I felt something was wrong this term when I started choosing my courses, and it took a while to figure out what it was about. Finally, it hit me. For the first time since I graduated from kindergarten, I will not be enrolled in a math class in the spring. As I finish ORF 309: Probability and Stochastic Systems, the last math class I could take on normal progression, I feel like I’m closing a book I’ve read all my life, having to settle for it. is a story I’ll never finish.
Whenever I make this observation to my friends in AB, they stare at me blankly. I am an electrical engineer – I will be doing calculations a long way into the future. But it’s not the same as taking a math class – pushing deeper and deeper into the dark depths of numbers and operations. I step off the math train with the equations I know, knowing the train is going to continue, pulling me closer to the basic ground truth without me on board.
Why am I worried? I bundled my essay writing skills together and got off the English train years ago. The natural and physical sciences have become simple tools in my engineering adventures. I walk every day through a huge university filled with passionate researchers who are uncovering the deepest secrets of fields that I will hardly ever scratch the surface of. The amount I’ll never know is endless. That does not bother me.
But the math is different in a way. My mind returns to the first year as the long division and multiplication of columns almost made me cry. After a few weeks of wrestling with the subject, I started to answer the questions well. âIt won’t get that hard again until the math,â my dad told me. What did I know then about what my life would be like in nine years? I didn’t know I would be living on another continent, pursuing passions I didn’t know I had yet. Still, we could tell exactly what math I would take. It was a constant.
Math has brought me to the brink of ruin several times over the course of successive years – only to pick me up when I got over the bump. By third year my attention to detail had grown excruciating; I made stupid mistakes on pretty much every problem. The remedy was to repeat the online course. The following year, I was ready to skip a year in math. I struggled to understand the Pythagorean theorem in seventh grade. Two more online courses were in my future. The next year, I was going up the stairs to class every day and playing with competitive math problems.
I can close my eyes and taste the victory of mastering a difficult concept, of making every point a difficult test, or of presenting the solution to a nearly impossible problem to the class. But it’s also clear that those days are in the past. With the time pressure from high school and college, I was no longer able to rehearse concepts like I did before. As a student, I delved deeper into my main interests, leaving less time for math. I feel like I’m learning new concepts by reducing them to things I remember rather than diving into the ocean of numbers and searching for life as before.
And yet there are so many tantalizing clues in my last math lessons that there is something more: the glorious synthesis of calculus and statistics, of algebra and axioms, of geometry and of number theory. Maybe math will finish perfectly, validate and explain everything I have studied for the past 13 years. It is a vain hope. There are no more definitive answers in mathematics than in philosophy. It’s clearly time to go and focus on math applications in my field rather than continuing to take the next math class.
It reminds me of being on stage for the last piece I performed in eighth grade. Since then, my stint as an actor in college has made me a more engaging presenter and even an aspiring playwright. But I just sit in the audience of the Triangle Show and think, âI can’t do this anymore. I am proud to have had the courage to prioritize. It is nonetheless a loss.
I hope I will be happy with the direction I have chosen to take my academics this time around. But every time that train reaches a new station, I know I’m going to feel a pang of heart not to be on board anymore.
Rohit Narayanan is a second year electrical engineering student from McLean, Virginia. He is a columnist who focuses on academics and admissions. He also writes theatrical adaptations of moments in American political history. You can reach him at [email protected] or tweet @Rohit_Narayanan.