Should I major in mathematics?

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Khrisstian
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Should I major in mathematics?

Postby Khrisstian » Sun Feb 20, 2011 11:18 am UTC

I like math. The problem is that mathematics is a relatively weak point in my academic development. I will be starting my first year at the UAF - a very average school - in the coming fall. Math classes I've taken include: Pre Algebra, Algebra, Algebra II, Geometry, AP Trigonometry, AP Pre-Calculus, Computer Programming, and AP Computer Science. I don't seem to have any problem with specific annexes of mathematics with the exception of Trigonometry as well as classes that Trigonometry inherently affects. However, this weakness is very caustic. I'm afraid I won't be able to excel at mathematics due to not having a strong enough foundation. Furthermore, the thought of taking numerous math classes concurrently daunts me.

I am considering Physics as an alternative major.

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Monika
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Re: Should I major in mathematics?

Postby Monika » Sun Feb 20, 2011 7:25 pm UTC

Do you like the theoretical site of math? Definitions, theorems, proofs?
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z4lis
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Re: Should I major in mathematics?

Postby z4lis » Sun Feb 20, 2011 7:39 pm UTC

(Cautionary note: The following is based on my own experience here at my university. Your results may vary.)

What's the issue with trig? Is it a conceptual problem or just a "wow, these are a bunch of useless and obtuse formulas to memorize"? If it's the second, then you're probably OK. If it's the first, you're probably still OK. At any rate, what you've done for mathematics so far is probably nothing like what you will be doing if you get into university mathematics at a decent level. You've probably just been solving silly, cooked up problems. The mathematics you will be doing if you pursue it in college will be far more proof-oriented and abstract. You'll be learning about more complicated mathematical structures in classes and your assignments will essentially revolve around proving elementary statements about them and/or using the results you learn to solve some problems, usually problems about the math you're doing, not any real-world problems. If you enjoyed doing proofs and hated the tedious, repetitive calculations that were just so many minor variations on the same theme that you quickly mastered, you most certainly should not rule out math as a field of study. Even if none of this applies to you, if you still want to pursue it, I will offer this suggestion: go find someone in the mathematics department at your school who handles undergraduate advising/inquiries/programs, and talk to that person. Also, you'll probably want to try and get into the class "MATH F215" as soon as you can, so you can get the best feel possible for what the upper level undergraduate classes in math. (Yes, I looked up your school's catalog. :P)

As far as your concern about attending an "average school", know that the list of undergraduate courses at your school looks pretty much exactly like the list of undergraduate courses at any other school, and you'll probably be using the same books and learning the same core material. Your library will have even more books, so if you really feel inadequate about your progress you can always read more.

EDIT: If you like physics, too, there's probably nothing stopping you from a double major aside from time! The two complement each other very well in some subfields, the mathematics providing a solid toolbox of techniques to tackle physics problems with, and the physics offering good intuition and application for mathematics.
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mdyrud
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Re: Should I major in mathematics?

Postby mdyrud » Sun Feb 20, 2011 9:48 pm UTC

If you like Physics, and see that as a career, declare that as your major to start. The math you will be doing will be the same stuff you would take at the beginning of a math major, so you can give it a shot. That way, if you decide math just isn't for you, you don't need to worry about switching into physics. If you decide math is for you, you will need to do the switching, but I anticipate less aggravation switching into a major you want than out of a major you hate.

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Re: Should I major in mathematics?

Postby Bjorgen Jansen » Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:09 pm UTC

If you like physics but are unsure about math, take a joint major in both (you will get a better understanding of the math used in the physics portion, and thus the physics would be easier). Then when you become more sure you can switch to one or the other or stay in both; I was in math and physics joint honours and I switched to math half way through the degree.

Khrisstian
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Re: Should I major in mathematics?

Postby Khrisstian » Mon Feb 21, 2011 1:33 am UTC

Thank you all for your responses.

Monika, "Do you like the theoretical site of math? Definitions, theorems, proofs?"

I would not claim that I enjoy the theoretical site of math more so than other areas of mathematics, although I do find that it is hard for me to internalize functions in mathematics without having some sort of proof, definition, theorem, or conjecture associated therewith. From what I understand, it appears that the study mathematics evolves from learning all the basic applications and rules into consolidating a firm structural understanding of how numbers work and why they work. Given my preferred method of learning, I don't think that would suit me too well. I prefer consolidating my understanding of a given subject as I am learning that subject and not a second later.

z4lis "What's the issue with trig? Is it a conceptual problem or just a "wow, these are a bunch of useless and obtuse formulas to memorize"? If it's the second, then you're probably OK. If it's the first, you're probably still OK."

I suppose I have a little of both of those problems. I have found that Trigonometry *seems* rather useless in the grand scheme of things and thus have had little desire to pursue internalization of it, however I also have a couple weak links - mostly related to visualization - in my conceptual understanding of Trigonometry as well.

z4lis, "As far as your concern about attending an "average school", know that the list of undergraduate courses at your school looks pretty much exactly like the list of undergraduate courses at any other school, and you'll probably be using the same books and learning the same core material. Your library will have even more books, so if you really feel inadequate about your progress you can always read more."

Oh, sorry for the unintentional implications! I haven't any qualms with attending an average school. I understand that I will be able to get as firm an education from this school as any as long as I apply myself to the subjects. Furthermore, the library at the UAF's campus is considered to be the best in the polar region.

Bjorgen Jansen, "If you like physics but are unsure about math, take a joint major in both (you will get a better understanding of the math used in the physics portion, and thus the physics would be easier). Then when you become more sure you can switch to one or the other or stay in both; I was in math and physics joint honours and I switched to math half way through the degree."

Thank you! This actually sounds like something I might be doing. Initially I was not so certain if I could perform adequately while dual majoring in Physics and Mathematics, but due to your statement in conjunction mdyrud's statement I believe that I will be able to at least hold onto a good GPA until I have decided on which one I prefer.

Thank you, all!

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Dopefish
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Re: Should I major in mathematics?

Postby Dopefish » Mon Feb 21, 2011 2:44 am UTC

As someone in combined honours (formerly double major) I'd be inclined to say that doing a double major is in fact easier on your GPA than if you were to purely do a single subject (although I'm physics/chem versus physics/math). The reason being, the requirements tend to be loosened so you end up spreading yourself around comparitively low level courses in both (or at least, courses you're taking out of interest, rather than explicit requirement), rather then taking on all that one subject has to offer. So with regards to GPA, don't be shy about double major-ness.

That said, the fact you do end up divided between subjects means at the end you aren't necessarily amazing at either one of them individually, and that could potentially be an issue depending on what you want to do after. As such, you might want to consider committing to one or the other after your first or second year rather than sticking with a double all the way through. For the first year or two though when you don't yet know exactly, opting for a double works fine, and it probably wouldn't be difficult to switch to just one once you know what you want to do.

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Re: Should I major in mathematics?

Postby Meem1029 » Mon Feb 21, 2011 7:01 am UTC

Also, a physics/math double major is an awesome fit. At least at my school, the requirements for them for the first 3 semesters are the same (Calc 1,2,3(multivariate)). The only difference is that math encourages you to take computer science one of those semesters, which could be a good idea anyway. Anyway, I started as math/physics with the intention of doubling in undergrad and going to grad in physics, but I'm now considering which I'm going to go to grad school in, because I am loving upper level math (but haven't gotten to upper level physics, I'm just a freshman). I would strongly recommend at least taking classes in both to see which you prefer. Also, with your computer classes in high school are you considering a computer science major? A lot of times an introductory programming or computer science class is required for both math and physics majors so you could try that out too.
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willthesane
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Re: Should I major in mathematics?

Postby willthesane » Mon Feb 21, 2011 6:48 pm UTC

some good instructors at UAF.(my school, and majoring in mathematics) i'd second the walk into the chapman building(math department here) and talk to an advisor. one of the first things i did, the department chair has an open door most of the time. when i started i was told to talk to him and he'll give a pretty good rundown of the math department.

oh and the CS department is pretty good too. one of the better schools with respect to how to a good security background. dual major math/CS and these majors go together really well. sorry can't comment on math/physics. only thing about physics i'd really suggest is try to get newman for phys 211/212. the other instructors i had from that department are good but newman has a certain enthusiasm that is kinda infectious.

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Re: Should I major in mathematics?

Postby doogly » Mon Feb 21, 2011 8:14 pm UTC

More concurrance. Take 3 semesters of physics (get that intro modern in! it's so delightful!), finish calc and do lin alg, and snatch a programming course or two. Since these are sequential you wouldn't be expected to double or triple up on a math or physics course if you were committed to majoring in it anyway. It is an excellent plan. After a year you should be much better positioned to commit to one or the other (or both! or engineering!).
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willthesane
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Re: Should I major in mathematics?

Postby willthesane » Mon Feb 21, 2011 11:56 pm UTC

i'm a comp sci/math major at UAF. i like the idea of taking cs 201/202 early, if for no other reason than it forces you to think in an ordered manner. at the same time the calculus courses will be useful at UAF no matter which you pursue. if you choose the math degree, then cs201 is acceptable as a math elective towards the math degree.

though i've taken classes from, or talked to the head of both the math/physics departments. for UAF physics specific questions i'd highly advise you drop in on them. if that is you are from fairbanks. if not then i'd suggest emails. they are all very helpful people.

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Re: Should I major in mathematics?

Postby SunAvatar » Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:54 pm UTC

The thing about trigonometry is that it's a full course made out of content that could have fit on 20 pages. The reason it's this way is because the lead-up to that content is so insufficient that, even after a full year, a lot of students just don't get it, and moreover they've been tricked into thinking it's hard. Suddenly you're expected to do things like model a physical situation geometrically, or understand what a function actually is, and students who are waiting for the formula end up hopelessly confused because no one has remembered to tell them there might not be a formula.

Back to the topic: Honestly, I have no idea if you'd like a math major or not, so my advice is to dive straight into the deep end. See if the instructor will let you into Abstract Algebra in your first semester (though I see from the catalog that they won't, since the course only runs in the spring). In my experience, that was the course that separated budding young math majors into two groups:
  • "Wow, this is even better than I thought!"
  • "You know, my true passion has always been mechanical engineering."
If you're likely to be successful in mathematics, you'll probably be in the first group, even if you find the course incredibly hard.

If this sounds like I'm setting you up to fail, it's because I am. Specifically, I'm setting you up to fail early. You have this hypothesis that you would like to study mathematics in depth, so test it! If it doesn't work out, at least you won't already be crotch-deep in unnecessary college credits for whatever you do end up studying.

To allay at least one of your fears: When I started at college, my first course was Precalculus. I finished my B.S. in mathematics four years later and had time for an A.A. in psychology along the way. I don't know whether this is the norm or not, but I don't recall anyone ever being surprised to hear it. Your existing level of development is really not a problem.
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