A day in the life
If I talked to a prof and they saw that I was interested in something, they could refer me to something to read or a problem to go try. For me, that was wonderful.
Mathematics as a problem-solving discipline
Sageev Oore, an assistant professor of Computer Science at Saint Mary’s University, recently spoke to a group of math undergraduates.
Talking about what skills they would leave university with reminded him of his undergraduate degree at Dalhousie.
“There’s this discipline that you learn. You’re learning what you’re learning but you are also learning how to learn,” he says.
Math majors practice problem solving constantly, he explains. You learn how to make arguments airtight and you learn to look for every possible loophole in an argument.
“That skill is much bigger than any particular problem you are solving,” he says.
Dr. Oore’s two passions are music and math. He’s loved both since he was a kid. Like many kids, his mother made him practise his piano every day. At first, it was tough going.
“It’s hard to like something that you feel you’re not good at,” he says. But he did the drills. He became very, very good at it, performing locally, nationally, and on CBC radio.
Learning and practising both disciplines are similar, he says. Practice builds up your knowledge of the discipline. Math and music students learn a lot by imitation.
“In jazz, one of the best things you can do is to take a solo by a great musician that you love and learn to play it note for note,” he says.
He tells first-year mathematics students to do the same thing. “Mimic, even if it doesn’t always make sense. You will internalize stuff. It’s worth spending time doing that.”
Dr. Oore remembers the enthusiasm Dalhousie faculty showed for solving, discussing, and even grading, problems. That energy made the program great, he recalls.
“If I talked to a prof and they saw that I was interested in something, they could refer me to something to read or a problem to go try. For me, that was wonderful.”
All this practice gives you a reservoir of skills you can draw on and make work in any situation, he says.
Now he plays piano for award-winning band Gypsophilia, just released a classical-jazz CD and teaches the odd calculus tutortial – just for fun.