Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What is the most recommended quality a mathematician should have? Extremely high IQ levels? Passion for what they do? Patience and "stubbornness"? Something else? Of course all of them are necessary, but which of them do you believe is the most needed?

share|cite|improve this question

closed as primarily opinion-based by arjafi Apr 29 '15 at 6:24

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

You might be interested in terry tao's opinions on whether one has to be a genius to do maths.… – svenkatr Jan 12 '11 at 12:45
I really don't get how you can accept an answer on a soft question like this. – Asaf Karagila Jan 12 '11 at 13:31
@ Asaf Karagila:I guess that you do it according to your beliefs.The problem is not that you cannot accept an answer but that you cant accept more... – t.k Jan 12 '11 at 13:50
@t.spero: It is the fact you cannot choose more than one which makes it impossible to accept even one. Mathematically put - the relation of "Acceptable answer" is not a functional one :-) – Asaf Karagila Jan 12 '11 at 14:01

People asked Gauss: "how come you always see things that we don't?" And Gauss replied: "If only you would have thought about it for as long as I have..."

On another occasion someone asked Gauss about Fermat's last theorem. Gauss said he didn't care much, since he could easily fabricate a number of similar conjectures that one could neither proof nor disproof.

I think that's the most vital aspect: tackle problems you think are just on the boundary of your reach and never ever ever give up. (Unless you're getting danderously close to insanity. But that's another story.)

share|cite|improve this answer

A mathematician is interested in the Concepts, the "principles" behind things. It is important (IMO) to focus on the big ideas, on Understanding, as opposed to procedures and memorization.

I don't think a high IQ is especially important but most mathematicians I know enjoy playing with ideas (any ideas!) and so enjoy intellectual games or intellectual exercises.

Most of us are (eventually) quite passionate about mathematics -- but that passion probably comes later?

And many of us hate memorizing -- I got into math partly because I could do it without any memorization. If I understood the concepts, it all made sense and no memorization is necessary.

share|cite|improve this answer

First of all, like what you do. I'd even say love what you do.

Second, be monomaniacal. Just to tell a little anecdote, a cousin of Albert Einstein once sent him a letter asking why her husband, a mathematician, was not making great discoveries like Albert. Albert replied that was because her husband was not monomaniacal about mathematics. This story tells us that if you want to attain the summit of your profession, you should also put all your efforts into it.

Third, nowadays, it is very rare for mathematicians, and scientists in general, to work in isolation. Most papers that are published have multiple authors, collaboration is getting more and more important. Definitely communication skills and the ability to collaborate have become paramount.

Fourth, you'll also have to learn how to sell your product. This is sadly a result of how research is becoming increasingly funded. You'll be up against a whole lot of bureaucracy.

share|cite|improve this answer
True, especially the last paragraph. – Robert Filter Jan 12 '11 at 13:08
"collaboration is getting more and more important" - Are we moving asymptotically (a hundred years from now?) to the point of all agreeing to learn Esperanto as an auxiliary language? – Mike Jones Oct 23 '11 at 8:00

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.