Math is hard. It is…or at least for most of us anyways. It seems that those who are unable to do (or simply just enjoy) math assumes that we math majors are geniuses. Why? We as a society praise the mathematicians who magically know equations or derive theorems out of thin air, but where are the mathematicians who struggle? In other areas of study, we see people learning and failing along the way, but this isn’t something common to mathematics. So if my peers in their respective subjects aren’t expected to be perfect, why am I? This is a question that I have been asking myself for 3 years now.
During my college career thus far, I have noticed myself failing quizzes or spending hours on homework while my classmates turn in pristine proofs and flawless tests. Being someone who wants to be successful in math, this is heartbreaking to me. It’s been suggested to me that maybe math isn’t necessarily my thing or that I just need to take a step back and evaluate where I’m going with my undergraduate degree. The way I see it, math is a great passion to have. There are very few sectors in the workforce who don’t use math in some capacity and math is fascinating to me
I’ve started to wonder if my passion for mathematics is going to be eclipsed by the struggles I have in class. Seeing this, my boyfriend sent me this video the other day hoping for me to see someone else just like me who was struggling. Just watching this video made me want to cry. I thought to myself “Here is another human who is going through the same exact thing I’m going through. I see this guy and I know he’s going to be alright. I’m going to be alright too”.
This message, although important for everyone to hear, is especially important for women mathematicians to hear. Women often feel they cannot be mathematicians because they believe that they had to have been born with some “innate understanding” or genius to be successful. Some experts in mathematics believe this is why we see so few women with higher degrees and positions in math. Society sees male mathematicians more as brilliant while females are just…sort of there.
After seeing this video I plan to create a plan that will enable me to make strides in my learning everyday. I need to focus on consistency when it comes to reading my textbooks, doing practice problems, attending conferences/workshops, and writing here at Modern Math.
Yes, there will always be people out there who are smarter than us and seem to understand the material better than we do (and more quickly). But here’s the thing: at least we aren’t giving up. We all need to take this guy’s advice and start having a real problem with quitting.
Here’s hoping we, the mathematicians who suck at math, come out on top eventually.
Check out one mathematician’s view on failure and perseverance at 11:43 in this episode of Humans of New York
Taken from a collection of 1200 interviews on the streets of New York City, this week's episode features people searching for a purpose.
Posted by Humans of New York: The Series on Thursday, September 21, 2017
PS- I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think hard work beats talent in math?
PPS- What makes you feel like a mathematician?