Friday, February 15, 2013

About me: Math Degree, part 1

Approximately 20 years ago, I sat for a test that changed my perspective. I presented myself for a three-hour oral exam in theoretical mathematics. If I passed, I would earn a Master's degree (M.A.).

I was very, very nervous walking in.

Before graduate school, I believed I was 'good' at math and science, and as long as I studied and practiced, could reach any goal. When I first got there I was confident. My undergrad teachers had encouraged me, I had gotten very high grades, and I was sure a Ph.D. was in my future. I loved math and studying, what else would I do?

However, for the previous two years of grad school, I had studied alongside some very intelligent boys who had outshone me at every turn. I had been barely scraping by with a solid C average.

Looking back now I guess that either I really was sub-par in abilities to my fellow students, or I was so regularly discouraged by my teachers and fellow students that I lost my confident streak. As a result (and this is my character) I stopped trying.

It stands out in my memory a certain day when I attended at least two classes, and in both I attempted to answer questions from the professor. In both cases I was told that my answer was 'obviously' wrong, and given looks of sadness and pity from my classmates. I resolved after that day to not bother answering or asking questions, as what was the point? This, of course, just led to me doing even worse.

I was fairly miserable at that point in time, about 8 months before the exam.


Now it's exam day, and I'm pacing outside of a room containing four professors and a chalkboard. I had studied and practiced. I knew that I was so unhappy being there that even if they, by some miracle, passed me, I would be leaving the school and never returning.

Then I took a deep breath and walked in. All of the professors were sitting, low in their chairs and leaning back. None of them smiled. Then the questions began.

to be continued on Monday....

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