So you want to study Mathematics?
I have heard that question many times and have answered yes at every level. Why? I hear you ask back. I enjoyed it, that’s why. It might not be for everyone but if you like applying ideas, methods and even just counting things have a think about Mathematics and read ahead. I am going to tell you about my experience of Maths from GCSE up to PhD.
If I am honest here, the ideas you learn when you are in your teens can truly effect your life decisions. In mathematics this is no different. You get to grips with the basics of algebra, probabilty, statistics and even some mechanics. All these new words and ideas can seem daunting but with a great teacher, similarly minded friends (I was lucky to have both) and what might seem like years of revision it will sink in and form the foundations for your scientific training.
So you have got through the first most stress filled two years of your education and now you have chosen to learn more maths. You must be crazy, now you get to learn Calculus, Poisson and Normal Distributions, Newtons Laws and so much more Algebra and if you are even a higher level of crazy and decide to take on Further Maths you can take on Induction, Matrices, Complex numbers, Graph theory and so much more. This period of my education is the time I remember the most.
From GCSE to AS a large portion of my friends chose the same modules as I did and we simply enjoyed attempting, what seemed like, tough complex problem together. I also studied Physics and started seeing the connections between what I was learning in say a C1 and M1 course along with the Simple Harmonic Motion in my Physics courses. As I went through those years of exams and hours of lessons those paths between sciences grew stronger and invaluable to each other. My teacher (whom I am most grateful to) inspired us all to try different ways of learning and picked myself and a few others out to trial Further Maths. Sadly our timetables did not allow us to be taught it directly and we had to learn these modules by ourselves. This became a personal challenge and proved most effective in teaching me how learning an idea by yourself can be most rewarding. Of course, we got stuck – often. When this happened the teacher was not hard to find and as always helped get us back on track. I finished my A-levels with exactly what I wanted. Great grades, fantastic memories and the drive to go to University and continue with … you guessed it …
Now you really must think I am bonkers. Maybe I am, but I was always told to continue doing things you enjoy, so I did. I had enrolled in a 4 year undergraduate MMath course at the University of Sheffield. The first year was much like Further Maths but by the time June exams were over and the second year started things took a turn towards the tough side. With courses like Rings and Groups, Numerical Linear Algebra and Applied Differential Equations even the titles started to scare me. However, the work I had put in to my Further maths AS-level paid off in a different way. The ability to work out things from books and with the internet plus working in collaboration with my amazing maths friends truly kept me in line. Now I come to a small issue where you might be thinking, “so you love Maths, you have done a lot of it, you must be a real bookworm and have no social life”. WRONG, not all Mathematicians like to sit in their rooms and prove theorems all night (don’t get me wrong a beautiful proof is exactly that). Even within the Mathematics society nights out were great fun and the experience of university offers so many extra curricular groups that if you enjoy something outside your studies it will be there. I play Ultimate Frisbee and as you can imagine immersed myself in that but I won’t go into too much detail here. The final couple years at university are mostly spent in the library revising for those exams or researching for projects. My final year itself was a Masters year so involved a huge project and introduced me to academic research through my assigned supervisor. In July 2010 I graduated and here many people went off to work with their degrees in hand and the future before them. My story could end here but I chose to carry on studying for a…
I should have been given medication to stop me, joking. The joy of researching a problem or area of Mathematics that no one else has had inspired me to carry on in this way. I moved to London and started at Imperial College to study Fluid Dynamics in the Applied Maths department. Now the experience here is different for each student but one thing that is clear is that you have to find ways to motivate yourself, there are no real exams and a distant 4 year deadline to submit a thesis in by. It will come rushing up and you have to be able to defend your work by then. I am not saying worry too much, but keep on top of it. Work hard, play hard.
I hope I have given you a little insight into my experiences of studying Mathematics for over a decade and what it might take to keep going. I mean you might have to be a little crazy but then a little crazy can be fun too. Trust me, I’m a Mathematician.