"Mathematics is a young man's game"

For the discussion of math. Duh.

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Tinyboss
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"Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby Tinyboss » Tue Apr 22, 2008 9:17 pm UTC

I'll be 34 when I enter my PhD program in mathematics. Naturally it would have been better if I'd had my head on straight in my early twenties, but I didn't. I know that only a tiny fraction of influential math has been done by people in their 40s or later, but with work and a modest amount of talent, I can still expect to make a career of it...right? Or am I DOOMED?

Klotz
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby Klotz » Tue Apr 22, 2008 9:57 pm UTC

You can make a career of it, sure. But tell me this, do you think that you are smart and creative enough, regardless of age, to find something MONUMENTAL in mathematics?

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BlackSails
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby BlackSails » Tue Apr 22, 2008 10:11 pm UTC

Klotz wrote:You can make a career of it, sure. But tell me this, do you think that you are smart and creative enough, regardless of age, to find something MONUMENTAL in mathematics?


Thats why Im going to med school instead of grad school. I dont think I would be able to find something awesome. At least this way I get to cut people up.

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Tinyboss
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby Tinyboss » Tue Apr 22, 2008 10:14 pm UTC

Klotz wrote:You can make a career of it, sure. But tell me this, do you think that you are smart and creative enough, regardless of age, to find something MONUMENTAL in mathematics?

I love math, and so far I'm pretty good at it, and I will be the best mathematician I can be. My goal is to be a university prof and to do a bit of research. Honestly, I don't expect to do anything all-caps MONUMENTAL, but how many do?

Is the implication that a career in math is not worthwhile otherwise?

Ended
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby Ended » Tue Apr 22, 2008 10:31 pm UTC

I think when Hardy made that comment, by 'mathematics' he must have had in mind serious groundbreaking mathematics. I do think that if someone has the potential in them to be an Euler or a Ramanujan, they're going to know it from a young age. But sure, groundbreaking epochal maths might be a young man's game, but for anyone humble enough not to expect their work to change history (just like the work of 99.9% of mathematicians doesn't change history*), I don't think age is a problem.

*just like 99.9% of authors will not be taught in classrooms 400 years after their death...but that doesn't make their books worthless or their career pointless.

edit:

I love math, and so far I'm pretty good at it, and I will be the best mathematician I can be.

I can't think of a better justification for doing anything.
Generally I try to make myself do things I instinctively avoid, in case they are awesome.
-dubsola

Klotz
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby Klotz » Wed Apr 23, 2008 3:24 am UTC

Tinyboss wrote:
Klotz wrote:You can make a career of it, sure. But tell me this, do you think that you are smart and creative enough, regardless of age, to find something MONUMENTAL in mathematics?



Is the implication that a career in math is not worthwhile otherwise?


No, I'm just saying that you shouldn't be worried about your age if you don't think you would have found your ultimate theorem anyway. If you love math then by all means go for it, and contribute to the best of your abilities.

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Tinyboss
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby Tinyboss » Wed Apr 23, 2008 3:28 am UTC

Thanks Ended and Klotz. That's encouraging.

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Yakk
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby Yakk » Wed Apr 23, 2008 6:24 pm UTC

Tinyboss wrote:I'll be 34 when I enter my PhD program in mathematics. Naturally it would have been better if I'd had my head on straight in my early twenties, but I didn't. I know that only a tiny fraction of influential math has been done by people in their 40s or later, but with work and a modest amount of talent, I can still expect to make a career of it...right? Or am I DOOMED?


/shrug. Most people who get into mathematics get into it young. Maybe they just use up all of their mathematical ideas. :)

On the other hand, many really cutting edge mathematicians go crazy. Makes it hard to continue to contribute after you are bonkers.

There are plenty of older people who have contributed to mathematics. Some of them are bonkers. :)

And practically, if you dig into it, a whole bunch of revolutions in mathematics is attributing an iceberg's mass to what you can see above water. Lots of work gets done cleaning shit up that doesn't blow open doors, but without which you couldn't have an explosion to be attributed to someone.

Do you like doing research? Can you push yourself to do research at a regular pace? Do you like reading research? Can you convince someone else to pay for you to read and do research?

If you can pass those tests, then you can succeed at mathematics as well as you can at any other career!
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

Last edited by JHVH on Fri Oct 23, 4004 BCE 6:17 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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Cleverbeans
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby Cleverbeans » Wed Apr 23, 2008 8:08 pm UTC

Take a look at some of the accomplishments made by Hilbert, Gauss, or Euler after their 40th birthday for a quick indication of what's possible for older men in the field, not everyone is Ramanujan or Galois.
"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." - Abraham Lincoln

Fafnir43
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby Fafnir43 » Fri Apr 25, 2008 11:01 am UTC

I was just about to make exactly the same point. Also remember Erdos, who is generally considered one of the all-time greats and was highly prolific pretty much up to his death at the age of 83. To quote him: "There are three signs of senility. The first sign is that a man forgets his theorems. The second sign is that he forgets to zip up. The third sign is that he forgets to zip down."
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GBog
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby GBog » Fri Apr 25, 2008 3:21 pm UTC

Still, Euler, Gauss, Hilbert and Erdös all showed excellence early. It appears that if you haven't done anything MONUMENTAL before the age of 30, you never will.1)

But so what?

If mathematics is what you love, and you're good at it, you should pursue a career in it.

Will you have a theorem named after you that will be taught in schools and universities hundreds of years into the future?
Probably not.

Will you have a satisfying, interesting life as a mathematician, even starting so late?
If you're determined to be the best mathematician you can be, and not dissatisfied with never doing anything MONUMENTAL, very likely.

1) An exception is Andrew Wiles, so perseverance might be a counter to 'high' age.

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Tinyboss
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby Tinyboss » Fri Apr 25, 2008 4:41 pm UTC

Fafnir43 wrote:I was just about to make exactly the same point. Also remember Erdos, who is generally considered one of the all-time greats and was highly prolific pretty much up to his death at the age of 83. To quote him: "There are three signs of senility. The first sign is that a man forgets his theorems. The second sign is that he forgets to zip up. The third sign is that he forgets to zip down."


Well, if I were a Gauss, Hilbert, or Euler, I'd know by now. If I were an Erdos, then everyone else would know it by now. :D

But yeah, I'm okay with not making history. I just wanted to know that starting in one's late twenties doesn't preclude a satisfying career, and it sounds like that's indeed the case.

CFC
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Re: "Mathematics is a young man's game"

Postby CFC » Fri Apr 25, 2008 5:17 pm UTC

Read Robert Fefferman's forward to the Cambridge Mathematical Library version of Zygmund's "Trigonometric Series" Third Edition (volumes 1 & 2 combined) (ISBN 0 521 89053 5 paperback). Fefferman writes: "Few mathematicians have provided such a striking and wonderful counterexample to G.H. Hardy's view on the rapidity of loss of creativity that mathematicians suffer with age." Another example is Robert Finn of Stanford University. Bob received his PhD in 1951 (at age 28 ??) and had "postdocs" at the Institute for Advanced Study and U. Maryland before being assistant professor at Southern Cal, associate professor at Cal Tech and full professor in 1959 at Stanford. He was forced to retire in 1993 at age 70 in the last year that the courts allowed universities to force faculty to retire at age 70; Joe Keller at Stanford was also forced to retire the same year. Bob continues to publish research, is vice president of the Pacific Journal of Math, graduates PhD students (Danzhu Shi was his 29th or 30th PhD student and graduated in 2004), receives NSF or NASA grants, travels to Europe, China, etc.


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