Calc I brings a new kind of math problem

Megan PeoplesI entered Hopkins believing that I was at least somewhat intelligent. It did not take long for my Calculus I class to prove that this wasn’t the case. I’m not sure how many of you guys are talking calculus (probably a lot if I understand med school requirements correctly), but I feel like most people can sympathize with my plight.

There’s something about math that makes it especially good at making people feel incompetent. Perhaps it’s that once explained, all the problems seem so logical, or maybe it’s that there’s always that one person whose math comprehension is so beyond the normal realm that your difficulties simply baffle them (occasionally this person is the professor).

Now, the lecture itself isn’t that bad. You go, get introduced to a few new concepts, usually taken through an easy-to-follow example, and by the end you’re convinced you understand, that you finally get it. Of course, this was the plan all along. It seems to me that the lectures are designed to lure you into a false sense of security, because as soon as I look at my homework my knees give out as I am struck by the sheer complexity of the problems.

“Where have all the numbers gone?” I cry out to the heavens, lamenting my high school years where the alphabet’s assault on my math class had been kept at bay. Sometimes I like to look back on those days when I thought I was good at math. Ignorance was bliss. Now tackling my math homework is an ordeal involving a flurry of coffee and ink as I fill my room with scratch paper until my roommate complains about all the paper cuts she’s received from just walking across our floor (imagine how I felt after falling asleep there one night…).

You know you’ve finally arrived at college when your standards for good grades are lowered significantly. Never in my life have I so passionately pursued a C in a class or been more ecstatic to get a B on a test.

However, there is one thing from high school that hasn’t really changed: the feeling of accomplishment you get from finally solving an impossible math problem. It’s what I have always liked most about math; there’s nothing quite like that moment of euphoria. In fact, there are very few things which make me feel smarter than finally coming to the end of my calculus homework. After all the toil, after the long hard slog, after quite a few curse words (sorry, mom), nothing beats knowing that you solved, nay, overcame, everything that was thrown at you.

Perhaps the point I am trying to get at is that Calc I isn’t really as bad as I make it out to be (but I need something to complain about or else how am I going to write these columns). While, at times, there is nothing more I want to do than simply escape to the mountains and renounce all forms of calculation more complicated than addition, ultimately I would be losing out on an important part of my life.

And for any of you out there who love math, and all things number-related, I apologize for any possible offense taken. If it makes you feel any better, it’s recently occurred to me that next semester I am going to have to take Calc II. I try not to think about it too much.


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