What’s it like studying Maths?

Alex Vellins

OK, the TLDR here (Too Long; Didn’t Read) is that maths is hard but fun; it’s really satisfying when you finally understand a proof (and some of them are really cool), but you have to have a bit of patience and to ask for help when needed – (don’t worry, there’s plenty of help).

Style

The style of maths at uni is very different to school or college as it’s far more rigorous and proof-based, for example, in analysis (the 1st year module that’s the most rigorous), you’ll start from proving fundamental stuff like a.0=0 and build up to defining derivatives and integrals.

In the 2nd year module, complex analysis, you’ll prove crazy results like the identity theorem: knowing where a holomorphic (complex differentiable) function is at a non-isolated point, (i.e., the limit of any convergent sequence), is enough to know where it is on the whole complex plane! This module is my favourite because of the crazy results, the fact that complex functions are nicer to work with than real functions, and because of the lecturer – he’s very funny and clear.

At uni, the focus moves from memorisation and calculation to deeper understanding. In exams and assignments, you will really have to think about (and stare at!) the definitions you know in order to make progress. As you’ll learn many definitions and proofs, your notes will be technical and wordy – it’s like learning a new language!

Some technical writing

Teaching

The 15-20 contact hours a week is less than you’re used to in school or college, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy – lectures can be very fast-paced (so I find the recordings very useful!) You also need to prepare for tutorials (where you work through pre-assigned problems in a classroom-like environment) and assignments (weekly homework).

It’s inevitable that you won’t understand something. You can get help through office hours (times when your lecturer is available to answer questions), drop ins, and asking your tutors (the people that run the tutorials). I prefer asking them than lecturers as they can relate to you a bit more as they haven’t been studying maths their entire lives!

Is maths at uni right for you?

While enjoying maths at A-level is a good indicator, the large step up to uni means you should consider things like whether you:

● persist when you don’t understand something,

● are an independent learner (as no one will check if you turn up to lectures),

● are willing to ask for help,

● are willing to attempt questions that you can’t immediately see your way through,

● enjoy watching online uni lectures,

● enjoy thinking deeply about the concepts you’ve learned.

I hope this helped – I’m on Uni buddy if you have any questions!

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Alex Vellins

Hi, I’m Alex, a second year studying maths and philosophy (within Natural Sciences) at South college. In my spare time I help run Effective Altruism Durham (which is about using evidence and reason to do the most good with our careers and donations), volunteer at Samaritans (a mental health hotline) and work 3 part time jobs.

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