Hannah Maidment has chosen to study a BSc in Mathematics, a slightly less conventional degree, but one that opens doors to a lot of future career opportunities. If you’re a Maths buff, check out what you can expect from studying towards an undergraduate Maths degree at Tuks.
I’ve always really liked Maths. I mean, I’m not one of those people who ‘live’ for only that. I also like shoes. But… I really like Maths. I find it highly fascinating that we have developed this mathematical language that so perfectly describes the world.
I matriculated from Pecanwood College (on the edge of Hartbeespoort Dam) in 2014. The subjects I took in high school were Physics, Life Sciences, Drama, Information Technology, Maths, AP Maths, and Alpha Maths. From that list alone, you can probably tell what my main interest was…
Apart from drama, my high school career was pretty focused on science and numbers, and I always knew that I would be going into some Maths-based degree.
Deciding What to Study
When I was in Grade 7, I asked my mother what kind of jobs you can do if you just want to do really hard Maths, and she told me I should become an actuary. So, for a long time, I considered studying actuarial science. As I got older though, it lost its appeal. I just didn’t fancy the idea of working in the insurance industry and making a living off the guarantee of bad things happening to other people.
On a particular day in Grade 11, what I wanted suddenly became very clear to me: I wanted to be a ‘quant.’ I knew that I wanted to work in a corporate environment, and also that that I wanted to go into some sort of mathematical analysis. I remembered that my mom had mentioned something called a ‘quant’ before, and that they worked in finance and did a lot of maths, so I went home and googled it and it seemed like exactly what I wanted to do.
Quants, or quantitative analysts, are people who model events in financial markets using Maths and Statistics. They are sometimes affectionately called the ‘Rocket Scientists of Wall Street.’ Not many people understand why someone may want to be a quant, but I always found the challenge appealing. You work in a very competitive environment with highly intelligent people and you get to try and make sense of the world using Maths. Besides, a Wall Street salary comes in handy for people who like shoes…
After my 16-year-old self had this epiphany, I went home and looked at the best way to become a quant. Turns out, you can only study quantitative analysis in postgraduate courses, and you need to have one of the following Math-based degrees to get into them:
- Maths or Applied Maths
- Actuarial Science
Maths It Is
I wanted to do as much Maths as possible. The engineering workload didn’t appeal to me, so I decided that I was going to study Mathematics. Choosing my university was also pretty easy. My brother was studying at Tuks (the University of Pretoria) and was really enjoying it. Everyone I knew that studied there seemed really happy, so when time came for university applications I applied to a BSc Mathematics at Tuks.
I’m currently in my second year of study and I will graduate in 2017. The nature of a degree in mathematics is such that in order to become employable in a specific field, some postgraduate study is necessary, so I intend on continuing my studies after I graduate, to at least a Masters level.
Moving Away from Home
When I started my course, I packed up and moved to Pretoria. I had been placed in a residence called TuksVillage. I was initially very averse to the idea of living in res, but in hindsight, I know that it was the best decision for me. Going into res is the best way to make friends in a new varsity environment and it’s also the accommodation with the fewest hassles and expenses. There are buses to campus, free laundry, kitchen facilities and free Internet. And if you don’t want to cook, you can buy food from the cafeteria.
There is also a really extensive support system. Students get assigned a mentor – someone who has been successful in their degree and who is always willing to help. This was really useful to me and I still go to the same mentor for advice when I’m feeling a bit lost, something I never thought I’d need but that has been extremely helpful in my studies.
What a BSc Mathematics at Tuks Looks Like
In 1st-year, you touch on a wide range of Mathematics without going very in-depth into a particular field. The subjects you take are:
- Linear Algebra
- Discrete Structures
- Mathematical Modelling
- Dynamical Processes
- Mathematical Statistics
From 2nd-year you begin to choose what your focus is going to be, so you have fewer compulsory subjects. The compulsory subjects are:
- Linear Algebra
- Differential Equations
- Discrete Structures
- Vector Analysis
In 3rd-year you have even more freedom, as you get to choose half of your modules. The only compulsory ones are:
There are many choices for the elective subjects in all three years of the course, but because most of the modules in second and third year have pre-requisites, most students choose one subject to focus on, the most popular focuses being Physics and Mathematical Statistics. Maths is not a very high-workload degree, so you probably won’t have to pull that many all-nighters to get through the course, but the work can be quite complicated and it takes time to get comfortable with the concepts.
Almost all of the assessments take the form of tests – both practical and theory in some subjects. You don’t have many written assignments or projects.
Because of the relatively manageable workload, it is possible to have a part-time job while studying, but this can be quite challenging, as there are some weeks that are considerably more taxing than others and as almost any student will tell you, your degree has to come first.
For this reason it is difficult to commit many hours to a job, but if you manage your time well and make sure you keep up with your course work, it is very possible to balance a job and your studies.
It was not all smooth sailing when I arrived. I loved my Maths subjects and I was doing well, but initially it was very hard for me to know what to expect in terms of my academic performance.
I ended up learning, though, that it’s not impossible to get distinctions at university, you just have to adjust your perspective about how much work is reasonable, and how much you are willing to put in.
Advice for Students
The most important thing that I have learned during my studies is that in order to be successful you can’t fall behind on work. It’s too daunting a task to catch it back up and you end up becoming despondent. The best way to prevent this from happening is to go to as many lectures as possible. Make sure that the lectures are productive, meaning that you take the maximum away from them. I find that the best way for me to ensure that I get the most out of a lecture is to take notes. Perhaps the most important thing to be successful, particularly in a degree like Mathematics, is to attend every tutorial.
Mathematics is not a degree that many people consider when they’re trying to decide what to study, but in a world that is becoming more reliant on data systems and people who are able to analyse these systems, the skills you learn in a Maths degree are becoming more and more valuable in the work place. It is no longer a degree that only gets you a job in academia. In fact there are career opportunities in a wealth of fields, including Biology, Health, Research, Analysis, Business, and Finance.
So if you’re looking for something that will challenge you, give you a unique set of skills and that will make you extremely employable, then Maths should definitely be something to consider.
Maths is like everything else in life, showing up is 90% of the success. If you’re considering on studying this degree you should be committed to working consistently. If you are currently still in school and struggling with this subject, check out some of the ways you can improve your Maths mark. Once you get comfortable with all the concepts, it will be easier than you ever thought it could be.