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Will I lose my maths abilities after graduating?

  1. Dec 18, 2012 #1
    So, in the summer I graduated from a masters degree in Engineering Science. I studied at Oxford in the UK so it was four straight years of just maths, without the distraction of minors as I understand you have in the States, and I specialised in informatics and in particular in statistics and machine learning. Since graduating, however, I've just been traveling around Europe and next month I will be starting an internship in web development, and there are lots of other things I would like to do that are not related to my degree and don't involve maths - doing more traveling, working as a software engineer, maybe getting involved in a start-up.

    Buut I am interested in the subjects I was studying in my masters and I know I would like to ultimately end up in a job that involved the use of maths. I already turned down an offer for a PhD in computer vision but perhaps in a couple of years I would like to do that, or perhaps get involved in a company or development team that is working with machine learning and stats. So my concern is that I will lose my ability in maths...my dad would never stop telling me that maths is a skill that must be practiced. So if I don't practice any maths for a couple of years do you think I could lose my ability? I don't simply mean just forget practical stuff like the rules of integration, but really lose that mentality, the sort of structure of your mind that enables you to think through problems and really understand it? Or would it all come back to me if I spent a few weeks studying maths again?
    Also, perhaps more pertinently, do you think employers or academic institutions would take my maths ability seriously if I had not used it for a few years?

    Thanks for your thoughts.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 19, 2012 #2
    Dude, it's really simple, 40% lose the math exponentially, 40% linearly, 30%, like me, remembers everything.
  4. Dec 19, 2012 #3
    hahaha! Not exactly what I had been hoping for but Great response!
  5. Dec 19, 2012 #4
    It would appear you did lose the math, as 40+40+30=110 and not 100.
  6. Dec 19, 2012 #5
    I think that was the joke...
  7. Dec 19, 2012 #6


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    If you train at running marathons for four years, you get pretty good at running marathons. If you then don't run any marathons or train for another three years, you're not going to be nearly as good at running marathons as you were when you were training.

    All of the popular science pieces that I've read on the issue would seem to indicate there is a strong parallel between intellectual pursuits like mathematics and physical pursuits like running marathons insofar as training and performance.
  8. Dec 19, 2012 #7
    No, why..? ;-)
  9. Dec 19, 2012 #8


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    You tend to lose your skills in reverse order to learning them unless you're actively using some subset.

    One interesting feature from memory recall research is that you apparently recreate a memory as you recall it and so after time the memory fades a bit or gets changed as you reinterpret it.
  10. Dec 19, 2012 #9


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    I think this is a truly excellent analogy. I would like to add that I think although after 3 years of not training you will not be as good at running marathons as you were, you would still probably be better at running long distances than most people that had never trained.
  11. Dec 19, 2012 #10
    Oh dear -- please don't tell me the analogy holds for the timescales! I've heard that if you do no cardiovascular exercise for 4 weeks then you return to your "base" state...

    Surely to a certain extent it must be true that if one were to work on one's maths after some time of absence it would return more quickly than the time required to originally attain it? (unlike fitness)
  12. Dec 19, 2012 #11


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    You can use a part of your free time for math-related things. Problems at projecteuler, forums, some problems you found yourself, ...
  13. Dec 19, 2012 #12
    You heard wrong about the 4 weeks to base state, unless the base state is defined at the state you reach when you haven't had cardiovascular exercise for 4 weeks. :)

    I used to be a decent runner and if you don't run for 6 months or a year (as I did with an injury) then yeah, you'll be rusty but you'll pick it back up far, far faster than someone who didn't used to be an athlete.

    So, if you don't do any intensive math for a few years then yes, you will be rusty. But it really won't take that long to get back in the saddle. You could even do it in a couple of weeks of intense study. I wouldn't worry too much about it.
  14. Dec 19, 2012 #13


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    This is one of the effects of studying any given course: With the same effort, studying the course again fully gives better results each time. I say this only based on personal experience.
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