I'm currently going torough the most humiliating moment of my life and I would really apreciate a honest advice from someone who works in the field of mathematical research.

This year was my first year of college as a student of pure maths and it was horrible, after dealing with personal issues, losing 23kg not having proper sleep through several nights and abandoning almost all my classes the first semester I got under academic probation and had to meet with my academic advisor who helped me plan my second semester. Still, i managed to fail again! I didn't pass 2 of the 3 courses I took and one of them I failed for the second time ( the other courses I failed in the beginning of the year are only avaible in the first semester, so I have to wait next year to take them again).

So now, the only thing I can and must do is to save myself from getting kicked out next year, and I'm currently working on that (studying ahead for example) so my question does not have anything to do with studying tips, instead I am concerned, if I save myself, whether or not I should keep studying maths at college, even if I manage to get better grades, what my reputation will be? I know you don't have to be a genius to become a mathematician but I don't think I have the minimal amount of intelligence required to develop a prominent career in research, even though I'm fascinated by maths...

Should I try something else?


closed as off-topic by Andres Mejia, Morgan Rodgers, Qiaochu Yuan, Gibbs, RghtHndSd Nov 17 '18 at 23:02

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Seeking personal advice. Questions about choosing a course, academic program, career path, etc. are off-topic. Such questions should be directed to those employed by the institution in question, or other qualified individuals who know your specific circumstances." – Andres Mejia, Morgan Rodgers
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ What kind of personal issues? Are these issues still happening, or have they passed by now? If you were undergoing personal/family issues and suffering sleep loss, it seems to me like your "intelligence" is not the culprit. Even the most intelligent mathematical virtuoso would have a hard time functioning on little sleep, or in the presence of an emotional burden. $\endgroup$ – Franklin Pezzuti Dyer Nov 17 '18 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ Just to reinforce what @Frpzzd is saying: I'm a third year Physics & Mathematics student, and you can easily figure out the times when I had lots of problems to deal with by just looking into my CV + transcript, so do you think am I getting periodically stupid, and clever again ? I don't think anyone would be able to successful in maths (also in physics) when you are not even able to sleep properly. $\endgroup$ – onurcanbektas Nov 17 '18 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ I will now vote to close this question (this forum is inappropriate!) Try academia or quora perhaps. $\endgroup$ – Andres Mejia Nov 17 '18 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ @AndresMejia I think this question would be off-topic on Academia for strongly depending on individual factors. A question on how to get out of the situation could be on-topic, however. $\endgroup$ – Anyon Nov 17 '18 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, other than the personal issues, there is also the factor that the pace of the university studies might be too fast for you. You might want to just take less courses than what is seeing as "normal" by your department. $\endgroup$ – onurcanbektas Nov 17 '18 at 16:31

I am not in the field of mathematical research (yet), but I believe that an experience that I have recently had might provide some insight on your problem.

I once attended a pure maths summer program for high school students at a university. Just like college students, we slept in dorm rooms with roommates, used the dining hall, and were allowed to go out into town with pretty minimal restrictions and a lenient curfew.

The mathematical curriculum of the program was extremely rigorous, and to complete the homework assigned each day, one had to work on it for the entire day (and sometimes this was not even enough time to finish). As someone who really loves pure and recreational mathematics, I really enjoyed this - math is my "bread and butter," and it takes a long time for me to get tired of it (though I am by no means gifted with inherent mathematical talent).

However, a lot of the other students at the program did not get as much out of the program as I did, even though most of them loved math as much as myself, and were even much more brilliant and talented than I. I think that this was in large part due to the fact that many of them were having a hard time adapting to the "college lifestyle," or even abusing their newfound freedoms. For example:

  • Many of them spent much of their time wandering the city with their friends, getting caught up in petty social dramas and romances, or just goofing around.

  • Lots of people couldn't feed themselves properly, and lived mostly on junk food.

  • Some people seemed like they just didn't enjoy math that much, so they avoided the homework and looked for other distractions. This made me question why they had even applied to the program in the first place.

  • A couple of people suffered from depression having to do with family or personal issues, but this was not so widespread.

  • The biggest problem, in my opinion, was sleep - people often procrastinated on the homework all day long and then stayed up as late as $4$ in the morning on a regular basis to finish it up in a hurry. As the program progressed, people suffered from chronic sleep loss (including the administrators of the program), and fell asleep during lectures, during the middle of the day in public places, etc. Then, when it came time to do homework, it seemed like they couldn't think straight.

My point is this: your "intelligence" (whatever that means - it's not really a well-defined term) isn't the only thing that has a bearing on your academic performance; in fact, I would argue that it is actually a minor factor. Health, emotional state, focus, and motivation are probably the most important.

When I was at said summer program, I had to buy a sleep mask to help me go to sleep at night because of the bright city lights in my window. I also had to keep an eye on my diet while I was there to make sure that I didn't eat too extravagantly. I urge you to do the same, or seek other solutions, for whatever personal problems you may have.

It seems like you genuinely love mathematics like I do. No matter how "intelligent" you are, if you have the motivation to keep studying math and you can control your lifestyle, I think that you can succeed (however, choosing your next set of classes more conservatively may be a good idea).

  • $\begingroup$ I think this makes a lot of sense. During the time I've been in college studying my own degrees (not in Mathematics proper, but in hard mathematical scientific fields) these seem to be the chief challenges that I've run against. Procrastination and loss of sleep especially hits home. But another one is mental disorders - I've dealt with these for much of my life and got whammed particularly hard by one of them in the past couple of years. And another thing is the "not getting the right food" because I've thought it'd cost too much money to get "good" food and I'm not rich and few jobskills. $\endgroup$ – The_Sympathizer Nov 17 '18 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ (Though I would say that in my case, procrastination was something that I developed more as a reaction to the presence of mental disorder - first OCD and anxiety, because if you have to get a sh*tload of tiring, pointless rituals down just to slug through a constructive project you'd otherwise enjoy, you can easily be led to procrastinate on that. But the end result is still the same in terms of the habit developed. I did not go to college until I was 24 years old, in substantial part due to these issues. I'm now finishing year 4 but have 1-2 more to go on this program.) $\endgroup$ – The_Sympathizer Nov 17 '18 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ (That is, I'm in the equivalent, to some extent, of the "others" boats you mention. What does that mean, if anything?) $\endgroup$ – The_Sympathizer Nov 17 '18 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ (Especially considering you have way more widely-voted answers than I, and you are a lot younger, I presume. What does that indicate, objectively from a viewpoint of strong blunt honesty?) $\endgroup$ – The_Sympathizer Nov 17 '18 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ Any particular reason for the downvote? Does someone disagree with my answer? Is there some way it can be improved? $\endgroup$ – Franklin Pezzuti Dyer Nov 17 '18 at 17:13

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