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Story of a mathematics professor

  1. Jul 26, 2013 #1
    I have hard somewhere the story of mathematics professor(It maybe fake:biggrin:). The math professor was very strong in his concepts and had very good ability to solve math problems. Due to popularity among his peers and other mathematicians, his name spread throughout the entire city where he lived..He was awarded many prizes for his discoveries.

    Once a common man approached him in his office.

    Common man; I have heard that you are very strong in mathematics:smile: .....

    Professor; Ya, may be .. :blushing:

    Common man; I think you can answer this question in one second? What is 1778565 multiplied by 167374?

    Professor; :eek: How could...

    (Common man interrupts)

    Common man; I have heard that mathematicians can do this in one second. But you could not do
    it. What sort of mathematician are you?

    Professor; :mad::grumpy:

    This is how a common man views mathematicians.This is one of the common misconceptions regarding mathematicians... A common man thinks that one who does arithmetic proficiently is a mathematician..

    Could you share some of the misconceptions regarding mathematicians and physicists which the general public has? If you have experienced the same, please share it...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 26, 2013 #2


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    Dude my relatives are exactly like that. Every time I meet a relative I haven't seen in a while and they ask me what subject I like most in university and I tell them pure math, they ask me to compute some insanely crazy arithmetic expression in my head. I seriously have no clue what goes on in their heads but I'm 100% sure they have no clue what pure math is. If I showed them my copy of Carothers or Spivak or w\e they would be asking where all the crazy computations are lol
  4. Jul 26, 2013 #3
    I thought you liked physics more?
  5. Jul 26, 2013 #4


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    Nah. You can't beat pure math.
  6. Jul 26, 2013 #5
    For a common person, arithmetic is so important. He should plan all his expenditures, income, etc... very quickly. The recommended math education in many countries is to multiply add, subtract, divide manually. So when math is being discussed, only 6374673+839874984 comes into their mind:rofl:
  7. Jul 26, 2013 #6


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    Yes, my dad also thinks that I need to know how to compute a tip in my head in a heartbeat.

    Dad, it takes time!
  8. Jul 26, 2013 #7


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    At my work we identify projects by number. We have *lots* of projects every year, so there are *lots* of project numbers floating around in our communications to each other.

    I can't remember a project number for longer than, oh, 5 seconds -- they're basically random numbers to me. I always have to look it up, to be sure. Once a coworker remarked to me, "You have to look up project numbers? I thought you were supposed to be good with math!" I was speechless :eek:.
  9. Jul 26, 2013 #8
    Ha ha... Your story is worse than that of professor's:D
  10. Jul 26, 2013 #9


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    I have the same problem. One time I was eating lunch with my friend who is an accountant. We were eating with two people from human resources and an account executive. During lunch, I got a call about a work related problem, I did some dirty math on the back of the napkin to verify what I was being told and hung up. My friend the accountant said that he was terrible at math. One of other people looked at him and said "Then why are you an accountant!" The guy replied, "I can add subtract and find percentages but ask me how to solve a quadratic i'll ask my 14 yr old son!"
  11. Jul 26, 2013 #10
    Happens to me all the time. I find it happens the most with other college students, usually girls that I meet. They ask me to multiply two random double digit numbers when I tell them I am a math major. That's when I usually decide that her and I could never be friends or have any kind of meaningful relationship.

    Also, very frequently when my dad brags about me to his friends, when I meet them, they immediately do the same thing.
  12. Jul 26, 2013 #11
    Happens to me with my father all the time. I think its common with Eastern Europeans that "being good at Math" means you can do arithmetic quickly and with fairly large numbers. I remember when I got my a non-A grade in Calculus 2 and a week or two later I couldn't do some kind of division or something in my head, my father immediately says, "No wonder you got that bad grade in Math!" I could only smile at the comment.
  13. Jul 26, 2013 #12


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    You people meet a lot of weirdos. :eek:
  14. Jul 26, 2013 #13


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    I have a similar story. One day a frind of the coach joined our cross country team for a few runs around our usual course. The coach told he was a ranger and he wanted to maintain his training preparedness. So we kept asking him about bears, wolves and what it was like to be a forest ranger. He just smiled and later we discovered he was a US Army Ranger on leave.

    Being a programmer you get similar situations like hey you're a programmer can you fix my computer it's not working.
  15. Jul 26, 2013 #14


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  16. Jul 26, 2013 #15
    I don't find it as much illogical as the maths case though. If you're a programmer you must be spending a lot of time with computers and you sure do know lots more about computers than others. Certainly you can't instantly solve every problem, but I believe computer programmers -- or anyone who spends lots of time with computers-- are better at fixing computer than those who don't. You may not like to, but that's another story.
  17. Jul 27, 2013 #16
    I know at least three programmers, who wouldn't know what to do if something went wrong with their computers, they would ask someone to fix it for them (if it's at home - their spouse, and if it's at work - maintenance).
    They all have a masters degree in computer science and the least experienced one amongst them has more than six years of experience (the other two have more than 15 years).
    Incidentally, all three are women... I think it has something to do with that - maybe it is not considered a feminine thing to fix computers?

    Anyway, on topic - when I was studying physics, people used to ask me If i'm going to be a teacher... apparently they thought that's the only job you can get as a physicist.
  18. Jul 27, 2013 #17
    When I was young, i too thought that the job of computer professional was to fix computers. Engineering and techical job are often confused. A mechanical engineer is thought to be mechanic, an electrical engineer is thought to be electrician, a civil engineer is thought to be one who mixes cement and concrete during construction. :)
  19. Jul 27, 2013 #18


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    I got the same question a few times.
    I think that is really problematic. A significant fraction of all jobs rely heavily on physics and/or physicists and too many are not aware of that.

    Compared to that, a minor misconception:
    When I say I work for the LHC (outside the physics community), the next question is often "so you work in Geneva / at CERN?". No, I do not. While I have been there multiple times, I did not even see the detectors yet.
  20. Jul 27, 2013 #19
    Pardon my little rambling,
    People expect Electrical Engineers to be the electrician and ask for household electricity problem. Many (of my knowledge) Electrical Engineers regard themselves far superior than electrician and proudly declare that they don't know how they connect the washing machine to the utility, or similar trivial household problems as they are not electrician but EE.
    My opinion is, you may not like to volunteer for such tasks, but being an Electrical Engineer you at least need to know how to. I admit one won't (shouldn't) know all the technicality, but basics?
    I don't know much about mechanical Engineering and civil engineering though. Is it also filled with Engineers who are too knowledgeable to know the basics?

    However, the OP isn't concerned with knowing the basics, but about doing the basics VERY FAST.
  21. Jul 27, 2013 #20
    On the topic of solving math problems in your heads, can you be a half decent mathematician if you can't computer 87 * 54 in your head? or 756/6 for example? I hate mental math, in fact I have to write almost every problem down on paper before I can solve it.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2013
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