View Full Version : University Math

Orianna2000

11-01-2012, 06:54 AM

My MC is in her third year of university in a civilization that's equivalent to the late 1930s. She's always had difficulty with math, so one of her professors is tutoring her. My question is, what sort of math might she be learning?

At first, I used algebra, since that's always intimidated me, but from what I was reading, it's taught in Junior High, so perhaps it would be old hat by the time she reaches her third year of university. Then again, this is a more primitive time period. Might she be given advanced algebra? Or would she have moved on to something else by then?

If it matters, she's a science major, taking all the classes necessary to becoming a scientist. She hasn't narrowed it down to a specific branch, yet.

Drachen Jager

11-01-2012, 07:07 AM

All scientists must take statistics. There isn't much else that's universal among all science degrees.

All science degrees here (Ontario) require first year calculus.

By third year, I don't think non-physics science majors would be taking much, if anything, in the way of math (aside from statistics, whenever that is taken). By this point, there is always some degree of specialization, so it's hard to answer your question.

Many science majors take linear algebra in first year, and math majors (not sure about anyone else) would take additional algebra courses later on, though these wouldn't really be what you are thinking of as "algebra".

Some would take additional calculus courses beyond first year.

So I'd probably make it calculus...

(and if you were wondering, calculus was invented in the 1600s or 1700s...can't remember exactly)

mayqueen

11-01-2012, 07:38 AM

I can't vouch for the historical accuracy of this, but I second a vote for statistics. (Also, I teach statistics at the college level.) It's used widely in the sciences.

BDSEmpire

11-01-2012, 10:49 AM

If it matters, she's a science major, taking all the classes necessary to becoming a scientist. She hasn't narrowed it down to a specific branch, yet.

I don't think there would be a general "science" course in the 1930's.

You have engineering disciplines and the pure sciences - physics, biology and chemistry. Assuming you ignore the fact that she'd be discouraged from going into any of those disciplines in the 30's due to social pressures and you have the following math courses that are going to be relevant:

Engineering (Mechanical, Civil, Electrical): Geometry, Algebra, Differential Equations, Linear Algebra, Calculus, Advanced Calculus and Fancy Math.

Physics: Endless Calculus and Fancy Math.

Chemistry: Statistics, Calculus, Linear Algebra.

Biology: Statistics, Algebra, not sure what else.

Here's an engineering course guide from the University of Florida for 1933-1934: http://www.ise.ufl.edu/about/history/

The relevant section is: "The engineering curriculum included algebra, geometry, calculus, rhetoric and composition, mechanical drawing, wood and metalworking, surveying, accounting, economics, elements of electrical engineering, and general mechanical engineering."

What I mean by Fancy Math is the various specialized mathematical concepts needed for that particular field. In a modern course you see Mechanical and Civil Engineers struggling through Statics and Dynamics - using algebra, calculus and vector math to calculate structural loads and material strength. On the physics side of things you start to have to learn about fields and how to compute big matrices of vectors in order to talk about more complicated topics.

Computer Science was a fledgling discipline under the Mathematics field and around that time you started to see combinatorics, number theory, computational theory and other nifty topics that grew into Computer Science as its own barely-a-science discpline (which I have a degree in).

An undergrad in 1930 is going to be expected to be ready to perform their chosen task upon graduation so they are going to get a lot of practical techniques and instruction. A student who struggles with math is going to get encouraged to move to an easier major because science is all about mathematics.

University of North Carolina has these landmarks from that era:

1930 Genetics curriculum established Genetics curriculum taught as a component of coursework in Agronomy, Zoology, and Plant Pathology departments.

1933 First female M.S. recipient in Biology Maud K. Schaub becomes the first woman to earn an M.S. degree in Biology.

If your MC is at Princeton in the 1930's then this link should provide some excellent background on the super brains hanging around the Princeton campus at that time: http://www.princeton.edu/~mudd/finding_aids/mathoral/pm06.htm

I hope this helps!

MagicWriter

11-01-2012, 11:29 AM

If she sucked at math, by year 3 she'd be in calculus. Follow this if her major is Chem, Physics, Computer Science or prep for grad school like Vet school, Med school, or pursuing Ph.D. or M.S. in any science field:

Year 1 = College level Algebra I & College level algebra II

Year 2 = Trig. and since this character sucks at math, she'd take precalc

Year 3 = calculus I & II.

If her major is Biology she won't need any math, unless you have her going to grad school, then use the above sequence.

If her major is Epidemiology, nursing, or lab science she'd only need statistics, and that would come in years 1 or 2 to prep for classes in years 3 & 4.

One more thing, in the 1930s, its possible that precalc did not exist, and it may have been standard that every science major took math all the way through to calculus. The math standards for the sciences have dropped over the years. You'll have to double check that in your research. If I were you, I'd just throw her in Calculus.

RichardGarfinkle

11-01-2012, 11:59 AM

Science isn't a major it's an overarching category of majors. What kind of science?

If it's physics or physics related then past calculus (which would be absolutely necessary) she would need to take Differential Equations (which is usually two classes Differential Equations and Partial Differential Equations) , Real Analysis and Complex Analysis.

And yes, statistics is vital. Often taught as Probability and Statistics.

kuwisdelu

11-01-2012, 01:18 PM

A note on the statistics suggestions:

I'd be surprised at a non-math major taking a statistics course in the 1930s.

A statistics course in the 1930s would look very, very different than it does today.

Unlike mathematics, which was pretty mature by then, an awful lot of the basic statistical methods we rely on today, such as ANOVA, were only just being developed at that time.

Statistics has changed and evolved rapidly and dramatically this century, even in just the time since my father got his PhD in it just a few decades ago.

RichardGarfinkle

11-01-2012, 02:17 PM

A note on the statistics suggestions:

I'd be surprised at a non-math major taking a statistics course in the 1930s.

A statistics course in the 1930s would look very, very different than it does today.

Unlike mathematics, which was pretty mature by then, an awful lot of the basic statistical methods we rely on today, such as ANOVA, were only just being developed at that time.

Statistics has changed and evolved rapidly and dramatically this century, even in just the time since my father got his PhD in it just a few decades ago.

That's interesting. I hadn't realized the changes. I was using experience around 1980, so much later than the time for the OP. What classes do you think would cover the probability and distribution theory needed for quantum theory at the time?

kuwisdelu

11-01-2012, 02:39 PM

That's interesting. I hadn't realized the changes. I was using experience around 1980, so much later than the time for the OP. What classes do you think would cover the probability and distribution theory needed for quantum theory at the time?

Err, "probability." ;)

As much as probability, statistics, and mathematics are intertwined, just as most people now consider statistics its own field distinct from mathematics, so can probability be considered its own field distinct from statistics.

Probability theory and probability distributions have been around quite a bit longer than the methods and theory we use for inferential statistics. Gauss (who first formulated the normal distribution) did a lot of work in the direction of inference, but none of it was really formalized and popularized until R. A. Fisher's work in the 1920s and 30s.

Probability doesn't always concern itself with data, whereas statistics starts with it.

RichardGarfinkle

11-01-2012, 03:03 PM

Err, "probability." ;)

As much as probability, statistics, and mathematics are intertwined, just as most people now consider statistics its own field distinct from mathematics, so can probability be considered its own field distinct from statistics.

Probability theory and probability distributions have been around quite a bit longer than the methods and theory we use for inferential statistics. Gauss (who first formulated the normal distribution) did a lot of work in the direction of inference, but none of it was really formalized and popularized until R. A. Fisher's work in the 1920s and 30s.

Probability doesn't always concern itself with data, whereas statistics starts with it.

Oh, duh. Thanks. That's me not thinking. I'm so used to prob and stat being taught as intertwined concepts that I didn't see the obvious.

Orianna2000

11-01-2012, 04:49 PM

Just to clarify, it's not actually the 1930s, it's an alien culture that's roughly equivalent to the 1930s as far as technology goes. Gender biases are mostly not an issue, but they've got their own problems. University there is a bit different than what we're accustomed to, because they have these strange rules about equality. Everybody gets an equal chance, so everyone is forced to take the same basic classes. Those who pass move on to more advanced classes, while those who fail are sent directly to their qualifying careers. If you fail early on, your "career" will be a labor camp. The longer you can hold out, the nicer your profession will be. So basically, for the first two years of university the MC is taking remedial science classes. By her third year, once they're relatively sure she's not going to flunk out, she's finally allowed to choose a career direction and start taking specialized classes.

Based on what you guys have said, I will probably keep her in advanced algebra for her first and second years of university, then move her to statistics and/or calculus for her third year. For the scene I had in mind, I'll probably switch it to a science class rather than math, simply because I don't know enough about advanced math to create a realistic scene involving it.

Thanks for all the replies! Feel free to chime in if you have more advice. :)

mayqueen

11-01-2012, 05:44 PM

kuwisdelu, you're totally right about the historical development of statistics. Thanks for that.

Drachen Jager

11-01-2012, 07:24 PM

When I went to school, stats math was required to even take higher level science classes. You need the understanding of statistics for the things they're teaching you to make sense.

This was psychology, mind you, but I'd think it applies to most sciences. You can't run a proper experiment without knowing how to do the math properly.

veinglory

11-01-2012, 07:31 PM

It will vary depending on the science. But assuming you mean something experimental she will need to cover probability, visual representations, descriptive stats, comparative methods (chi-square to MANOVA) and correlational methods. Most of these were invented in the Victorian to 1920s period and haven't really changed since except that computation become a hell of a lot quicker and easier. So at that era they would work more down the simpler end when it comes to methods. Plain stats tends to be used a hell of a lot more than algebra and active calculus.

Orianna2000

11-01-2012, 08:46 PM

Okay, so more statistics and less calculus. That's great, thanks!

BDSEmpire

11-01-2012, 11:24 PM

Okay, so more statistics and less calculus. That's great, thanks!

More like the reverse of that. Kuwisdelu brought up that Statistics as a discipline is a relatively recent creature. It wouldn't have its own classes except at the graduate level. Instead, some of the concepts would be rolled into lower level mathematics courses.

Calculus and trigonometry are more likely to be the kinds of things your MC would be bumping up against as she pushed forward in this educational system.

Now that's assuming you want this to be strictly historical and frankly I don't think you'll bump into anyone who will shake their fist at the sky because you fudged some dates around as to when specific mathematical courses were taught. You could sidestep the whole issue and have this culture break up its math into yearly blocks where they cover a bunch of topics and then get harder as they push forward. Third Year Math would be significantly more difficult and require that you had mastered all the previous concepts. That's basically what happens in school now - you don't go and take Calc III without taking I and II because you won't know how to perform a basic integral much less split that out into 3D or line integrals.

Orianna2000

11-01-2012, 11:29 PM

Well, considering it's more of an "Earth parallel" rather than actual history, I think it's safe to fudge a few details. They do have a few bits of technology that are more advanced, so who's to say that they aren't slightly ahead of the 1930s as far as which maths were taught?

That said, I am going the route of each year being progressively more difficult. My MC is having to be tutored regularly, just to ensure that she doesn't flunk out.

veinglory

11-01-2012, 11:46 PM

Calculus and trigonometry are more likely to be the kinds of things your MC would be bumping up against as she pushed forward in this educational system.

I disagree, but it really does depend on what kind of science we are speaking. Now, and historically, a BS will require stats and quantitative methods--and not pure math unless the specific discipline requires it.

StormChord

11-16-2012, 07:12 AM

Depending on the kind of science, Calc could be very important.

Most high level physics requires a decent knowledge of calculus to understand and use; for that matter, low enough level chemistry has the same principle. If space travel is at all relevant, she's going to want to know relativity, which also uses calculus at high levels.

Basically, she's gonna want calculus and statistical analysis under her class list, no matter what science she goes into.

Orianna2000

11-16-2012, 07:17 AM

She went into biology. She's graduated now, but I'll keep these in mind for when I revise earlier scenes. Thanks!

jaksen

11-16-2012, 10:38 PM

I was a Bio major and 'Intro to Calculus,' then 'Calculus' were required parts of my major. The majority of my science courses were in biology, not general science. (There was no general science classes at my college.) I had to take two semesters of Earth Science, Chemistry and Physics. Then I had to take Organic (Chem) and one more of earth science or physics. I chose Earth Science: Oceanography. My BA was in Biology. I also took Astronomy as an elective.

But I didn't attend college in the 1930's. However, many of my professors did and they often remarked on how little the curriculum had changed in 30 years. Here are my (undergraduate) Bio classes:

General Zoology, General Botany, Invertebrate Zoology, Chordate Anatomy, Human Anatomy, Human Physiology, Cellular Biology, The Electron Microscope, Field Natural Studies, Plant Anatomy, Plant Physiology, Microbiology, and Intro to Paleontology (a hybrid course with both bio and earth science topics.) Most of these were one semester or half-year courses.

Orianna2000

11-16-2012, 10:54 PM

Thanks! That's useful to know.

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