Mathematics at MIT
Many people think that they don’t like math and they think its hard, they think its very formal, they think it doesn’t say anything to them about their lives or something that they enjoy. But in fact I believe that the ability to appreciate math lies in everybody. For example, for me, Mathematics is just a way of connecting ideas that are really far apart from each other and sort of building a path or stepping stone to get from point A to point B. Maybe as a mathematician I’m sort of in this ether world, or look at the world from a different view point where I just see mathematics everywhere. The amazing thing about mathematics is that it can tell you things about the world. That’s something we know, but what does that really mean. One of the things I think is important to understand is that math is not just about formulas. It’s about ideas. The Math Department at MIT is the department that has the largest number of double majors. So what that means is that a lot of students at MIT like to do math because they recognize it is a really solid background to have, and then they attach something that they really want to do with their life. Many of them major in economics. Many of them major in biology. But the fact that we have the largest number of double majors speaks to the fact that math is the interdisciplinary piece with respect to all the other kind of majors you can have at MIT. The Math Department allows you to take a lot of courses that you just get to choose. You have to take some requirements but you get to choose a lot of them, and then you get to find something you like and really take a lot of courses in that and do a lot of really cool things. We also teach communication intensive courses in mathematics, which is very unusual. The communication intensive courses are courses in which students learn how to write and how to communicate in the major; so how to write in mathematics and how to communicate in mathematics. The students are fantastic. They are also very much willing to learn how to write a paper in math, how to deliver math, and they themselves feel like by the end of the class they can express their mathematical ideas much better than in the beginning. So its very interactive and I think at the end of the day very useful. The Math Department is great. Its a little daunting at first, especially because there are some people who come from backgrounds where they went to some big private school and did a lot of competition math and all sorts of math that just wasn’t available or I didn’t know existed before I came to MIT. It’s been a great experience. I’ve learned a lot about me as a person and said, “OK, this is definitely what I want to do.” And I think you know what you want to do when you’re just so happy doing whatever it is in the subject, really, no matter what it is. What’s amazing is how mathematics is used universally among people. So the mathematics that we do here in the United States is the same mathematics that goes on in other countries. It’s a very challenging subject but it is also a very well organized subject. There’s not such a thing as a gray area, either you get it or you don’t get it. Just like YES or NO. Mathematics is just everywhere and if we can understand mathematics and understand how it relates to the world then we can just make a better world. Because everything’s just mathematics.