Started on a Maths degree

Moving in

On the 21st September 2014, I moved into my flat at Bristol university, to embark on a four-year degree course in Mathematics, from which I should obtain a Masters qualification at the end. Being my insurance choice (Cambridge fucked me over with STEP), I had a very limited choice of accommodation, and for the first one and a half weeks was put in a temporary share at a large catered hall in Stoke Bishop. The people there were great (most people are fine once you get to know them!), but I didn't much like the place - all institutional and the food was mediocre at best. Fortunately I managed to find a very nice place (once of the nicest available) to live for the year, which is situated right next to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, near Clifton village. It is not as close to the campus as some other flats are, but I have a bike so that is fine. The people in my new flat are really cool to be around and easy to make friends with, so I'm glad about that - plus, four or five of them are also mathematicians.

Societies

I have joined a few societies, including the Bristol University Gliding Club. I am a complete novice at gliding, but after going on a trial flight, I've decided to continue with it through this year at least - if the weather permits me to, anyway. Here are a few photos from my trial flight:

I also joined the Maths society, which is called Matrix. We haven't done anything yet, other than meet each others' "parents" and "siblings" on the first social. We have another social lined up for tomorrow, involving white T-shirts and pubs.

Course

So far the course has been very enjoyable, if a little esoteric. It makes you realise that whatever you may previously have thought was "maths", was really just writing numbers down on a page. Real maths starts now. (Doubtless I'll be saying that again when I get to third year.)

The course is split up into several modules. These are the ones we are starting with:

1. Analysis

This is perhaps the most esoteric and the hardest module. We start at the very basics, with definitions of just what numbers are. We go from considering the natural numbers (1, 2, 3, ...), to extending this to first the integers, then rationals, then the reals with the completeness axiom. We define what are called axioms; things that we can't prove (other than by relying on yet more axioms) and yet form the foundation stones of mathematics. An example of an axiom of the real numbers is that for all real a, b, we have that a + b is also real (this is known as closure under addition).

2. Foundations and Proof

We started out by learning about function mappings: how they can be surjective, injective or both (bijective), and about proper definitions of what a function is. We have since moved on to logic (truth tables). This module is a bit tricky at first, but simple once you get used to the language.

3. Probability

We recapped and extended our knowledge on combinatorics, permutations, events, sample spaces and etc. Not my favourite area of mathematics, though I can see it becoming more interesting later on.

4. Linear Algebra and Geometry

I think this is the one I find the most intuitive. We talk about vectors in Rn, the triangle inequality, complex numbers, subspaces and many other things.

5. Calculus

This is mainly about limits and derivatives, so far. It links in well with analysis.

6. Computational Mathematics

This was one of the most disappointing units for me. One of my favourite activities in general is programming, and combining that skill with mathematics is combining my two strongest interests. But on this module at least, we don't use any good programming languages and are instead forced to use MATLAB: an extremely expensive, proprietary and bloated system in my opinion. Maybe we'll have some better computing units in the next few years; who knows.

Conclusion

All in all, I am having a great time so far in Bristol and am very much looking forward to the next few years! It is a blessing in disguise that I am here instead of Cambridge: I have more time on my hands to enjoy myself in ways that don't necessarily involve pens, papers and wastepaper baskets. (Oh and by the way, those are the three essential tools of the mathematician: the most important being the last.)

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