What’s It Like Studying Maths at University?

What’s It Like Studying Maths at University?

October 11, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


Today I thought I’d talk to you about
what it’s like study maths at university because if you didn’t know I study maths
at university ,I’m about to go into my third year at Southampton, third and
final year thank God! Obviously it’s the time of year that people are going back
to school, people are starting uni for the first time and it’s also the time of
year that people in year 13 or upper sixth are deciding whether or not to go to
university and what they want to study. I’ve tried to film this video three
separate times already and every time the sun does this as soon as I start
filming. Great! *mumbling* The lighting’s gonna change in this video a lot, you’re just gonna have
to put up with it. I guess before I started my course I didn’t really know what to
expect, I was kind of avoiding thinking about it, so I didn’t go on YouTube and
look for these video. But I think if I did know this information it would have
been useful. It wouldn’t have changed my mind, I don’t think it would have
changed my mind and made me want to study something else or not go to uni but I
think it would have helped just to be a bit more prepared and to know what I was
getting myself into. So first of all, maths is hard. Anybody who tell that you’re studying maths to they just go “whoa… you must be
so smart”. I never really know what to say to that and then when someone tells me
that they study something …something else, that’s not maths, I’m just like “oh cool”. I
feel like that’s very one-sided so that’s the first thing you’ve got to get
used to. I can only talk from my experience and my university and the
course that I do, but I think in general most maths courses are very similar. The
structure is very similar, the content’s very similar. So let’s hope that we can
generalise this a little bit. The major thing to say is yeah it is… it is hard
and there is a lot of work and I think in general any university course there’s
gonna be a lot of work, it’s gonna be hard, it’s definitely gonna be a step
step up from what you were doing in school. Maybe I’m biased but I think
maths especially is a big step up and it’s a lot of work. So much work just to
understand what’s going on. As much as you think that maths is just numbers, the
majority of the notes you wrote in lectures are very wordy. Essentially the
lecturer has basically a paper that they’ve written with theorems and proofs
and examples and all sorts, and they rewrite them on the board for you in the
lecture and you copy them down. That’s the lecture done. Definition, theorem, proof, maybe example, definition, theorem, proof, maybe
example. I mean, I don’t want to slate them because obviously they’re very
smart people but at least lecture inside of their job is just writing down
stuff that they’ve already written for other people to see. Because all the
material you’re covering in lectures, all the notes you’re writing down, quite
often are so abstract or theoretical rather than actual, you know, using
numbers, it takes a lot of work to understand what any of it means, and
there’s not really time in lectures to grasp that because you’ve got to keep
writing and writing and writing what’s being written on the board otherwise
you’re not gonna have notes. That means there needs to be a lot of independent
study time just to understand what’s going on before you have your
independent study time to actually do any work that you’ve actually got to do. Moving on to the work that there is – for most maths courses, the majority of the
assessment is exam based. For me it’s always been 80% and the other 20% is
made up of work that you do throughout the semester rather than the exam at the
end. These can be class tests so like a mini
exam within the lecture theatre that may be worth 5 or 10 percent. We get quite a
lot of exercise sheets like sort of assessed homeworks. You get them weekly and
each one’s worth like one percent of the module but they all add up. Then there’s
some coursework and there are some projects. They sound like a big thing but
most of the time either they’re not that difficult or the lecturers are really lenient with the marks. I’ve had like, I’ve had one
group project and then I’ve had two statistics ones where they give you data
and you have to sort of analyse it and do a write-up about it, but it’s all
pretty basic stuff. In first-year they were really big on the assessed weekly
homework sheets. So every module (I did four modules per semester) there was a
weekly homework sheet, so that’s four sheets to do a week and each one could take me between like an hour and a half to yknow up to eight hours. It depends how
hard it was. I just had no time, I was constantly doing these sheets and I felt
like everybody else was going out on having a great time and I was sort of
left out because I had so much work to do. We fed back to the people at
the top that we had too much and it was it was literally impossible to do it all
I don’t know how I managed it, especially with everything else going on in my life
during first year if you know about all that. Most other subjects didn’t have as much contact time, with me I had sort of
between 18 and 22 hours week, which doesn’t sound a lot when you
compare it to school, but at university that is a lot. Everybody else that I
knew had sort of between four hours a week and like 12, 13 at a push. Contact hours reduced a bit for me this year and also the workload eased up a lot. Instead of
having these weekly sheets which were worth pittance but you still had to do, we had
a lot more class tests and coursework so there are bigger chunks but more spread
out. I say I have 12 hours a week because they’re the ones I go to. If I actually
went to everything that was timetabled I still have about 18, yeah I’d have… I
would have 18, sometimes 19 or 20. So I do four modules at time and each one has
three hours of lectures per week and then one problem class or tutorial. We
also have the occasional computer lab or something like that where if you’ve got
a big piece of coursework like the stats ones that I mentioned you can go and
learn how to use the computer programs that you need. They’re not very often and
they’re also not compulsory. The final two hours are for maths workshops. That
just sounds ridiculous it makes me think of Santa. The great thing about
Southampton maths is that we have our own Student Centre. The Maths Department
encourage you to spend your free time there like in-between lectures and stuff
and generally I do, not to conform, this is a good place to work and it’s also a good
place to hang out and because everyone from maths hangs out in that same place
and studies in that same place, there’s a lot of support. Like if you’re struggling
with a homework question you can go and ask someone else because either they’re
in your year and they might have done it or there are a few years above you and
did that a couple of years ago. And I digressed completely from my topic but
that’s useful to know. My point was that in the Student Centre there are these two workshops a week for each year. During these sessions, all the
lecturers for the modules that that year are taking are in that room, they’re
there to help you, you can ask them questions, they can help you with any
coursework or homework you have to do. Just because of the nature of a maths
degree it’s quite useful to have one place where all those people can go in
and mingle, and like I said I find it really helpful and I don’t go to the
workshops that often, but it is really helpful to have that place that you can
go and because of that, collectively, we don’t really use the library. Like, solo
studying maybe?? We’ve got our own place to study and we don’t need to get out
books, that’s another great positive about maths. There’s no required
reading, there’s no having to buy hundreds of pounds worth of textbooks
and there’s no essays. That is like my number one positive about studying maths. NO ESSAYS!! One thing that I feel like I’m missing out on, which a lot of people get
out of uni, is everyone doing degrees in social sciences and humanities, yknow,
politics… they’re constantly referring back to real life in the real world and
things that are happening right now. And yeah, like I’ve read the news headlines
and I know what’s going on in the media but that’s about it.
I have no intellectual views on anything, I have no sort of critical thinking
skills. All that I’ve got is that I can do fancy adding and think logically. I
suppose what I’m saying is that as mathematicians we’re stuck in our own
maths bubble protected from the real world. Nothing comes in, nothing goes out.
We’re off studying fields and graph theory and vectors and none of those are
actual things. They just they came out of our brains and we decided that they
mattered but… do they matter??? Excuse me while I just have a quick existential crisis
about academia. And everyone else in the world is learning about real things. And yeah…maths… maths….. are numbers real?? Numbers are a construct, we made them up. I’ll come back to the
bubble stuff in a sec, I just want to quickly explain about optional modules
and stuff like that so you’ve got a bit of context. Okay! I can only assume this
is at least very similar at other universities but at Southampton
first-year mathematics (I hate the word ‘mathematics’ it makes me feel really
weird and saying it to people who don’t even “maths”, it just makes me feel stupid.
Same with ‘mathematician’. To everyone else that just sounds really poncey but that’s
a word we actually use, seriously!) Some people had taken further maths, some
people hadn’t, so everybody was coming in at different levels. Also
international students, like they don’t even do A Levels they do other stuff. The aim of first year is to get everybody to the same level with the basic knowledge they
need for the rest of their degree. Everybody did exactly the same, we didn’t
get any options at all. In second year we got a bit more freedom. We got to choose
between applied maths, statistics and pure maths.
I chose pure and statistics even though I don’t like statistics. And then we also
got one optional thing between stochastic processes, which I have no clue what it
is, sorry, and algorithms which is operational research, kind of like
decision maths. And then third year, the one I’m about to go into, basically got to pick everything. I think there was one or two
compulsory things and everything else it’s up to you. Anyway back to the bubble
thing… Because in first year we all did the same modules, we were all in the same
lectures together, we didn’t really see anybody from any other subjects. I know
everyone studying Social Sciences had to take the same statistics for Social
Sciences module, everyone from all those different disciplines were in the same
lectures and, you know, you got to meet other people doing different courses, and
a lot more variety there. In Social Sciences again, a lot of the modules are
kind of interchangeable between the different degrees, so again meeting new
people, seeing different people’s perspectives on things, broadening your
horizons. But with maths, no – we don’t really do that. Also not many people come
in to maths to take that as an optional module. Even subjects like physics and
chemistry, we have a couple of people come in but it’s not compulsory. There’s
an easier option that they could take but just a couple of people choose to
put themselves through the horror that is like second year mathematical
analysis. Our maths society is called Southampton University Mathematics Society – SUMS! We’ve had two maths house crawls where, you know, like a pub crawl but you
go to different math students’ houses, and there’s a lot of free alcohol, so that
was great fun. We’ve also had a couple of movie nights – maths related movies. I
think we had… The Imitation Game is one. I can’t really remember any others. And we
also want to see Hidden Gigures at the cinema when it came out, which is great
because I love that film. We haven’t yet managed anything big, like a Christmas
party or the end of year ball or a boat party. We fall under the Faculty of
Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. I had a lot of flatmates in first year
that fell under social and human sciences and they were going to all these faculty
balls. The maths people never got invited to these, like we’re in the same faculty
and technically yes, sure, we were invited, but nobody told us. We’re just completely
separate from them, it’s like we don’t exist to them. *sigh* I feel like I’ve been
talking for hours and the fact that my face is now completely in shadow proves
that, so I’m gonna shut up. Hopefully this video has been helpful to some of you, if
you’re just starting uni or even if you’re applying to UCAS in the
next couple of months. If you absolutely do not have a clue about maths and it’s
not your thing at all but you’re just here because you watch my videos, then
first of all thank you! This is not the most interesting topic, I
am aware. Hopefully you kind of understand a bit more about what it’s
actually like studying maths at uni, like it’s not just adding things up! I’ve been
talking about maths for so long I think it actually made me go a bit loopy. So
I’m gonna go now, thank you very much- Oh!! See what I mean??!! Aaaah this is why I never film
videos standing up. Let’s try that again. All my links are below as usual, thank
you very much for watching and I’ll see you very soon, bye!!