FAQ / Common Suggestions

Before reading the FAQ, I encourage you to read Math Proofs: I Hate Them. Chances Are You’ve Never Seen Them / A Word on Advanced Mathematics so you can understand that upper level courses are much different and more rigorous than the Algebra, Stats, and Calculus courses you may have taken in high school and/or college. It’s not plug-n-chug math. There are no formulas. There’s no need for calculators.

Sidenote: I actually performed well in Calculus I, II, and III.

Q1: When is the next time you can retake Linear Algebra II (or Adv. Matrix Theory)?

A: Spring 2017 at UNLV. Fall 2017 at UNR.

Q2: Why stop now? You only have one class left. You’re so close! Give it another shot.

A: I have attempted Linear Algebra II five times (registered and paid six times in all). I have been unable to pass. This class has been taxing on my time, finances, and mental health. I experience depression each time I take this course. There’s no guarantee that I will pass on sixth attempt. I’m not willing to go through this again. I’m ready to move on.

Q3: Can you take a math course other than Linear Algebra II or Adv. Matrix Theory to graduate?

A: No. If I could, I would have the same trouble with proofs that I’ve experienced in every upper level math course. Proofs aren’t going away. I never got comfortable with them.

Q4: You’ve got to want it more. You’ve got to try a little harder. You need to make this class your life. Go all out!

A: I gave this course my undivided attention each time I took it. This class was just as important to me in 2009 as it was in 2016 (hell, I cashed out my savings in 2013 to take this class.) I just don’t seem to getting any better, but my depression gets worse. It takes me a long time to absorb the material, and even then, I have a lot of trouble doing homework assignments. Completing the homework is crucial to being successful in advanced math courses. Often, I can’t get it done; and sometimes I can’t even start. I’ve always struggled with proofs. Always.

I took a refresher course (Discrete Mathematics) on proofs in the Spring 2015 semester. I passed with a B, but it took everything out of me. I certainly got a better handle on proofs, but it didn’t seem to make a difference when it came around to taking Adv. Matrix Theory Spring 2016. I had a hard time making connections between the lectures, the textbook, and the homework. The professor went too fast, the book was dry, and the content was rigorous.

Q5: Have you thought about getting a tutor? Have you gotten help?

A: Yes. The problem is that the people who would potentially be tutors for Linear Algebra II/Adv. Matrix Theory are in class with me (literally). A good deal of tutors, including myself, are/were math majors. So, the best resources are classmates, the professor, and the book. There’s just not a bunch of external help available for these courses like you would find with Algebra or Calculus.

This is not to say that help isn’t available. Professors can be helpful with answering questions during office hours or after class, especially homework questions. However, it only helps to ask questions after they’ve been attempted. Getting stuck is part of the process in advanced math courses. My problem is that I often don’t get to the point of attempting homework problems because I’m busy trying to to read, understand, and internalize the concepts first. Definitions are everything. For me, getting through the material takes longer than it should. I can easily spend an hour reading and digesting a single page (seriously). It can take days for concepts to sink in, and many days to complete the homework.

Q6: Have you heard of Khan Academy?

A: Yes. He is great for covering all things math Algebra, Calculus, and Linear Algebra. His videos are good refreshers. However, he doesn’t do much in the way of proofs, which is where I need the help.

Q7: Have you gone to your professor(s) for help and guidance?

A: Yes. As I mentioned above, professors are a great resource for getting help. However, it only helps to ask questions after they’ve been attempted. Math professors will gladly explain lecture material or work out homework problems; but they aren’t typically good at “breaking things down”. They casually throw around the words “obvious” and “simple” in regards to proofs during office hours; which is why it’s important to ask specific questions.

It’s also worth mentioning that math professors are an interesting bunch. They are brilliant, yet aloof and eccentric (all of them). Most math professors are foreign and have thick accents (I’ve only had four American math professors). They are hired to do research primarily and to teach second. Teaching is usually not their forte. Casual conversations are definitely out of the question. And when I get a bad professor, I just have to deal with it (or risk waiting another year to take the course). On several occasions, I’ve just had to ignore the professor and read the book.

Q8: Have you thought about joining a study group?

A: Yes. I invited classmates to form one while taking Discrete Mathematics in Spring 2015 (UNLV) and Adv. Matrix Theory (UNLV) in Spring 2016. Though I extended the invitation to all my classmates, only a handful responded. Even less made an effort to meet. For those who did reach out, we met infrequently– usually the day before homework is due or the day before an exam. Usually one or two people showed up. That’s typical. My classmates are often busy working on material from other math/computer science courses. They tend to be solitary, confident, and highly competitive (like myself). Study groups are not a naturally occurring phenomenon among math and computer science majors.

For me, study groups are useful for getting homework done, but not useful for getting better at math (and that’s ok).

Q9: Can you take this class online?

A: This class is not offered online. With confidence, I say that no upper division math course is offered online. Lectures are the norm. Hell, these classes are also offered infrequently to begin with– usually once a year, and at one particular time, with one professor. UNR offers Linear Algebra II once every two years. I took it each time it was offered since 2011.

In 2013, my Linear Algebra II professor at UNR allowed me to email him all of my homework. I just had to fly to Reno for tests. This allowed me to stay in Las Vegas during this semester (which saved me a ton of money and stress). This is closest I’ve come to taking this class online.

Q10: What about changing your major?

A: Not gonna happen. I would be better off transferring to UNLV (see Q11).

1. My school, Fort Valley State University (FVSU), is in Georgia.
2. I live in Las Vegas.
3. I’m not going back. I did that in 2011 to take four classes. It cost me $7,500 in loans and I did not finish. I’m still paying off those loans.
(UPDATE: I changed my major to Liberal Studies and took an online class)
4. FVSU is in Georgia, where I am an out of state student who would be required to pay out of state tuition.

Q11: What about transferring your courses from FVSU to UNLV?

A: While this seems feasible, UNLV would require me to earn my last 30 credits at UNLV in order for me to receive a bachelor’s degree. Currently, UNLV charges $190/credit hr ($190/credit hr x 30 credits = ~$6,000). Also, At the rate that I can take classes as a working adult, this option would take me 1.5 years-2 years. I’m not willing to do this.

Q12: Why didn’t you change your major sooner?

A: It’s a little complicated.

1. By the time I realized I was in a bind, I was in the second semester of my junior year. I failed Advanced Calculus and while getting an A in Probability, Physics II, and Spanish. At the end of my senior year, I only had four classes left.

2. I was on scholarship for mathematics with the intent of majoring in engineering at Georgia Tech. FVSU does not have an engineering program, but has a partnership with Georgia Tech (see below).

3. There is one math degree program at FVSU, so all math majors take the same courses. There is no variation. I couldn’t have changed my focus say from statistics to math education.

Q12-B: Why didn’t you just major in engineering from the start?

A: Hindsight is 20/20… The plan was to parlay my full-ride scholarship math degree into an engineering degree from Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech was the end game. Taking a roundabout route to Georgia Tech by way of math degree seemed like a great plan at the time. It was paid for, and I would have two degrees at the end. I caught wind of Fort Valley State because of the CDEP program. This program was designed to send math majors at FVSU to partnering universities (GA Tech, UT Austin, UNLV, etc.) to study engineering on scholarship. I wasn’t a CDEP scholar, but the program director assured me that I could join their program track after I finished my math degree.

I could have been an engineering student at UNLV, UNR, or NAU; but hindsight is 20/20.

Q13: What would it take for you to pass Linear Algebra II/Advanced Matrix theory?

A: I would suddenly need to become enthusiastic about proofs and Linear Algebra– Possibly grow another brain.

On a serious note, I would probably need to consider retaking Linear Algebra I. I would also need to read through old homework problems in spare time (which ain’t gonna happen, why lie?). When class is in session, I would still need to dedicate a lot of time, find a way to sustain my motivation, get a handle on proofs, and combat depression.

Q14: Is there anything that your school can do to give you some sort of degree?

A: That’s the next step: Beg FVSU to make a concession so that I can walk away with some receipt of attendance– an associates in math, a degree in interdisciplinary studies… somethin’! As of March 2016, there’s no sense in bugging them until later in the semester or the summer. I’m also not interested in doing this right now. It’s not urgent.

(UPDATE: I changed my major to Liberal Studies. I took a psychology course online at FVSU. I graduated in May 2017.)

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