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Studying Studying Math/Science With A Business/Software Development Background

  1. Jun 17, 2008 #1
    [Sorry for the long rambling post here]

    Hey folks, I've lurked on this Forum for some time, and you all sound like smart people so I figured I'd ask some advice. I've been a programmer for years, and what I do is starting to get old. I started programming as a kid, almost entirely self taught from books. I really enjoyed programming and knew I wanted to do it as a career. When entering college, I got a little scared of the sample class schedule presented for Computer Science majors. As a result, I ended up going for a degree in Business with an emphasis in Computer Information Systems and Marketing. I continued self teaching myself programming during school, as the computer classes from the Business school were jokingly easy.

    Professionally I've had pretty lucrative career, but the sort of web development I do is getting be pretty boring. I basically just write code that maintains and displays data from databases which is no longer in any way a challenge. There *is* more to what I do, and I think (from what other people tell me) I'm very good at my job. I have clients hire me all the time to fix problems no one else can figure out, and I seem to have kind of a gift for problem solving in general most of my peers don't have. I'm not sure I want to change careers exactly, but I need to expand my horizons professionally beyond whats in the computer section at Banes and Noble

    I also find there isn't much I can read in my field I don't already know that isn't high level computer science stuff. Of course there are new languages developed every day I could learn, but in many ways this is different clothes on the same old thing.

    At the same time, I read a lot on the side. I've read a lot of Physics and even some Math on the side and have really enjoyed it. Thus I've considered either going back to school and get a degree in Math, Computer Science or Physics or seriously studying this stuff on my own.

    First, I'll hit on the issues I forsee with the academic option, then I'll note the problems I've run into with the self study option.

    Relevant to both is I did take Calculus I and II (single variable) as a freshman, almost 10 years ago. I got a B and C- in them respectively, but I could have done much better

    Academic Option

    My main concern with the academic option is my academic background. As I've said, I have a BA in Business, not Math, Engineering or Hard sciences. Also, my GPA as it is is only about 2.75 and is lower in the later terms than in the earlier (My career was taking off in the later years, so I put more emphasis on work that school). Thus I think it would be pretty close to impossible to enter a masters program in any of the fields that interest me. Could I get a second Bachelor's in Math or Computer sci? Does anyone ever do this? I've also seen that most masters programs allow people to take prereq. undergraduate classes, but it seems like you have to be accepted to the program before you can take more than 3-4 classes. Also, its been 5 years since I've graduated, and 10 years since I took a math course, so I think I'd have trouble finding someone (in the academic world) to write a letter of recommendation. My one plus is I'm very good at standardized tests, so I'd probably do quite well on the GRE, but I don't think schools put a lot of weight on that. Does anyone have any advice on what to expect in taking the academic route with a non-Mathy background?

    Self Study Option

    I've tried studying academic Math and Science on my own and I've had mixed results. This started when I read a book on Game Theory ( "Games and Decisions: Introduction and Critical Survey" by Luce and Raiffa ) which I really enjoyed, making me realize that math could be a lot of fun. Then I broke out my old Calculus Textbook ("Calculus: Early Transcendental Functions" by Larson et al), and tried to relearn some of the Calculus I'd forgotten. This book wasn't very conducive to self study, so I picked up Morris Kline's "Calculus: An Intuitive and Physical Approach". In my first attempt at working through the book (years ago), I got stuck pretty early on and gave up on it for a while. I picked it up more recently and got much further finding help on Forums and IRC, but it felt like it went slow. I moved on to other things after getting about 25% through the book over about 2 months. I'm not sure if it went slow because of some math deficiency, an overzealous expectation of how fast I should be going, or if I was just rusty. Recently I've been reading "Godel Escher Bach" and I've been loving it, which sort of triggered the idea of looking at math again.

    I've also tried studying some science textbooks on my own. I never took Chemistry in High School and always regretted it. So, I picked up Pauling's "General Chemisty" and "Chemistry: The Central Science" at the library but had trouble with them. Pauling seemed over my head, and with C:TCS I had trouble figuring out whats actually important to learn. Modern Textbooks have so much filler! Also, with chemistry specifically it seemed I was missing a lot not having a lab.

    Finally, in studying Computer Science on the side, I do pretty well but I seem pretty limited by my lack of math experience.

    So I don't know what I should do on the Science/Chemistry front but have some options on the Math stuff, which I'd like some guidance on:

    * Finish going through Kline

    I feel like I'm missing a lot in my math experience not having worked with Proofs at all thus:

    * Find a More rigorous calc text such as Apostol or Spivak

    * Work through Euclid's Elements, then move back to calc with a better foundation

    Sometimes I feel like I've spent too much time reviewing stuff so I thought of:

    * Reading a multi-variable calc book and refer to single variable books as needed, so I can be sure I be sure I'm learning new stuff

    Finally, I'd like to get some sense of how much practice I should be getting with maths, and how quickly I should expect to progress.

    Any advice on which option overall (Self Study or Academic) would be better (if any)?

    Thanks for the input. Regardless of the option I take, I look forward to working and chatting with you all.


  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 18, 2008 #2
    I'm in the process of retraining (from CS to physics), but I can tell you, you can meet an amazing variety of people in physics courses. About a year ago, I was taking a course with someone who had a business background and had had numerous jobs in finance (banks, tech companies, etc.) and had decided that wasn't what he wanted to do with his life. So, he went back to school to get a BS in physics. So it definitely can be done...

    As for academic vs. self-study... ultimately, the question is, what do you want to do? Learn as a hobby for your own enjoyment, or switch careers? If you are serious about wanting to change careers, ultimately you will *have* to follow the academic path... the only question is how to merge into that lane smoothly.

    I have no idea where you live, but there are definitely schools that would let you take more than just 3-4 courses before applying. I live in California, and many of the Cal State campuses have a program callled "Open University" that allows you to take up to 6 undergrad courses before requiring any application. There was also a post here recently about Boston University's LEAP program, which is explicitly meant to help people with a non-technical degree to get a degree in engineering.

    As for letters of recommendation... use employers! No one really cares what a professor who hasn't seen you for 10 years thinks anyway.

    Good luck!
  4. Jun 18, 2008 #3
    If you actually want to get better I would discourage the self-study option. I my expirience self-study rarely works especially when it comes to math. Why?
    1. You tend to focus on the stuff your already good at, and skip the stuff that forces you to work at for a while.
    2. You feel like you are going too slow, so you start trying to blast through the chapters faster so you can get to the interesting stuff, then when you do get there you are lost because you didn't get good at the simple stuff.
    3. You tell yourself you only care about the basic concepts so you only solve a few of the easiest problems in the chapter, which means you never develop a real comfort with the material, new symbols, ect.
    4. When you come to something which may actually be simple but you dont get it at first you give up, intending to come back to it but never getting around to it. While if you were in a class, you could have asked the teacher and cleared up the problem in about 2 minutes.
    5. Even if you can get a functional level of understanding with the material, you never appreciate the beauty of the subject.
    6. You dont know what the standards are as far as mastery of the subject, when in a class it is easy.
    Thats just a few of the reasons I could come up with. After all if self study worked you could have already done it by now, right? But self-study can be a very good complement to regular classes, in fact if you don't self study along with classes by reading complementary stuff you will probably never fully understand the subject. Also I do not see the point to reading elements. The longer you put off the stuff that you actually are interested in the more likely you are to give up before you get to it. Also, I have read many math books and loved it and felt like I was learning a lot without doing any of the exersizes when reading it but afterwords, I realized I didn't really learn much. The point is you cant learn math by reading, you can only learn it by doing it.
  5. Jun 18, 2008 #4
    Another Academic Option: Since I have a BA, I'll have to pay Graduate Tuition Rates for the under graduate classes I take to "catch up". Would it be wise to go to a state college (one that does not offer a masters program) and get the undergraduate courses out of the way at extremely cheap rates (grad rates are about 2.5 times more for the same course load), then apply to a masters program with that under my belt? It seems a shame to spend all that extra money if it can be avoided.
  6. Jun 26, 2008 #5
    Well folks after much consideration, I've decided to take the Academic Option. I'll be taking undergraduate math course at my Alma matter, University of Colorado Denver. If I do well and enjoy it, I may apply to the masters program after I take all the prerequisites.

    I'll be auditing a calc II course, since I don't recall any of it, and haven't reviewed that far on my own yet.

    I'd like to thank the folks that responded for their insight. I've experienced every one of aquaregia's points except (5). I never realized the fun and beauty of math until I studied it on my own. I think I was a bit turned off originally by bad textbooks, and inexperienced instructors neither of which explained things well. But now I realize I *can* understand and *really enjoy* this stuff, if I match myself with the the correct people and books, at least supplementarily.

    Note - I had originally thought if you had a degree and took any classes at a university, you'd have to pay graduate tuition rates. This is wrong. You can still register as undergraduate with a degree, and pay undergrad rates.
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