Goal: 400 words researched and written in half and hour. For me, for practice. Corrections welcome in the comments.
This time I try to answer a question from Ruby Childs: “why did you study mathematics?” Recently we recorded a Math/Maths Podcast with Ruby as a special guest and we discussed issues around this question. Why do some people like maths when others don’t? Why do people take maths further?
This is a bit of a cheat for 400words, because it’s a topic I didn’t need to research. It’s all personal. I could have just written this as a standard blog post but I’ve set myself up to try to do this piece of constrained writing and, hey, I’m busy this week so two birds with one stone is attractive!
When I was nine, we moved house and school. I wasn’t particularly good at or keen on mathematics. Nine years later, I went to university to read mathematics. Recently I have been asked: Why did I choose to take maths further?
I recall moving into a small village primary school with the two boys in my year taking classes with the year above. The dozen or so girls in my year didn’t have this privilege. I was placed with the boys even though I would sit in the corner doing different work. However it sounds, I don’t remember this being a bad experience – it was simply that I hadn’t, at my previous school, covered the same material.
The headmistress, Miss Crabtree, was very keen on mathematics and though I don’t remember specific incidents I can only assume my enthusiasm for the subject from that age was from her. I seem have caught up well enough and, when we finished the primary school maths curriculum months before the end of school, Miss Crabtree brought out other “interesting material”. There was mathematics in these few months that we didn’t cover until the third year of secondary school.
At secondary school I found maths easy and enjoyed learning new topics. At GCSE I took three separate sciences. I was interested in science, too, but taking these as separate subjects unlocked a new mathematical GCSE: statistics. At A Level three of my choices were obvious – Maths, Further Maths and Physics. I chose Chemistry as my fourth.
Then came the careers questionnaires. I answered questions and the answer came back: Chemical Engineer. I did work experience in a local cement works and the university chemical engineering labs. Although it was interesting enough, I didn’t feel a proper enthusiasm for the subject. I decided to take physics instead, but still there was a bit too much messy lab work for my liking. I liked the logical structure and reasoning, which fit my way of thinking about the world. Eventually, and I don’t remember how, I came to understand mathematics was a valid option for university and signed up.
So why did I choose maths? I liked it, was good at it and the structure of it fit my way of thinking well. Did it fit my way of thinking because of early training from Miss Crabtree? Perhaps. In any case, this confused mixture of interest in physics and ability at logical thinking led me to prefer applied maths but do better at pure, and ultimately to excel at programming and go into a computing Masters degree. So that’s what led me to mathematics and what led me away again. Now, when something goes wrong or a problem needs solving, I can feel my brain starting a logical breakdown and I relax into mathematician mode, and I still like it.
Time: 27 minutes. 473 words. Performance: too many words. I feel it would have been easy enough to take the last few minutes to shorten it by amalgamating paragraphs two and three to a new paragraph of half their overall length, but I decided not to because I am trying to give as full as possible an answer to Ruby’s question. This doesn’t quite fit the “400words” idea, but it’s my game and I’ll break the rules if I want to.