Maths Degree Q&A // Advice for Studying Maths at University

Maths Degree Q&A // Advice for Studying Maths at University

September 6, 2019 11 By Kody Olson


Hello everyone, welcome back to my
channel. In today’s video I’m gonna be doing a Q&A, answering everyone’s questions
about studying maths at uni. There are always so many people in the comments asking
questions because apparently there aren’t that many people on YouTube who
talk about maths, which is fair enough. I’ve got a mixture of frequently
asked questions, I asked for some questions on Twitter and Instagram so I’m gonna
answer those today. Just a little disclaimer before I start. Obviously I’m
filming outside right now. There are a lot of birds cheeping, let’s just treat
it as atmospheric noise. I should probably say for context if you are new
around here that I am a maths graduate. I went to Southampton, got a First and I graduated a
year ago now. I had a gap year so I can’t really answer that much about employment.
Let’s start with the big one: how difficult is a maths degree? I’d say it was
definitely up there in the list of most difficult degrees. I mean, maybe I’m
biased because I want to think I’m smart but it is really difficult and you do
have to apply yourself a lot. I’m not saying that people who do other courses
and study other things don’t have to work hard because, I mean, whatever you
end up doing, if you’re doing a degree you’re going to be working hard. I think a
lot of other courses especially more of the social sciences, any kind of essay
writing subjects, the work is less about understanding what’s going on and more
about to sit down and putting hours in to write your essays, or learn the facts, or
whatever it is that you’ve got to do to pass your course. Whereas for maths it
takes time and it takes effort to just be able to understand it and then on top
of that you’ve got to go and put in the hours of work to complete whatever task
you’ve been given to do. So to answer your question, I would say pretty
difficult but it’s not unmanageable. I mean, I wouldn’t consider myself like a
genius but I got a first so if you put the work in and you’re willing to make
the effort to learn things then you’ll be absolutely fine. But it’s definitely
more of a challenging degree than most, I would say. But like I said, maybe I’m
biased. Following on from that another big question that I’m always asked, and I
think that’s fair enough because I do talk about it a lot, is how much of a
step off is it from A Level to degree maths? If you’ve watched any of my maths videos
before you’ll love heard me say that the jump is just ridiculous. The majority of
university maths is theory based. Every so often you get a module where they have
some computational questions and you have to work something out, but even then
most of those exam papers are still theory based and it’s going to be things
like asking you to state definitions and theorems, prove things, and
there’s a lot of reasoning. You’ve always got to know why something happens, you
can’t just state it. Until it’s like 100% proven, we aren’t using
it at all. So we start right at the beginning, with the axioms of real
numbers, which like the most basic rules of maths, the things that we’ve always
taken for granted. Things like timesing by zero makes zero, adding zero makes the
same thing, timesing by one makes the same thing, and then you use those as
your basic building blocks to literally prove everything else that you learn.
It’s very different to the teaching style that there is at A Level. You all
know the A Level syllabus and the lecturers know that that’s your knowledge,
so that’s where they’re going to start from. As I said before, everything you’re doing
you’re doing from first principles. If they bring up something from A Level,
they’re going to introduce it the same way that they introduced any other
theorem and you’re gonna prove it, so everything’s gonna be recapped. There
shouldn’t be any real worry about how difficult the step up will be. As I said,
the step up isn’t necessarily in the maths that you’re doing, it’s just
the way that you’re approaching it, and that’s something that you will just get
used to over time. The next question is the big question that people always
ask me and it’s how important is Further Maths for studying maths at uni? I’d say
on my course 70% did do Further Maths and 30% didn’t, and it became pretty
level straight away really. It wasn’t like we were jumping in straight from
where we’d finished off Further Maths. It was, like I said, starting from the very
beginning and working your way up. The real advantage that Further Maths
gives you is being a bit more familiar with some of the topics like complex
numbers, differential equations and vectors, which are all things which are
quite key elements of first year. I know some schools don’t offer Further Maths,
but if you’ve got the option to do it, it shows dedication to the subject, which is
good for applications; you’re gonna be going into your course with more
experience, more confidence, more understanding of slightly more complex
topics; and at the end of the day if you’re considering studying maths at uni,
it’s likely that you’re already pretty good at it and it comes pretty naturally
to you, in which case it’s gonna be an easy A Level, so just do it. I feel like because
it’s just kind of an extension of Maths the work you put in is maybe like three
quarters of what you’d put into a single subject A Level, if that make sense.
What do I think of a Maths and Philosophy degree or Maths with anything else? Yeah, I
think that’s a great idea. Maths and philosophy go really well together
because they’re both very theoretical. I don’t know if you know this but I started my degree
doing Maths with Spanish and I did that for one semester before I changed out.
Personal circumstances, I couldn’t carry on with it but especially in the
beginning when everything is so intense and it’s just a lot of maths and you’re
not quite used to it, it was nice I found to go and do something that wasn’t maths
for a while. So if there’s something that you’re passionate about and want to
carry on doing it then definitely do. Pure or Applied Maths? For me, Pure all
the way. I am not an Applied Maths girl. I don’t like it. There are two questions about
employment chances. One of them is from Charlotte it says “what kind of work
experience and internships did you do? Advice to improve employability?” I
didn’t do any maths related work experience, I didn’t take out a year to
go into industry or anything. I think all of those things are a really good idea
but at the time I was just focusing on my studies. In terms of advice to
improve employability, I think you’ve just hit the nail on the head there, like
just go out and get experience. I’m definitely not the best person to ask
about this, in fact I’m the one who needs the advice for this, so let me know if
you have any. The other question on employment is how good of an idea is it in
terms of employment after you get your degree?
I think that’s saying how good are the employment prospects for maths
graduates, and they’re pretty good. Maths is a highly sought after field,
anything in STEM is really but especially with maths. It’s a certain way of thinking
which employers are really looking for so I think in terms of prospects for
jobs for graduates they’re very good. It’s just if you don’t apply for
any then you don’t get any. Hi. Oh there’s another one actually. “What career
paths are there for maths graduates? I hate anything to do with finance.” Again,
I’m not the best person to ask. I don’t have any experience in terms of maths
employment. I think the main ones are finance, like you said; actuarial things,
which can be linked to finance; and the other two main branches I suppose are like
computing things and teaching. But of course you don’t have to go into any of
those four things which just came off the top of my head. It doesn’t even have
to be a maths related job, but so many jobs are after people with the skills
that a maths degree brings. I’d say honestly your options are pretty much
limitless. “The limit does not exist. The limit does not exist!”
Did you feel less smart than your peers in seminars? Yes, all the time! And kind of
related to this as well actually is “how good do you need to be to do really
well?” People who talk in seminars are usually the ones who are pretty
confident. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one because when you’re just
looking at the people who are talking it feels like you’re the only one who isn’t.
But if you look around you there are a lot of other people who are feeling the
exact same way as you and to be honest a lot of the people who are talking and
asking questions are probably putting on a front and underneath they’re still a
bit confused too. If you get accepted to do maths at uni then you’re good enough
to do, and that’s that. There are obviously some people who really stand out to be super intelligent and you’re just kind of in awe of how they understand
everything so fast. But you don’t have to be that kind of person to do well, not at
all. At the end of the day it all just comes down to how hard you work, putting
the hours in, just making the effort that if you don’t understand something
you ask. I don’t know if you’ve ever met a maths lecturer, but if you show the
slightest bit of interest in their specialist subject they will be so happy
to talk to you about it. I think you just need to be smart about
how you answer exams. Really hone in on that exam technique. Look out for any hints in lectures about what the lecturer is going to be looking for in an exam
situation. Study any kind of example answers that
they’ve written up for you or gone through a lecture, and you take out the
elements that they’re looking for and you just reproduce them. Get used to
doing the questions that way around. The other thing is being smart about the
modules you take. I know personally I perform a lot better in exams than I do
with coursework, so I would always try to choose modules which were mostly exam.
I liked having sort of 80% exam 20% coursework, that was like my ideal level.
Ask around as well, people in the year above you, what modules do they find
interesting? What lecturers do they like? Are there any modules which seem to
follow the same kind of formula every year? Because those ones, they’re your
safe bets, they’re the ones that you can count on that if all else fails you can
fall back to past exam papers, because the past exam material is the most
relevant. If you feel like you’re not smart enough to do a maths degree,
that’s not true first of all, but second of all there are ways to kind of
outsmart the smart ones and just do well anyway. How many hours did you have to
put in a week to keep up with the work? I’m just trying to think. I would have
about 15 to 20 hours of contact time a week. Some of
that was tutorials or workshops, so they weren’t compulsory things. There
wasn’t anything new that I was learning, it was kind of more of a time to ask any
questions that I had. In terms of actual lectures, I had three a week for each
module and I did four modules, so that’s 12 hours a week of lectures that I had.
Quite often there’s not enough time in the lectures to process the information,
all you can do is write it down. So I’d say like one hour of lectures to one hour
at home writing up my notes if I’d missed anything in the lecture, and
then understanding what it was about. Then I’d usually spend more time studying
whenever I had an assignment. So for most modules it was like once a week there
was a little problem sheet. When I say little, there was probably like five
questions and it took between like 4-6 hours maybe. I think it really does vary
depending on what kind of modules you’re doing, the time of year, and what coursework
you’ve got due, and all sorts of factors. But for the most part, that one
hour after each lecture I think is key, and then maybe four hours a week
on top of that for each module. Obviously everyone’s gonna be different and
work at different speeds and want to spend different amount of time on different
things. So this question is how do I study? So how do I remember how to do
things? How do I keep things in my brain? For me it was writing things down and
doing practice questions. I always tell my students this as well, the way
you learn is by doing practice questions. So any kind of computational thing that
we would need to know for the exam, I would just do a load of questions. After
doing a couple of questions I would maybe write down on a piece of paper, on
one of those little revision card things, like bullet point notes of
how to do that particular method of that computation. In terms of the theory stuff,
writing it down, that’s how I learn things. You might have to know a
definition more or less word-for-word. The way I would learn that is literally
writing it down on a piece of paper and then, kind of like you would do lines at
school, just keep repeating and repeating it, writing it down and it down,
and each time comparing it to the original, underlining anything that
wasn’t right. Saying it out loud really helps as well for me. I like when I can hear
things, they stay on my head longer. But I think because you’re going to be writing
it in the exam it’s important to know how to write it down as well. That’s more
or less how I would study. I would write everything on a revision card and then
just practice writing things out again, practice questions, exam questions, past
papers, whatever you can get your hands on. Do them all, especially anything that
has been written by the lecture who is examining you because you’ll get used to their
style, you’ll get used to the kind of things they’re expecting of you, what
they’re going to ask and also what they’re going to look for in the answers.
Did you have as much free time as your friends from other courses? No. In
first year I lived with a group of people who didn’t study maths and they
had a lot more free time than me. They had less contact hours and also they had
less work to be doing outside of lectures. In my case I became closer with
my maths friends, so all of my closest friends were also doing maths and had
the same amount of free time as me. So it worked out quite well in that aspect
because we were all on the same page in terms of how much work we had to
do and how much time we had to spend with each other outside of uni. And we
did still spend time together, it’s not all studying. I know I say that it’s
a lot of work and there’s a lot of hours, and that’s true but there is still time
for other things in your life. So don’t worry, don’t feel like your life’s gonna
be consumed by uni stuff. How hard will it be and will it be easier at some
point? As I’ve already said, it is pretty hard especially to begin with. You expect
it’s gonna be hard, like I’m telling you right now it’s gonna be hard and you’re
like “yeah of course it’s gonna be hard”. But when you get there, you’re just
not going to be prepared, but that’s okay and it gets easier. It really does.
Your brain adapts. You adjust, you get used to the teaching style and the
learning style and what’s expected of you. So even though the first few weeks
may seem impossible, at least they did for me, you’ll get through it and it will
get easier. Things to include in personal statement for maths? Ah, that’s been a while
since I did that. I think you should google that one because it has been a
while since I wrote my personal statement. It’s been like five years
or so. Oh, that’s horrible to think about. All they really want to see is that
you’re dedicated enough to your chosen field of study, so maths in this case, that
you’re gonna put in three years of work for it at uni, go through all the
emotional labour and the turmoil of having to study maths and then come out
at the end and still want to study it. Anything you’ve done which shows that
outside of school you’re still interested in maths, still dedicating
your time to it. Another good idea is to think back to when you first knew you
liked the subject or knew that you wanted to study it or something that happened
at a young age that really influenced you into enjoying that subject.
For me, my dad taught me when I was about 4 or 5 that there were 3,600 seconds in
an hour because there were 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. So
that more or less taught me how multiplication worked and then ever
since then I could just do it, which is pretty impressive for a five-year-old. So
if you can think of any stories or anecdotes like that. If I can find
something I’ll put a link below about personal statements for maths because
like I said it’s been a while since I wrote mine. What do you do if you don’t
understand a maths question? It’s always good to have a go yourself first because
you may be able to work it out yourself, but if not then at least you have explored all
the avenues you can think of and you know what exactly it is that you don’t
understand, so you can actually ask someone. I always get a piece of paper
and I jot things down and write down any symbols used, write the definition of any
words and just try and piece things together. Try and work out what they’re
actually asking. The next step if that doesn’t really get you anywhere is to
talk to someone else on your course. Either they’re stuck as well, which means you can
work together to solve it, or they already worked out the answer in which
case they can help you. And hopefully, as well as them just telling you the answer,
they’ll be able to explain to you how they got there so you can see their
perspective and their approach, so next time you can actually do it on your own.
If you’re still stuck then talk to a member of staff, a lecturer, a
postgraduate. It depends on your uni but for mine we could speak to them
after a lecture, speak to them in a tutorial, go to a student workshop where
any lecturer will be more than happy to help you work it out. Even if it’s not
their personal field of study, maths lecturers are massive nerds and
they’ll more than happily sit down and work through a maths problem with you.
You can email your lecturer, sometimes they have a forum you can post on
or they give you a telephone extension to call. I’ve even had a couple of
lecturers who have had hashtags, so you can just hashtag on twitter your
question and they’ll bring it up anonymously in the lecture, which i think
is awesome. There are so many ways to ask for help but the most important thing is
that you do ask them for help, because it’s their job to help you, it’s their
job to make sure that you know everything you need to know and that you
pass your exam. So they’ll be more than happy to help you and they’ll probably
rejoice in the fact that someone’s taking interest in their course. What are
exams like for uni maths? I feel like that’s gonna be different for everybody
and like every University, every course, and then
every module as well. Most modules it’s mostly exam based. There’s a little bit
of coursework which is either like a worksheet or a little in-class test but most
of your marks won’t come from the exam. I’ve had a couple of exams with multiple-choice
sections but mostly it’s all just written like normal. To be honest they’ll
mostly for the pattern of your notes. If in lectures you’ve done a lot of
computations, that’s going to be a good indicator that that’s kind of the
style of exam as well. I think I’ll have to show you a paper to kind of give you an
idea of what an exam would look like. But I know… I think her name’s Tibees on
YouTube, she’s done some videos about looking through university math papers,
and she goes through them, shows you the kind of questions and then she
actually answers a couple as well. So if you’re wondering and you’re curious, I
would say go and check out her channel for all sorts of maths related content. I
think she’s actually a physicist, I might be wrong. And we’ll finish with
something light-hearted. What was my favourite part of course? My favourite
module was graph theory. And just in general my favourite part of
studying was probably writing my notes. I’m really enjoyed writing notes. I loved
making them look very pretty and I really miss it. Okay so that’s more or
less all the questions that I got. Some of them I don’t feel qualified enough to
like answer in a video, like career stuff and stuff about masters, like I don’t
have the personal experience to talk about that. One more thing. My friend
Andy who I lived with in first year has given me an info sheet all about
starting uni. It’s specifically about Southampton but I think you can
generalise most things to whatever uni you’re going to. I’m gonna leave
a link to that in the description below. Feel free, if you want a little bit of
information about starting uni. This is Andy’s writing not mine, so if there’s
any bad advice I blame him. But no, I’ve read it through, it’s very informative. It’s
good advice about stuff to take to uni, and how to adjust in the
first few weeks. So that will be linked in the description if you want to
download it. Thank you all for your questions. I hope I answered them well.
Good luck if you’re starting uni in the next few weeks. It’s gonna be a blast,
you’re gonna love it. Thank you all very much for watching and I will see very
soon for another maths at uni video. It’s coming very soon I promise.