How college is going

Being back at university studying mathematics more or less for the hell of it is actually quite an interesting experience. The whole independent study thing is hard from time to time, but what’s hardest about it is you have to do actual rent paying work around it and somehow, study is more fun on occasion. I’m just done with a block looking at iteration and matrices which was quite interesting, and also, with a stats block dealing with time series. The thing about time series – in one respect – is that they get used a lot on a very superficial by a lot of people…but in depth, there’s kind of a lot more, particularly in terms of predictive modelling.

I scored very, very well on both assignments linked to these modules and am about to move into calculus (again) and multivariates between the maths and the stats.

What people can’t quite get to grips with is that I’m actually doing this. Why, if you already have a degree and a couple of postgrads, and a job, would you go back and so something like maths. Maths is hard.

And it’s not like I need to.

This leads me to wonder about people’s motivation sometimes. When I look around, the people whose opinion I have, over the years, tended to value most, think that going back to college is a terrific thing, and that it’s awesome that I’m doing it. The ones who question the sanity of it, I have noticed, tend to be slightly more negative in their outlook about most of their daily life, and in particular, about the impact that decisions outside their control have on their lives. On balance, I wonder how many people assert control over their lives and how many just coast.

I was looking at maths courses for 2-3 years before I eventually signed up to the Open University. Dublin really only has one part time option which is the DIT and at the time I eventually rejected it, I was pretty sure it wasn’t right for me. The Open University while requiring a lot of independent time with the books, has proven to be more helpful. At the time which I started the course, there were some reorganisations going on at work, and quite a lot of people were suggesting that I, maybe, wait and see.

I have come to the conclusion that sometimes, “wait and see” is a corrosive piece of advice. If, for example, I had waited and seen a year in 2011, the changes in funding for OU courses would have made it financially out of the question. Sometimes, you really need to identify the right decision for yourself regardless of what other people think.

I scored 94 in the last maths assignment. It’s probably the highest mark I have gotten in anything since I was about 17 years old and I knew that the max I’d be scored from was 97 anyway. So I’m really, really pleased with this.

I don’t think waiting and seeing would have been the right thing to do. I’m very, very glad I did this even if it means I spend a lot of time curled up with numbers and symbols.


So the presents have started arriving from Open University

Twice in the last couple of weeks, I have missed package deliveries and had to re-arrange forwarding. Both were from the Open University.

Today’s one which was the third, and apparently final mailing for my first maths module, arrived today. It had books for every chapter, and the one that caught my interest – more than anything – was Block D. Block D concentrates on Chance/Probability and it’s what I remember most from 2o years ago.

Chance and probably is quite topical in the UK at the moment because a senior judge has recommended that Bayes theorem not be applied in expert statistical evidence in court cases. This has caused a lot of debate amongst statisticians and mathematicians (including the “he’s probably not qualified to make a call on that in his own right” line of reasoning.

One of the things which saddens me most about the generally low levels of numeracy in Ireland is that people aren’t equipped to have these debates; they’re not equipped to assess the likelihood of things happening based on prior data (like oh, house price crashes). While I’ve signed up for a degree in mathematics and statistics, Open University also does a degree in maths and maths teaching. Given a wider debate about the quality, and the level of qualification, of maths teachers here in Ireland, this is quite interesting.

For me, most of what this year consists of is modelling. I’m interested in this too because I have tangential interests in wave modelling and to a lesser extent, climate modelling. What’s great about all this is that it’s going to provide me with tools to do other things I am interested in beyond the day to day business of work and life. There’s a tiny undisciplined part of me which would really and truly like to hit on Part D before I do anything else because I remember probability from school and liking it very much (and scoring full marks in the probability question in my leaving certificate); but I recognise that some discipline is going to help me most through this.

There is always a lot to be said for learning something new, however, so this makes me quite happy.

So I’m back at college again.

I have spent a lot of the last three years trying to figure out what was the best way of getting myself back into a maths trip. I had looked at a possible part time degree in the Dublin Institute of Technology but the online documentation didn’t really attract me, so I waited another bit, searched another lot, and this year, I decided to sign up to start a degree in mathematics and statistics with the Open University.

I did my school leaving examination in Ireland in 1990 which is a frighteningly long time ago. I have been making noise about this for years but have delayed it for various practical reasons linked to normal life. This year, those considerations have not gone away and it doesn’t look like they were likely to in the short term so I decided that I wasn’t going to wait for things I can’t control to sort themselves out so that I could go off and do this. I expect to have forgotten a lot of this; and the revision notes are here beside me. I haven’t worked out how I am going to arrange all this from a practical point of view – I am surrounded by paper as it is.

I toyed with putting up a separate blog about this and how I was getting on, but in the end figured that the best thing to do was to put it onto this blog. So this is by way of a warning to note there will be bits of maths cropping up here.