The Rewards of a Convoluted Journey

By Mitchell Harris, University of New England

My journey through mathematics was a convoluted one. I thought I would utilise this space to speak a little on it.

In 2011, I was told by some of my high school mathematics teachers that I should study general mathematics, instead of advanced, if any at all. Moreover, they may even have had a point, based on my performance and motivation at school for the preceding four years. Nonetheless, with the encouragement of one other particularly supportive teacher, Dr. Fowler, I sat 2-unit Mathematics in Years 11 and 12… and it was a slog! Indeed, it turned out to be my lowest mark, well below my scores in English and Ancient History, for which my scores were mediocre anyway.

In 2014 I was accepted into the Bachelor of Science / Bachelor of Arts double degree, with majors in Biology and Philosophy respectively. This involved taking the elementary first-year mathematics unit common to every science major. I was surprised to find this more interesting than biology, and so I made the rash decision to change into the mathematics major. I took both of the advanced first-year mathematics units concurrently in the second semester, and found it totally overwhelming.

Then I made the decision to drop out of mathematics, and enrol in a psychology degree. I still can’t say for sure whether this was because I found psychology interesting, or mathematics terrifying. However, for the next year I spent more time working on mathematics for my own sake, than on my actual coursework. The curiosity that attracted me into mathematics was still there, and so I changed into the mathematics major for a second time.

From here, things went better. I began to do well in my mathematics courses. And before long, I found myself tutoring the 2-unit mathematics courses that I once struggled with. I even had one high-school student who was doubting themselves say something along the lines of “You’re just good at this and I’m not”. I was able to truthfully say to them that they were doing better than I did when I was at their stage! I’ve since tutored for first-year university subjects as well. Now, in 2019, I will be commencing my Honours in Mathematics, and have a love for the subject that you couldn’t have explained to me when I first started.

I guess the point that I’m making is something like this. What is important is not that you are naturally talented at mathematics. But that you are interested in it, are willing to work hard at it, and   eventually, that you love it.

My sincere thanks to my supervisor, Dr. Thomas Kalinowski, for his help and guidance throughout this project.

 

Mitchell Harris was a recipient of a 2018/19 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship.

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