.
3) availability of adequate/generous student stipends.
4) appealing community/social life.
5) prestigious name/reputation of university.
6) congenial geographic location.
7) large diverse grad program (to maximize choice of specialty)
8) other?
 
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  • #2,013
mathwonk
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well, tgt, that guy's answer is kind of meaningless to me. ask him how does he decide who is the best mathematician? i am guessing it has to do with solving problems that are recognized as outstanding. hence the existence of such problems in the field is a necessary condition for deciding someone in the field is outstanding.

of course the existence of such problems also would attract top workers. so a field with no great problems will not have great practitioners. of course there are also people so great that they do great things that are not expected.

so if you work in a field that is a bit boring or stale at the moment, you have to be fantastic to do something that will reveal your ability.
 
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  • #2,014
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I am thinking of picking up Spivak's Calculus because we used Stewart's Calculus for our calc 1 and 2 and it really doesn't look like it prepares you well for Analysis courses or Pure Math in general.

Am I right in picking Spivak or is there another one I should pick instead? I want to be prepared for when I take my first Real Analysis class (next September). Also I haven't really self studied up to this point so I am wondering if there are any tips on good tips/habbits for self studying and also should I start at page 1 and work through absolutely everything?
 
  • #2,015
mathwonk
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well start wherever you like. its all very helpful. if you start on page 1, and get bogged down, just skip head.
 
  • #2,016
mathwonk
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after talking with recent members of the graduate program, it is still hard to give a completely precise description of how to get into our grad program.

Basically we are looking for candidates who will succeed in our program, and we take everything we can find out about them academically, into account. There is a committee making recommendations, so different people look at different things.

This means everything matters to some extent, recommendation letters, grades, gre scores, extra activities, and also a consistent picture should be revealed by all of these taken together.

The most substantive data is perhaps a record of success in substantial courses over time, but letters from professors giving a personal opinion are also important.

Personal qualities can also matter, as there are a few people whose records show gaps or flaws, but who persevere and improve, and eventually come out on top. These cases are harder to recognize but do exist.

A candidate with a strong record of challenging courses and high grades in most or all of them, combined with high gre's and letters that identify the student as outstanding among all those over a number of years, even at a small college, should stand very well in our competition, but not all successful candidates have these qualifications.

Our current stipends range from 24K - 25K for 5 or more top qualifiers, and those are not for every year, but roughly every other year, to the average stipends of 14-15K. And we apparently do manage to support most students also in the summer. A few students are sometimes admitted without support I believe, provisionally, based on demonstrating success, but this is not the norm.

We are one of only a dozen departments in the US whose VIGRE grant has been renewed, which is testimony to our success and commitment to helping our admitted candidates graduate.

Specifically, our vigre program is considered innovative and effective at "fostering graduate student research at an early stage".

One area in which we excel, outside the usual pure and applied mathematical areas, is in education of mathematics teachers from primary school through high school. This is a collaboration between our excellent mathematics education department and members of the mathematics department.

A recent nationwide study identified UGA as having one of only a very few exemplary programs in math education in the nation. In particular some books for this purpose authored by Professor Beckmann in the math dept. were recognized as outstanding. Candidates interested primarily in preparing to teach mathematics would do well to look over the programs here in math and math ed.

For sincerely interested and qualified students we can usually help provide some assistance to visit campus this spring, in late February 2009.
 
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  • #2,017
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1) presence of researchers working in a subject of interest.?
This was the most important factor for me. A strong research group had to be present with well known people in the field.
2) supportive grad program
This was also key. I wanted to feel that the program was behind me and that I would fit in nicely with the group of people there.
3) availability of adequate/generous student stipends.
Also played a role. Adequate was all I was looking for, generous was just a bonus.
4) appealing community/social life.
Not so much for me, I came to grad school to learn math. Good community and social life is a plus, but I also figured if I am there with other people who are interested in the same thing I am, i'll probably have a good social life regardless.
5) prestigious name/reputation of university.
Minor factor, not as important as number one on the list.
6) congenial geographic location.
Not important to me at all.
7) large diverse grad program (to maximize choice of specialty)
I didn't really think about to, maybe I should have. Thinking about it now, this probably should've carried more weight.
8) other?
One other aspect was the number of PhD that graduated from their program that had jobs five years after graduation.
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  • #2,019
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How much weight would solving some problems in undergrad journals such as Crux Mathematicorum and having your solutions displayed hold in admission considerations?
 
  • #2,020
mathwonk
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well it would be another plus, maybe a small one, but it shows ability and interest. Of course if the problems are really hard the solutions are brilliant and, it counts more.
 
  • #2,021


Mathwonk,

I have a question for you. There is this graduate class given next term which is a second course in topology. The first class was given this term and I unfortunately couldn't take it, as it overlapped a core course for my degree. This first course covered the basic of topology and the fundamental group, covering spaces, simplicial complexes, singular and simplicial homology, among other things.

Now I am very tempted to take this second course without the prerequisite. I do know the basics of topology and I am willing to put lots of time and work (as well as take a lighter courseload) to make up on my own for what I don't know yet. The thing is I am really, REALLY interested in the material and the course is given by one of the best teachers in the department. I also know without a doubt that I will improve by taking this class. And I don't care what grade I get (as long as I pass, I guess...)

However, my advisor objects to this idea, saying that courses must be followed in the right order to ensure that we are properly ready.

Of course, I am not asking you what to do (you don't know me nor the course) but I would like to know, as a general rule, if you would encourage interested students to skip a few steps and put themselves in a situation where the level of difficulty is much higher for them than for anyone else in the classroom. Or would you instead suggest taking time to lay down a proper foundation, at a slower pace, risking perhaps to not be as challenged as one would like to.

Thanks in advance!
 
  • #2,022
mathwonk
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the general question usually has answer no. but your specific question may have answer yes. The reason is that fundamental group and so on is not really a necessary prereqisite for many later topology courses.

so the person to ask is the professor offering the spring semester course. He/she will know whether you will really be overwhelmed by not knowing the previous material. you also have the option of spending the xmas break reading a book on fundamental groups, and covering spaces, like that by massey.
 
  • #2,023


Thanks mathwonk, I'll have a look at this book.
 
  • #2,024
mathwonk
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try this:

Algebraic Topology: An Introduction.
Massey, William S.

[30 Day Returns Policy]
Bookseller:
J. HOOD, BOOKSELLERS, ABAA/ILAB
(Baldwin City, KS, U.S.A.)
Bookseller Rating: Book Price:
US$ 15.00
 
  • #2,025
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I've been reading Introduction to Algebraic Topology by Wallace, and I really like it. It contains all the point set topology required.
 

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