Academic Success, Student Engagement, Writing, Zen

My Double Major in Math and English

In my last blog post, I briefly mentioned my double major in Math and English. I want to take some time and wax (hopefully) insightfully on a combination as rare and jarring as a blobfish.

My books this year include Dante’s unreadibly terse Inferno and Spivak’s sublimely poetic Calculus on Manifolds: A Modern Approach to Classical Theorems of Advanced Calculus. The material that my courses this year cover have inspired this:

Bartolomeo Di Fruosino's painting of Inferno, from the Divine Comedy by Dante

and this:

A representation of ordinals in a spiral shape.

I am not sure which came from greater madness.

I’m often told that my majors are different. Sadly, this is a requirement for my degree in the same way that my 20 credits are not all towards the same subject. Otherwise, I would have finished by now.

Usually, when I explain that such a statement is vacuously true I get an exasperated face-palm and then one less person can bear to talk with me. So, I’ve come to believe that, when people tell me my majors are different, they mean that they are sufficiently different to be noteworthy. I believe this is known as “small talk.”

So, in the interest of those who might want to major in the most amusingly abstract of activities, I thought I might lay down some similarities and differences like the boring catalog of oddities that I am.

The secret to success is logical argument. Logic is at the core of all human activities, except the plots of Hollywood movies. It should come as no surprise that the ability to argue logically is essentially the skill behind so much of university. An essay is a logical argument. Proof aids the development of a logical argument. The main thing is:

The mode of expression is different. As much as I would like to throw down some upside-down As and Es on an English essay and call it a day, I would probably not get much more than an upside-down 0. Likewise, a 2000-word proof for x + y = y + x would not go over well. Because I have to know my audience, I am like a comedian, albeit the world’s saddest comedian. This is my greatest struggle: switching between pretending I know how to do math to pretending I know how to write in the English language.

But I do not despair, at least not until the morning of an exam. Although the end product of my homework ends up wildly different, I start out in the same way. I begin with definitions. If I wanted to know how Spenserian allegory worked (and at some point apparently I did), I might look here. If I wanted to prove the transitivity of the number 3, I would have to remember that, in one of my courses (and this is no joke), 3 is defined as

3 = {{},{{}},{{},{{}}},{{},{{}},{{},{{}}}}}

I really hope I got that right.

Ultimately, the differences are more apparent. It’s quite possible to get a 100% in any Math course (it has been done) because you are simply expected to find the objective answer. I don’t think any perfect marks have been handed out in an English course because there are subjective aspects to grading. To a lot of people, sadly, the final number is the only meaningful aspect to a course. But, deep down, there is enough in common between an English and a Math major to justify this blog post. Trust me.

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1 Comment

Homework Simplified

One of the most common misconceptions about a double major is that it is twice the work of a single major. In fact, this is rarely the case. If you chose your second major wisely, you will already have many, if not most, of your prerequisites out of the way, allowing you to concentrate on the upper-level classes.


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