Not once have I ever drifted off while thinking about a problem and woke up with the solution. Not once have I dreamed about studying and researching mathematics. Not once have I considered myself to be “good” at mathematics. I still don’t.
Growing up, I never had any dreams.
Not the kind of dreams you have while you’re sleeping but the dreams you have when you’re aspiring to be someone or something. This was maybe the toughest topic I struggled with in school. While everyone around me excitedly shared their ambitious goals with great fervour, I racked my brain to think of what job gives my brain happy chemicals.
So how have I ended up studying mathematics in university?
One thing I have learnt is that you can’t solve the problem of not having a dream by attempting to “think it through”. It is impossible given the lack of experience and knowledge about areas. Pragmatically, this is what happened:
- I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science degree, planning to major in Physics and Chemistry
- I studied Mathematics as a requirement
- I picked up Marketing (curiosity)
- The Marketing lecture was not interesting
- I dropped the Marketing class and resolved to never take a subject with thick wordy textbooks ever again (cancelling out most of my options)
- The Physics Labs were stressful and the chemicals in the Chemistry Labs were scary
- I dropped Physics and Chemistry (cancelling out the rest of my options)
- I was left with Mathematics (and Computer Science as well which I sometimes regret not taking)
I trimmed off all the excess and was left with mathematics. Funnily (and fortunately) enough, I enjoyed it. After a few years, I believe I found those reasons for my enjoyment.
Mathematics is the foundation of many areas: physics, statistics, finance and computer science. It is internationally recognised as the most difficult subject and the one which people from the STEM industry wish they have taken. There is a sense of satisfaction from knowing that what you’re learning is something that few people in the streets can understand.
Reason 2: to achieve economic success in our world, you need to learn new information quickly. Mathematics is highly technical: by struggling with the concepts, your ability to comprehend extremely technical information in a short period is vastly improved. This gives a lot of flexibility to your future career, which is perfect for an indecisive, dreamless person like me.
Moreover, it is a great place to practice problem solving techniques. Life is solving a series of consecutive problems ranked on their urgency. Also struggling with and solving math problems successfully will give your brain happy chemicals.
Finally, as you study mathematics, you realise how beautiful the construction of each pillar of mathematics is. You can see that math is not about big numbers but creativity and big ideas. Sitting back to enjoy the journey as the lecturer reconstructs an entire field of mathematics is satisfying.
Joining in, even more so.
The University of Sydney