How did I end up studying mathematics? What are some of the lessons I have learnt along the way? This blog post looks at some of the reasons I chose to study mathematics and some of the things I had to learn to get where I am today.

If I had been told 10 years ago that I would become a Vacation Research Scholar with the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) I would not have believed it. Why? Quite simply because I wasn’t good at maths, neither was I that interested in it. However, looking back from where I am now, I realise that I have learnt a few important lessons which have completely changed my perspective on mathematics. So what are these lessons? In this blog I want to tell you about them and how they have benefited me and hopefully how they could benefit you. Maybe you’re learning maths and struggling with it, or maybe your someone wanting to start studying maths for the very first time. This blog post will be of most use to both these groups of people.

The first lesson I had to learn was that Mathematics is not just for geniuses. In grade 8 and 9 however, that was exactly what I thought. My Grade 8 report card had this comment from my teacher “…hence his result in the first assessment in Number was less than satisfactory.” That is the nice way of saying that your falling behind in mathematics. Consequently, I started to think I didn’t have the brain power to ever be good at maths, this lasted until grade 10. Luckily for me, I had some amazing teachers who helped me to realise that what mattered wasn’t how much I currently knew, but how hard I worked to know more. I stopped blaming others for my difficulties and started working on what I could control and my interest and love of mathematics began to flourish. Even though I have been studying and using mathematics for many years now, I often feel like I don’t know enough, or that I never will know enough. When those feelings start to arise, I gain perspective from Albert Einstein who said, “Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.” Even the best of us struggle, but with the right mindset anyone can learn mathematics.

I have often heard people say something like “Why would I need to study mathematics, when would I ever use it in the real world?” The second lesson I have learnt is that although mathematics is abstract, it can directly influence the way we live our lives. Michael J. Gelb said “Life is a continuous exercise in creative problem solving.” I cannot think of a discipline of study where strategies to solve problems are examined in more detail than mathematics. The specifics of the problems are often irrelevant, but the mentality required to solve a math problem is useful in almost every part of life. Thinking outside the box, solving a simpler problem, organising information and logical reasoning are all techniques used in mathematics but are all commonly used to make life decisions. So by studying mathematics our ability to solve any problem is increased.

I know mathematics is not for everyone, and that is okay. However, for those who feel the spark of interest and the desire to learn, I wish you all the best and hope that these two lessons will be of use in your journey.

Figure 1: Highlights from my time as an AMSI Vacation Research Scholar

Nicholas Maurer
University of Queensland.

Nicholas Maurer
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