MATH 335

This is my course review for MATH 335, Advanced Calculus. This is the second quarter of the MATH 33X sequence, which started with MATH 334. I took the course in Winter 2016 with James Morrow and teaching-assistant Will Dana.

Notes

Here I’ll keep some observations of the course as I go along.

From 7th week:


  1. This is something I see in other subjects as well. High school tests and projects were graded, but daily/weekly assignments were often graded solely on completion (possibly because there was usually only one teacher who couldn’t possibly have graded everything each day), whereas in college even weekly problem sets are graded (and still account for a nontrivial portion of the final grade).

  2. See also this quote from “Why are modern scientists so dull? How science selects for perseverance and sociability at the expense of intelligence and creativity”:

    Also, in the past educational ability was more often measured using relatively-infrequent, timed and supervised, previously-unseen formal examinations during which the examinee would need to work fast to organize their knowledge. Such formal examinations are likely to be more ‘g-loaded’ (i.e., correlate more strongly with IQ) than the greater emphasis on frequent ‘course work’ which has characterized educational systems over recent decades – course work tends to reward Conscientiousness over IQ compared with formal exams and be preferred by more Conscientious and less intelligent students.

  3. See in particular Raman Shah’s answer to “I’m doing a computational physics PhD. Is working as a software engineer really a viable option after I graduate?”, which contains:

    People obsess a lot over the data structures and algorithms stuff because Silicon Valley firms have made a cargo cult over being able to whip out solutions to crazy algorithmic problems on a whiteboard. I feel this is unfortunate - it discriminates against candidates like us while driving up the prices for some contributors who are not that great at their jobs and are nasty human beings but who are really good at the whiteboard stuff. The limiting factor in real-world software engineering in my experience seems to be that eye for simplicity - maybe it requires a lot of intelligence and working memory, but most of the meaningful lift in software engineering to me seems like organizing your sock drawer, just with really good taste. Anyway, you’ll probably have to join the cargo cult to get the job even though the material is almost irrelevant to the day to day of the software engineering I’ve seen. What’s nice is that the subject is pretty delightful, so it won’t feel too onerous. So maybe take a Coursera course and back it up with selected readings from Cormen, Leiserson, Rivest, and Stein. I have almost a religious antipathy to interview prep books, but I guess they can be useful. I certainly have avoided touching them to this date, and I’ve yet to be unemployed. I’m not certain if my quirks translate to good general advice; your mileage may vary.

  4. I am reminded here of another quote by Raman Shah, from Raman Shah’s answer to Why do so many Caltech students procrastinate?:

    It’s kind of amazing, really: Caltech manages to severely damage the mental health of many bright young people every year, and many people assume it must be brutally competitive or have abusive instructors or something. But none of those things are true at all – all it does is just hand them a few dozen pdfs per quarter with interesting-looking math and science problems and due dates. That’s all it takes.

    However, my experience differs from Raman’s in various ways. (1) I am not attending Caltech, so my coursework is (presumably) not even close to the intensity of a typical Caltech course load. (2) The problems in MATH 334/335 (and even CSE 332) do require some amount of creativity, but they are mostly pretty straightforward. There are few problems that are “really easy lay-ups in the homework to buoy your spirits” (to quote Raman in his answer), which is different from high school. However, most of the problems in e.g. 335 are in the class of “more complex problems to make sure you grasped the way things fit together at a more sophisticated level, but still a level that was explained to you”. So I don’t experience the sort of pressure to be creative under a deadline that he mentions. However, I still experience the continual series of deadlines that slowly numbs me each quarter from everything interesting in the world. (3) With the noted caveats, I still relate strongly to the quote, because my intense frustration at UW is really just the result of apathy and lack of awareness of a system that hands me deadline after deadline after deadline, not something maleficent.—Indeed UW is a very lonely place in the same way that doing archival work is lonely, because nobody else seems to care about the things I intensely care about.

  5. For if one feels the need to interrogate me with questions like “What’s so bad about it?”, “Isn’t college the best time of your life?”, “Aren’t you studying what you’ve wanted to study?”, and so forth, then I cannot take the time to answer them. The only correct answer for those capable of understanding—and therefore those who intuitively grasp the suffering at UW—is simply “I understand”.

  6. See for instance this thread on /r/udub/ for others who agree.