Real Talk: Math is Hard, Not Impossible
The quote on the right comes from an excellent Slate article by Chase Felker on why students shouldn't be afraid of or intimidated by mathematics. I posted the quote on Instagram not too long ago, and since it addresses a topic that is near-and-dear to my own heart, I decided to include it on the blog as well. Felker prefaces the quote by saying,
Giving up on math means you don't believe that careful study can change the way you think.
He further notes that writing, like math, "is also not something that anyone is 'good' at without a lot of practice, but it would be completely unacceptable to think that your composition skills could not improve."
Friends, this is so true! Being 'good' at math boils down to hard work and perseverance, not whether or not you have the 'math gene.' "But," you might protest, "I'm so much slower than my classmates are!" or "My educational background isn't as solid as other students'!" or "I got a late start in mathematics!"* That's okay! A strong work ethic and a love and enthusiasm for learning math can shore up all deficiencies you might think you have. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not claiming it'll be a walk in the park. To be honest, some days it feels like a walk through an unfamiliar alley at nighttime during a thunderstorm with no umbrella. But, you see, that's okay too. It may take some time and the road may be occasionally bumpy, but it can be done!
This brings me to another point that Felker makes: If you enjoy math but find it to be a struggle, do not be discouraged! The field of math is HUGE and its subfields come in many different flavors. So for instance, if you want to be a math major but find your calculus classes to be a challenge, do not give up! This is not an indication that you'll do poorly in more advanced math courses. In fact, upper level math classes have a completely (I repeat, completely!) different flavor than calculus. Likewise, in graduate school you may struggle with one course, say algebraic topology, but find another, such as logic, to be a breeze. Case in point: I loathed real analysis as an undergraduate** and always thought it was pretty masochistic. But real analysis in graduate school was nothing like undergraduate real analysis (which was more like advanced calculus), and now - dare I say it? - I sort of enjoy the subject. (Gasp!)
All this to say that although Felker's article is aimed at folks who may be afraid to take college-level math, I think it applies to math majors and graduate students too. I highly recommend you read it if you ever need a good 'pick-me-up.' And on those days when you feel like the math struggle is harder than usual, just remember:
Even the most accomplished mathematicians had to learn HOW to learn this stuff!
Keep at it, ya'll!
* Hey, I didn't even know I liked math until the summer before my third year of college! How's that for 'late'?!
**You see, I'm more of a big-picture-math person, rather than a detail-loving-math person. Needless to say, epsilon was my least favorite letter of all the letters in all the alphabets in the history of all the universes... ever. (You get my point.)