Majoring in math

<p>My D is a high school senior interested in studying math in college. Although she enjoyed her campus visit and overnight stay last year, she is leaning away from MIT because she thinks a smaller college will provide more mentoring from professors and more teacher-student interactions in the classroom. D has performed well in AMC, AIME, USAMTS, and similar math competitions so we think she would be able to handle the work but with research projects, graduate students and IMO medalists competing for the attention of math professors, we're afraid D would end up just one in a crowd. Are these valid concerns? Any info would be appreciated.</p>

<p>MIT has one of the best and strongest math department in the world. Because we have SO many math professors, your D will definitely get lots of care from the faculty. The average class size at MIT is around 10 people. Usually, many international students major in math. Check out the MIT math department website: <a href="http://math.mit.edu/undergraduate/%5B/url%5D"&gt;http://math.mit.edu/undergraduate/&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>I can't speak specifically for the math department, but in my experience and that of my friends, that's not a problem on our radar.</p>

<p>As an undergrad, I was able to participate in research in a really great lab, and was a co-author on a paper in one of the biggest journals in my discipline. I never felt that I was "competing" for the attention of my supervisor -- after all, I was a member of the lab just like everybody else.</p>

<p>In that vein, there's really not much of a distinction between undergrads and grad students. A lot of upper-division undergrad classes at MIT are joint grad/undergrad classes (and undergrads are generally welcome to take graduate courses even if they're not joint classes). My fiance was involved in a research project last year as a junior where he supervised a graduate student. Professors at MIT are less concerned with the age or status of students and more concerned with the ability and drive of those students.</p>

<p>It's true that most students at MIT are very able, and even a person who's used to being the best in high school is not likely to be one of the best students at MIT; this is something some people are unable to deal with, and those people don't come to schools like MIT. It doesn't really affect most MIT students too much -- there are enough professors and enough research projects and enough excellence to go around.</p>

<p>Also, our math department is relatively small in the sense that about 70 students major in math per year (out of 1000), so math majors probably get plenty of personal attention. (I say probably only because I'm not a math major. =P)</p>

<p>Thanks for the responses. Would you say classroom discussions are common? Do profs encourage students to ask questions?</p>

<p>I'm a freshman here but I plan to major in mathematics and I have some experience with the faculty here.
I can speak from experience that math department is very welcoming of students interested in mathematics whether or not the student is majoring in it, from all backgrounds.
If you want you can contact Joanne E. Jonsson. She's the academic administrator for the math dept. And I'd be more than willing to talk to you and your D about any questions you may have or atleast direct you to the right person.</p>

<p>Questions are always encouraged, and there are a variety of ways to ask them -- students can speak up in lecture, ask a TA in recitation or by email, ask a professor by email, or attend the professor's office hours (which are a scheduled set of hours during the week when the professor will be in his/her office solely to speak with students). </p>

<p>Many departments (although admittedly I have no idea whether or not math is included) have seminar-style upper-division classes where students are required to participate and ask questions and analyze the literature in their field. I always liked those classes the best. :)</p>

<p>I, personally, wouldn't sacrifice the math education here (which, in my opinion, is incredible) just to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.</p>

<p>my son is a math major. He hasn't talked about his contact with the faculty, but I would guess that it's there for any student who wants it enough to take even a modicum of initiative. I can say that the department is very flexible about allowing students to take whatever courses they are interested in and think they can handle without any of the pre-req or "restricted to upper division" type nonsense common at many schools.</p>

<p>When I was in grad school, my profs (who were mostly relatively young and still establishing their careers) were so busy with their own research, they had trouble making time for the grad students, much less undergrads. Teaching undergrad classes was a task they tolerated but didn't look forward to. Around our dept, I rarely saw undergrads around even though the profs had regular office hours.</p>

<p>Thanks for all your comments. I will relay them to D. In many ways MIT would be a good match for her. Our next step will likely be contacting the math dept directly.</p>

<p>I suppose we should say caveat legetor (reader? It's been long time since I took Latin)... those of us at MIT have never been anywhere else. Still, I think professors at MIT are pretty accessible to undergrads. </p>

<p>I had two favorite biology professors whose offices I could invade without an appointment -- I could just burst into their offices and fling myself on a chair, and they'd offer guidance on my GPA or my classes or my graduate school applications. My fiance flies remote-controlled airplanes on the athletic fields with his favorite professor on the weekends. I think it's just part of the institutional culture at MIT, where the intelligence of undergrads is respected to quite a great degree.</p>

<p>I think the real problem at most schools is being willing to "burst into" a professor's office. I was an undergrad at Harvard, and I think many professors spent time in their offices waiting for kids to show up. I was way too shy and intimidated to go see professors. Luckily I chose a major with tiny classes and sort of finessed the issue in the end. I got to know the two professors who advised me for my thesis quite well. From what I've seen, math departments at most univerisities tend to be relatively small so you have a better chance of getting to know your professors. That said, (and this is a story from 30 years ago so take it with a grain of salt), I had a friend who was a math major at Harvard. She was the only woman in most of her math classes and there was at least one professor who never bothered to learn her name. So do your homework. I think the openess of professors is both a combination of the culture of the school (by all acccounts pretty good at MIT) and the individuals in that department. Good luck!</p>

<p>I agree that students are often too intimidated to seek out profs outside of class but it's so important for students to establish a close relationship with at least one faculty member in order to get the recommendations necessary for summer internships, fellowship awards, grad school admissions, etc. D is not shy so she'll probably find her way in any department but we'd prefer one where undergraduate advising is strong, where D will receive guidance and encouragement. When I was in school, the teachers who went out of their way to advise and mentor me made a huge difference in my education. We're looking for the same for D.</p>

<p>molliebatmit, the seminar-style classes you described are what D likes best. If the MIT math dept offers those, that would be a big plus.</p>

<p>The list of math courses offered is [url=<a href="http://student.mit.edu/catalog/m18a.html%5Dhere%5B/url"&gt;http://student.mit.edu/catalog/m18a.html]here[/url&lt;/a&gt;] -- it looks like there are several seminar-style classes offered. :)</p>

<p>
[quote]
the seminar-style classes you described are what D likes best. If the MIT math dept offers those, that would be a big plus.

[/quote]
she might like seminar-based advising for the first year.</p>

<p>It's been a few years since I graduated as a math major at MIT, but from my experience, significant interaction as a freshman was limited. From sophomore year on, however, interaction was quite close. Classes were generally small, and every math major got to know at least several of the faculty quite well. The math department was extremely friendly and human, and I felt that I got an awful lot of personal attention. Admittedly, YMMV, however the lack of personal attention is not an issue in considering whether to attend MIT.</p>

<p>That being said, MIT is an urban campus in a fair-sized city, and that comes with a certain amount of built-in anonymity. There are those who are drawn to bucolic, rural, liberal arts colleges. MIT is definitely not one of those. But on campus, at least, math majors are treated as individuals and not as numbers.</p>

<p>-Mikalye</p>

<p>Mikalye, thanks for the math major's perspective. That's very helpful.</p>

<p>I'm in a freshman math class that has a bunch of people who like math/want to major in it (18.022). Our prof is amazing. He has an amazing accent, explains things with both rigor and a touch of intuition, and can laugh at himself. On the contact front, he is very willing to meet with us one-on-one to go over homework problems, explaining approaches, etc. It's really good here.</p>

<p>Is that Hartley Rogers? Or does he do 18.023?</p>

<p>No; I heard a rumor that Rogers isn't teaching anymore, though I have no verification on that and am too lazy to check the department webpage. It is Prof. Hesselholt (may have gotten spelling wrong)</p>