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03-01-2007, 22:08   #1
rjt
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Pure Maths as a Degree

So, as the CAO deadline is approaching, I really need to make a final decision about courses. My intention is to do a pure maths degree (probably in Trinity), but I thought that it'd be wise to ask some current students before signing my future away.

Basically, what are the pros and cons of doing a degree in pure maths? Which colleges are best? Are the potential career options really as broad as the open days always insist? Also, how difficult are the courses? I'm pretty good at maths and problem solving (doing well in school and the Irish Maths Olympiad), and from what I've seen of the first year course (I've done some Linear Algebra), it certainly seems do-able. But does it get much more difficult as it progresses?

And as a slight aside to any Trinity students, how hard is it to get a Foundation Scholarship? I'd love to be able to live near campus, but can't really afford it.

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03-01-2007, 22:12   #2
 
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pure maths

in my experience and i didnt do pure maths but there was a lot of it... if you can do all the past papers in the library you'll get a first...
as simple as that..

get a part time job.. you'll be able to live in town then


cheers paddy
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04-01-2007, 16:29   #3
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Ok, there's not many degrees that are really in "pure maths" as such, they tend to combine pure maths, applied maths, computing, statistics in various doses and combinations and in fact it's not clear to a school leaver what a lot of these differences are a lot of the time although the mixture is probably quite important to how much the course will be enjoyed by the student.

I take it you mean that you're doing a degree in a single subject titled "mathematics" ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by rjt
Basically, what are the pros and cons of doing a degree in pure maths?
That probably depends upon the person. My own personal experience is that I'm in my final year of a maths degree which was 50/50 between pure and applied before this year (i.e, no computing, no statistics) and I'm taking almost all pure maths modules for this year.

Pros for me are that I find the subject very interesting and I enjoy it. Pros from the point of view of other people is that people tend to regard a maths degree highly (and usually overestimate how intelligent you must be if you tell them what you're studying).

Quote:
Which colleges are best?
I'm studying in England, but I checked out most Irish courses before moving. TCD seems pretty comprehensive and challenging with a wide range of options (and an International reputation if that sort of thing appeals to you). The 3 year BA in Maynooth looked like a very good degree option to me, especially if you're planning to do mostly pure topics. I would personally have applied to one or both of those if I'd stuck around.

The other NUIs seemed decent, as did DCU. DIT's new degree has a nice range of options but is a very new course which might be a good thing or a bad thing. Their class size is tiny.

The only maths degree around that made me cringe and say "no way" was UL, which at the time appeared to be mostly vocational modules designed for job use.

Recommending a maths degree is tricky though, as I say above, the different emphasis that universities put on different areas will suit some more than others. Some might like the practical nature of the UL course, but for most people who simply like maths it seemed to me to be a pretty boring course and a vocational outlook is shortsighted IMO. Your mileage may vary. Unfortunately, secondary school doesn't normally prepare a leaver to make an informed choice.

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Are the potential career options really as broad as the open days always insist?
Yes. However, there's a nice confusing situation where we keep getting told that there's a shortage of maths graduates, and yet it appears that all the maths graduates end up in jobs that don't necessarily require a maths degree, so I'm never quite clear on what they mean there (instead of saying there's a shortage of numerate graduates).

Typical destinations for my classmates seem to be accountancy training or management training. Many seem to end up in accounting, finance, insurance, actuary training, banking or some form of IT or Programming. These may not appear to be particulary sexy options (unless you like money and/or computers). There are interesting jobs to be had, but because they're not "commodity" type professions then it's hard to list them as options for someone who won't graduate for a few years. For example, I've recently found a company who makes use of mathematics for testing of some specialised online facilities which I personally find very very interesting, but there's maybe 3 companies in the world that do it so it's not going to appear on a prospectus. I'm a bit vague here but hopefully you get the point.

Perhaps the relevance of a lot of things become apparent once you identify an area you're interested in working in. For example, I originally got into maths in my last job because I needed a better grounding to understand subjects like cryptography, risk analysis and some aspects of theoretical computer science. In that situation, it definitely has job relevance.

Quote:
Also, how difficult are the courses? I'm pretty good at maths and problem solving (doing well in school and the Irish Maths Olympiad), and from what I've seen of the first year course (I've done some Linear Algebra), it certainly seems do-able. But does it get much more difficult as it progresses?
Yes, but there's a rule I came across before that I like which is:

Last year's maths is easy.
This year's maths is hard.
Next year's maths is impossible.

Judging by the above, if you keep up with your work then you should be capable of doing it.

I think this thread might make a good sticky if we get a few more responses and opinions.
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04-01-2007, 17:13   #4
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I have a degree in Pure Maths from Trinity. Not a very good one and its a bit dogearred but none the less...

Firstly, print out what Ecksor just wrote, photocopy it down to A8 and stick it on any glasses you might wear. Its golden advice.

I found the standard of lecturing in TCD to be highly variable but occasionally very poor. That said I went to Belvedere College and was taught by John "titch" Brown who was brilliant so perhaps I am being harsh on TCD, I have no idea that lecturing in any other college is any better.

The course itself was interesting and varied. Quite a lot of it was "self taught"
and if you work you'll do fine. Some of it was rote learning, some of it was rote learning because we simply didnt understand a topic intrinsically and some of it was genuinely interesting. The course if wide and after a generalistic first year, you can specialise quite deeply.

15 years out I am very glad I picked it despite the heart ache between TCD and I. I have always said that you train to be a dentist, an accountant, an engineer... but you are born a Mathematician. That is still exceedingly true imho.
You will learn about tensors, lambda-calculus and n-dimensional vector geometry. You'll probably never use a fraction of it again but what it teachs you is a rigourousness of approach, a discipline of logic and a robustness of thought that can be applied to just about any given problem. Thats why employers are always looking for Maths graduates, thats why they work in various different fields. If you are smart... Maths will razor-sharpen your thinking.

Do not go into accounting. No offence to accountants but thats like getting Deep Thought to add up your groceries.
People who left my year went to NASA, The Met Office, Encryption (setting up Iona, Trintech and Baltimore along the way), programming, teaching and banking. I dont think its a limiting degree, in fact I think that if you go into say Engineering then you can only ever really be an engineer without retraining. Maths allows you to decide later on where you want to apply your mind.

As an employer... unless I needed a specific degree (ie Engineering etc) I wouldnt have cared enormously what the base degree was provided it was a decent final year result. That shows the person can learn hard things. After that I'm much more interested in whether this person can get along with the team, seems enthusiastic, good people skills etc.

So there you go, thats my 1/50th of a dollar.

DeV.
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04-01-2007, 17:25   #5
Dónal
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Some links below.

1. An old thread (2004) asking the difference between Maths Degrees in various colleges.
2. A comparison of Theoretical Physics and Mathematics in Trinity.
3. First thread about Schols Exams in Trinity
4. Second thread about Schols.
5. Third thread about Schols.

There are a few people doing Maths or Theoretical Physics over on the TCD board, so if you get any specific Trinity questions you can always wander over.
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04-01-2007, 20:56   #6
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Stellar advice here, good luck rjt. You have the same question on your plate that I did a few years ago. I wanted to be an astronaut, but something let me down and I can't be one, so it was mathematics, physics, computers or engineering that was next to choose from, maybe still go to NASA . I chose engineering(Electronic and computer as it has all four.) as I thought it would give me better job opportunities.
All, I can really say is that if you enjoy maths, feel a buzz getting something difficult right, you should go for it.
There are a lot of pros to it, so you won't be signing your life away.
At the age of choosing it is impossible to know what to go for, so just go for what you think you will like, and if you like a few things, you will just be left wondering should you have done the other ones instead. (:


EDIT: just clicked on one of your links there myth, I went to secondary with that seamusK, weird.
Seems he changed from Theoretical physics to pure mathematics, the things you learn on boards...
(Oh, and he can handle the workload so can you OP )

Last edited by Tar.Aldarion; 04-01-2007 at 21:03.
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07-01-2007, 23:49   #7
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Great thread!
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08-01-2007, 12:12   #8
 
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Maths in space

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tar.Aldarion
I wanted to be an astronaut, but something let me down and I can't be one, so it was mathematics, physics, computers or engineering that was next to choose from, maybe still go to NASA .
Hi,

My first "real" job after graduating with a few maths degrees was with the European Space Agency. I worked on a number of their major scientific satellite programs and the work was really interesting and enjoyable.

The career prospects for mathematicians are very varied. The best career advice is to go for something that you enjoy, something that you are good at and something that you have a passion for.

Brendan
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09-01-2007, 23:54   #9
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i do the maths science degree in dit!! i love it!! maths and some computers and the options for third year are very interesting, cryptology etc
im in 2nd year at the minute, 11 in my class. it can be hard but its all part and parcel of college!
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02-02-2007, 21:27   #10
 
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I am interested in maths in school. I do applied maths too. I am in no way amazing at it but I like it :s Someone mentioned above that you could go into IT. Would a maths degree hold up as well as a computer science degree? (for programming, not networking etc. obviously). The points are high I assume, I'm too lazy to go check them right now

"unless you like money and/or computers"

I like both! muhahaha

I know the OP specified TCD, but does anyone have experience with UCD and maths?
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03-02-2007, 19:55   #11
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If you do Omnibus entry Science in UCD (CAO: DN008) you can try lots of subjects before you decide what to do at the end of second year. I started in 2003 so I have no experience of the Horizons system but I expect it means there is more choice.

At the beginning of 1st Year I went to Experimental Physics lectures, Biology lectures, Chemistry lectures and one Chemistry lab class before settling on Honours Mathathematics, Computer Science, Geology and Mathematical Physics. At Christmas I also did the Pass Maths exam (multiple-choice exam, which was nice) in case I wanted to drop down from Honours Maths. I dropped down after Christmas.

In 2nd Year I did Computer Science, Pass Maths (called General Maths in 2nd Year) and Statistics.

In 3rd Year I did a Single Subject General Degree in Statistics which included eight Statistics units and two General Maths units (one or both could have been Computer Science instead). I could have done a Two Subject General Degree in any two of my 2nd Year subjects or a Topical Degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics which would have been bits of Maths, Statistics and Mathematical Physics. I was also meant to have German in 3rd year but there weren't enough people and I had to do Combinatorial Mathematics which I failed. If I had passed one more unit I would have gotten into 4th Year.

One thing I didn't know until I was holding it in my hands is if you don't get into 4th Year you don't get your subject on your Degree, it just says Science. I'm not 100% sure it says it on the Honours Degrees but I was surprised and disappointed.

You could do Single or Joint Honours. If you never make up your mind you could do both Maths and Computer Science until the end of 4th Year. Points last year were 320 and you can even get in with only five subjects if you have three higher level Cs or something like that. I did Ordinary level Maths in the Leaving Cert and found the Mathematical Physics to be harder than the Honours Mathematics.

Here is a link to PDF versions of the Faculty Booklets.
www.ucd.ie/registrar/booklets.htm
They don't produce them any more but they were vital in my understanding my choices.
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08-02-2007, 22:56   #12
rjt
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Thank you all for your responses

ecksor: Yeah, by "pure maths" I simply meant "mathematics on its own" (rather than TP or Mathematical Sciences or somesuch).

Quick question to Brendan (or anyone else who feels like answering): You say you worked at the ESA, what kind of work did you do and what areas of maths did you apply most? Would employment opportunities in that area be good?

Slippers: I was looking at UCD, but to be honest,their arts programme confused me slightly, and there is no Mathematics-only course in the prospectus (although Mathematical Sciences is down as one of my options). Would you recommend going in through General Science instead?

Also, a general question, after a degree, is there much opportunity to pursue academic research (in maths or sciences)? I have nightmares about ending up sitting at a task performing tedious calculations for some business. I'd much prefer to feel that my work was going somewhere (rather than just raising profit for a company!). Am I dreaming, or are such positions available?

Last edited by rjt; 08-02-2007 at 23:01.
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08-02-2007, 23:03   #13
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rjt
Also, a general question, after a degree, is there much opportunity to pursue academic research (in maths or sciences)? I have nightmares about ending up sitting at a task performing tedious calculations for some business. I'd much prefer to feel that my work was going somewhere (rather than just raising profit for a company!). Am I dreaming, or are such positions available?
Yeah, such positions are in fact under staffed in Britain and Ireland. Particularly Southern Britain.
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08-02-2007, 23:14   #14
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Quote:
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Yeah, such positions are in fact under staffed in Britain and Ireland. Particularly Southern Britain.
Excellent. Would these positions mostly be as post-grads in universities?
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08-02-2007, 23:48   #15
 
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Excellent. Would these positions mostly be as post-grads in universities?
If you're just talking about Postgrads then there is a tremendous amount of positions available after your degree. If you get a First in your degree, it is practically a certainty that somewhere in the British Isles would accept you.

After postgrad, i.e. postdoc, there is still currently an open job market for pure and applied math. Most people leave after PhD to go to finance and industry, so that leaves positions open.

With regards to different Colleges, the modules in NUI Maynooth, seem to follow what is called the Bourbaki tradition. Kind of the "old school" way of doing maths (Although not old school material, Maynooth's final year actually offers the most advanced stuff). Basically the teach stuff that lends itself to theorem proving and axioms.

The other Colleges offer a modern take on maths. Particularly things like a course purely on group representation, e.t.c. that are more about content than proofs, tie in with other areas and are a bit less dry.

People are usually suited to one of these approaches to maths, although it's hard to say which without an indication of your tastes.

You said you did some Linear Algebra. Did you enjoy it?
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