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Academic Guidance Academic Guidance - Academic guidance for those pursuing a college degree... what college? Grad school? PhD help?


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May 5th, 2012, 04:49 PM   #1
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Intelligent Enough For Mathematics?

I'm sure you get asked this question many times, if not then I'd be quite surprised. Anyway let me cut to the chase, the last time I studied any mathematics was about 9 years ago in college when I studied for a BTEC National Diploma in Engineering. To be honest I scraped through on the maths. Now I'm confident that this was not because of lack of ability but simply because the grounding concepts were simply not taught or explained to be prior to college.

For instance in GCSE which I studied 3 years prior I was taught basic trigonometry, I know how to use Sin, Cos and Tan but I had no idea why I was using them. No idea where they came from, why or how they worked. To me it was like if someone wanted to learn a language...teaching them a few phrases so they can solve one or two problems...but never teaching them the alphabet. Or constantly using the water analogy to describe a circuit. Or if you gave someone an equation to solve a problem...sure they could plug in the values and get the answer but if they don't know why and how it works, when they encounter a problem they're going to be stumped instead of being able to solve it themselves. So when I arrived in college and started to phase diagrams I was stumped and had a hard time. It was only a few years ago that I finally thought...you know what I'm going to go back and learn what I should have learned years ago. So among other things I learned the unit circle...I know to others here it might seem basic things, but these are things that were left out, gaps I needed to fill.

Anyway to sum this all up. I'm thinking of doing a degree in mathematics with the open university. I wanted to know whether hard work is enough or do you need talent as well? I know some people just have a way of looking at a problem and they may find it easier to solve than others, a lot like some people are better in social situations, or philosophical debates. My main worry is that I'll start the degree and a year or so down the line I might find myself out of my depth and no matter how much effort I put in I simply won't be able to understand the concepts required to progress.

I appreciate anyone taking the time to comment, also on a curious note would anyone also like to comment on what drew them to maths in the first place or what they find exciting/interesting about the subject. I've always liked algebra and been interesting in solving problems which is why I took engineering.
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May 5th, 2012, 06:17 PM   #2
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Re: Intelligent Enough For Mathematics?

What you lacked before was motivation -- not necessarily "I don't want to work" motivation, but rather "why am I doing this" motivation. Now that you have a purpose for learning the math I'm sure it will come that much more easily.

So yes, I suspect you're intelligent enough.
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May 5th, 2012, 10:49 PM   #3
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Re: Intelligent Enough For Mathematics?

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Originally Posted by Nick1234
For instance in GCSE which I studied 3 years prior I was taught basic trigonometry, I know how to use Sin, Cos and Tan but I had no idea why I was using them. No idea where they came from, why or how they worked. To me it was like if someone wanted to learn a language...teaching them a few phrases so they can solve one or two problems...but never teaching them the alphabet. Or constantly using the water analogy to describe a circuit. Or if you gave someone an equation to solve a problem...sure they could plug in the values and get the answer but if they don't know why and how it works, when they encounter a problem they're going to be stumped instead of being able to solve it themselves. So when I arrived in college and started to phase diagrams I was stumped and had a hard time.
Funny, I complain about this all the time. It is not only difficult to learn anything with this plug n chug method, but it's also difficult to teach people whose educational backgrounds were like this.

You had the intelligence to figure out what was wrong. It's more than most instructors comprehend. I have to agree that you now have a better motivation, the wish to really learn it. You never truly "learned" it before.

As to your "curious" question... I don't know the levels of math that most of the people around here do - I liked algebra and analytic geometry, but I disliked trig and calc, and never went beyond very basic calc, and don't remember most of what I did learn. Then in college I had business algebra and stats, which is pretty much all I know a this point. But I do like that stuff. To me it's a puzzle, and I like puzzles. I was like that as a kid, always doing different types of puzzles. But the "why" is like asking why I like music. I don't know, I just do. I somewhat suspect that at least part of it is genetic. My dad was an engineer, and while I have zero interest in engineering, I did get that logical, analytical thing from him. All three of us siblings got that and have just used it in different ways.
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May 8th, 2012, 10:52 AM   #4
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Re: Intelligent Enough For Mathematics?

Thank you both for your replies, and sorry for my late reply. I was expecting a notification email when my post was commented on. Just now decided to check anyway.

Its good to know I wasn't the only one who had gaps in what I was taught, and kind of bad too. My favourite one was always when one person would say "I wont cover this as you'll learn it next year" and when you get there the first thing you hear is now...you should have covered this last year..so Im not going to cover it"

Anyway I really appreciate the comments. Im still sat on the fence about taking up the degree. Its between maths and philosophy I think. Ive always had a practical, investigative mind. Taking things to pieces to see how they work, rebuilding them again. I think thats why I lile algebra and pure maths. Its similar, you almost take it apart and see how it works.

The deadline is October so I guess I'll have to make a decision soon one way or another. But thanks guys, I think its lacking confidence in my ability to comprehend the more difficult stuff and thus see the course through to the end...thats what holds me back. Then I guess that could be said of all lifes problems lol. Man would never have left the cave if he didnt challenge that thought pattern.
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May 8th, 2012, 11:02 AM   #5
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Re: Intelligent Enough For Mathematics?

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Originally Posted by Nick1234
Anyway I really appreciate the comments. Im still sat on the fence about taking up the degree. Its between maths and philosophy I think.
I had the same choice. I went to college majoring in math but after a good experience with a philosophy class my professor moved to a different school (with a better reputation in that subject) and asked me to come with him. I didn't... but I though about it very seriously. (Obviously if I moved I would have been a Philosophy major there.)

A light-hearted view on your choice:
http://xkcd.com/1052/
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May 9th, 2012, 12:14 AM   #6
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Re: Intelligent Enough For Mathematics?

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Originally Posted by Nick1234
But thanks guys, I think its lacking confidence in my ability to comprehend the more difficult stuff and thus see the course through to the end...thats what holds me back. Then I guess that could be said of all lifes problems lol. Man would never have left the cave if he didnt challenge that thought pattern.
Yup, that could be said of all life's problems. Some things can be scary. I was recently contemplating going back for a Masters and absolutely had some doubts whether I was capable of getting through it. At the same time, the idea of actually accomplishing it had definite appeal. There's certainly more satisfaction in accomplishing something you had doubts about than something you figured would be a piece of cake.
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May 11th, 2012, 04:57 PM   #7
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Re: Intelligent Enough For Mathematics?

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Originally Posted by Nick1234
My main worry is that I'll start the degree and a year or so down the line I might find myself out of my depth and no matter how much effort I put in I simply won't be able to understand the concepts required to progress.
Your mom won't know unless you tell her about it. If she discovered it, I am sure she will still love you.
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