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What it's like being a maths student

What it's like being a maths student

Telling people you are dedicating the next three years of your life to studying mathematics is like telling them you want to eat nothing but spinach for the next month – the most common responses are “ew”, “really?” and “why?”. But don’t let that put you off! Choosing to study maths is a bold step but it is one of the best things you can do for your future. The prospects of a maths graduate are remarkably hopeful for this economic situation. A maths degree can open many doors and is useful in almost every workplace. Don’t get complacent though – the reason your degree is so highly sought after is because it is challenging, so don’t let your homeworks slip!


Speaking of homework, I have to address the workload. Yes, there is a lot to learn and yes, you may consider quitting at some point. But once you get to exam time and you finally know the whole syllabus, the eureka moment will come and everything will seem so much easier than it did when you were first introduced to the topic. Broadly speaking, mathematics students do not have much coursework, which frees up term time for fun. However we do have far more exams than most other students, so be prepared to become a pasty hermit for the month of May. The first time I went outside for more than half an hour after exams, I got sunburnt. In Wales.


As a girl studying maths, I get a lot of surprised looks when I tell people my subject. Taxi drivers, family friends and inquisitive hair dressers, especially those over the age of fifty, will do a double take and often say something like “wow good for you, you don’t get many female mathematicians!” or make some reference to companies’ equality quotas and how I’m sure to get a job since I am female. The reality is, although there is still a huge majority of male mathematics lecturers (1), the students on my course are approximately 40% female (a higher percentage than in computer science or physics), meaning my gender is unlikely to affect my employability in any significant way. The stereotype of mathematics graduates as young Asian males is not realistic and prevents more girls from choosing maths, since many feel it is not what they are expected to do.


Although you may at times regret a subject that requires the tedious memorisation of proofs never to be mentioned again after exam day, nothing beats bonding with your classmates over that bit of complex analysis with the Cauchy-Riemann Integrals that none of you can seem to understand. You will also always have the satisfaction of knowing what an imaginary number is, or how 0.9999…. really equals 1. So good luck to everyone hoping to start their maths degree in September, and don’t let anyone call you a nerd for your subject choice – Brian May studied Physics and Mathematics at Imperial College London, and he’s a rock star!


[1] Lucy Ward has an interesting article on this subject for The Guardian, available at

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