Why do we study mathematics

>> Timm Rometzki

In June 2002 I participated in the competition of the Vieweg Verlag I study mathematics because ... took part. This is my post:

I study mathematics because ...

I suspect there is no other subject that encourages you to think about why you are studying it as mathematics. When asked about my choice of studies, the two most common reactions to my answer are:

  • "Why do you study math?" (this question is usually accompanied by a more or less horrified expression) and
  • ... (short "Aha" and: change of subject).
In the meantime I have found out that, in order to continue the conversation, it is helpful to mention right away: "... and economics as a minor. I want to work in management." - But that is only the half truth.
Even if I will not be able to bring the whole truth to light, I will at least try to explain as dense a subset of my reasons for studying mathematics as possible in a slightly mathematical style. In order to highlight my reasons clearly and above all clearly, I will assign a small letter in brackets to each reason (or element) after its first appearance.
1. Problem: How did I get the idea to start studying mathematics?
2. Problem: Why am I still studying math?
Solution to the first problem:
When it came to choosing a course of study, I felt like most of the other generally interested classmates: I switched from the 7th / 8th grade onwards. Class periodically my interests and thus my professional goal. After I had chosen economics as a compulsory elective in the 9th and 10th grades, I switched to a high school in the 11th grade, which offered business as an advanced course and was also otherwise business-oriented. I did this partly out of an interest in business, but more likely because I wanted something new - variety. [Which brings us to the first element: (a): = variety.]
So at this high school I chose economics and maths as advanced courses that determined my current path. I developed a monotonously growing interest in economics [(b): = interest in economics] (I've always liked math) and from now on I fluctuated only periodically between studying math, business administration and economics.
But three months before my Abitur award I was quite sure: "I'm studying economics!" The reason: Economics is interesting, mathematical and you have good career prospects. But then a friend who studies mathematics advised me to attend a math lecture during the Easter break, when the summer semester was just beginning, which I did. I tried to follow the lecture and took part in the household chores that have to be done on a weekly basis. I sacrificed almost my entire week of vacation for the first housework - fascinated by the completely "different" tasks. [(c): = fascination with mathematics and solving mathematical problems] Next to school I tried to continue attending the lecture. Even if I soon missed the boat, one thing became clear to me: I will study mathematics. I will formulate the reasons for this change of heart in the 2nd part of this essay.
Solution to the second problem:
The question of why you are still doing something, although you have already decided to do it, may sound a little pointless at first. However, this is the question that gradually becomes clear to me why I was suddenly so sure that only studying mathematics would be an option for me.
For me, when studying mathematics, the focus is less on mathematics than on dealing with and solving problems. [(d): = learning a systematic approach to problem solving] At the beginning of each week I sit with my fellow students in front of my lecture-accompanying exercises, at first I understand (almost) nothing and I cannot imagine myself coming up with the solution to the problems I have been faced with and yet I am clear about it: I will solve most of it this time too and not despair.
[The last sentence hides my most important elements: (e): = teamwork - it is fun to develop evidence in a group; (f): = Learning to deal with seemingly "unsolvable" problems - and thus becoming resistant to frustration and despair and thus: (g): = Having the feeling of growing beyond one's own horizon] In addition, it is a sublime one Feeling of having found and formulated proof independently. [(h): = Every solved problem gives one such intellectual satisfaction that I hardly know from other areas].
Finally, it should be mentioned that mathematicians are desperately wanted, which gives me even more strength to persevere in difficult phases. [(i): = good job prospects]
I still study mathematics because I enjoy studying and I hope to advance mentally and professionally through the course, because differentiated thinking is required in all areas of our world to solve large as well as small problems.
Altogether it follows: The set {(a), (b), ..., (i)} reflects, as mentioned above, only part of the reasons against taking up a degree in mathematics. Some are fascinated by mathematics itself, others by its methodology or both, but one thing seems to be the same for all math students: It is the enthusiasm and fascination to discover the many bridges that exist between the abstract "mathematical world" and the "known to us." World "exist.


The Vieweg study guide is recommended, here you can find more information.