Story of a mathematics professor

1. Jul 26, 2013

Alpharup

I have hard somewhere the story of mathematics professor(It maybe fake). 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 .....

Professor; Ya, may be ..

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

Professor; 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; :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. Jul 26, 2013

WannabeNewton

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

3. Jul 26, 2013

Darth Frodo

I thought you liked physics more?

4. Jul 26, 2013

WannabeNewton

Nah. You can't beat pure math.

5. Jul 26, 2013

Alpharup

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:

6. Jul 26, 2013

MathematicalPhysicist

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

7. Jul 26, 2013

lisab

Staff Emeritus
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 .

8. Jul 26, 2013

Alpharup

Ha ha... Your story is worse than that of professor's:D

9. Jul 26, 2013

MarneMath

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!"

10. Jul 26, 2013

1MileCrash

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.

11. Jul 26, 2013

Yanick

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.

12. Jul 26, 2013

Staff: Mentor

You people meet a lot of weirdos.

13. Jul 26, 2013

Staff: Mentor

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.

14. Jul 26, 2013

lisab

Staff Emeritus
Ranger....:rofl:

15. Jul 26, 2013

I_am_learning

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.

16. Jul 27, 2013

fargoth

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.

17. Jul 27, 2013

Alpharup

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. :)

18. Jul 27, 2013

Staff: Mentor

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.

19. Jul 27, 2013

I_am_learning

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.

20. Jul 27, 2013

MathJakob

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
21. Jul 27, 2013

reenmachine

Personally , I find multiplications much easier to do in my head than divisions.At least with multiplications of two integers you know the answer is another integer.

Last edited: Jul 27, 2013
22. Jul 27, 2013

1MileCrash

lol, I can say with near certainty that not being able to do arithmetic in your head like that will have zero impact on your career as a mathematician.

Math quickly evolves out of computing things and into concepts and objects and properties and things like that. Any time I needed to do any type of arithmetic like that, I was in a class that allowed calculators, and any time I was in a class that did not allow calculators, I never had to do arithmetic.

Saying to a mathematician

"OK, you've proved this conjecture very nicely, but can you multiply 63*98 in your head right now?"

Is like saying to a electrical engineer "OK, I'm liking this circuit design. Now take this shovel out back and dig up some silicon."

23. Jul 27, 2013

fourier jr

I wish I could find the graph of how hard it is for someone doing something like functional analysis do teach calculus. maybe it was phd comics but I can't find it.

24. Jul 27, 2013

D H

Staff Emeritus

25. Jul 27, 2013

collinsmark

To this day I have yet to successfully come up with a description of what I do at my job, that most people can understand. I've tried several approaches of explanation. Still no success.

In particular, I've tried dozens of times to explain to my mom what I do at work (being my mom, she wants to herself so she can tell others, if for no other reason). I've tried and failed every time.

I've even tried to use analogous examples using more familiar systems. "Okay, suppose you have a bathroom scale that lacks calibration data." <blank stares> "Okay, that didn't work. Well, suppose you set the thermostat to your house to some temperature, but the furnace always makes the temperature 5 degrees hotter than the thermostat setting." <hesitant nods> "There's a dial on the inside of the thermostat box that can compensate for the difference by adding an offset to the temperature selection setting, thereby ..." <blank stares>

There is some truth to that, perhaps. But it's not necessarily out of arrogance. Sometimes it's just out of laziness.

This scenario has happened to me several times:

PERSON: Hey, collinsmark, I heard you have some sort of electrical degree! So do you wire houses?
ME: Well, It's actually a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering.
PERSON: Oh, so you wire bigger houses?
ME: Umm, no, it really doesn't ..."
PERSON: I've got some electrical wiring problem with my ceiling fan. The fan works, but there's no power to the light.
ME: My degree's emphasis was in communication systems theory and digital signal processing.
PERSON: <blank stare.> So will you fix my ceiling fan?
ME: <considers mentioning something about not having an electrician's license, but then realizes how that would open up a whole new line of questioning.>
ME: Okay, I'll fix your fan.​

[Edit: Come to think of it, there's a whole swath of Electrical Engineering specific subject matter that really has nothing to do with electricity.]

Last edited: Jul 27, 2013