Okay, I just have to let this out. I had this realisation after having a conversation with Father—I always have conversations with my Father and I always have realisations about whatever it was that was gleaned on in the conversation, but this one I am compelled to share in order for others who are in the same predicament as I am, or at least would find themselves sooner in such predicament, to not make the same disastrous decisions as I have. Regrets somehow often come later on in life—too bad or good for me, however you see it, is that it came quite early, and I was able to remedy things up, as much as I am able. However whether we like it or not, there are some things which—as much as we hate to admit, and perhaps never will—we have no prior awareness of and of the awareness that we had, it comes too little or if not, too late. Such lack of foresight on our part, would definitely have consequences on our immediate, if not, our near future. There are decisions that I have come to regret, but already come to terms as well, but this one is something that would forever be etched in my mind, as the biggest mistake that I could ever do in life—academically speaking that is.
It goes without doubt, and without any reservation that my biggest regret in my academic life is that I did not take more maths whilst I had the chance—or that I chose to pursue Economics instead of Mathematics for my degree and for very lame reasons at that, which I shall not divulge.
To my defence, I did take more maths than what was required in our curriculum—our Economics programme requires only 2 maths courses and 1 stats, I took up 7 more, in calculus, real analysis, linear algebra, logic and set theory (being the prerequisite of the others), and mathematical, and statistical modelling. But apparently, having come to a point where I can fairly gauge what I have done in my life through the years, those courses were simply not enough—a case of having too little awareness. I was reluctant to take up more courses, even if I do know it would be better for me, largely owing to my terror of being singled out in class—in a sea of math, physics, and engineering majors, I was the only one from a social science background, and in academia people are sometimes territorial. Foolish, I know. But to those embarking on an economics journey like me, this I want to reiterate as it has been said by a prominent economist years before: take as many maths and stats as you can stomach (Mankiw, 2006). Economics is a social science, one might argue, ‘why the hell would I need Maths?’ It is precisely because of its social nature, that one ought to learn the maths. Why? Economics is something one can learn by observing, reading the newspaper, reading magazines and books, watching the telly, or just being acutely aware of the petrol pump prices—its social nature is something you can experience. Math, I’m afraid, is more secretive.
Math is something that a lot of people fear—although it permeates everyday life, people tend to shy away from it simply because Math, unlike other disciplines, does not yield its secrets immediately. It requires brutal and rigorous exertion of thinking and does not accept bullshitting—one can type to their heart’s content about that sociology paper, but I doubt if one can easily babble their way to a proof of Cauchy-Schwarz inequality or explain what is the Archimedean property. Truth is, Math never purported itself as easy—it is one honest discipline, brutal but at least honest. It is a great equaliser—it does not care how much one can memorise, or how much one can babble their way onto a presentation, if you have a brain, and I’m assuming you do, and you can think perfectly with it, then you’re in. A proof is a proof. If you make sense, then you do. But one thing people cannot deny, or at least one they cannot accept, depending on where you are standing, is that Math is beautiful. It is systematic, it is logical. But it is intimidating I admit—it is darn intimidating. I guess the key to learning Math is not so much of a question of where to apply it but understanding and appreciating it for what it is. In cheesier and simpler terms, learning Math, or any other discipline at that, is lot like falling in love—well, I wouldn’t really know, but I just reckon, it might be like that—it’s like having an epiphany, an almost surreal experience and when you reach that point, you really wouldn’t bother where in heaven’s name would I use Math in real life—because when you know, and when you learned, everything else would follow. And I guess, that is what learning is all about. Math is not magic, but it is magical.
Should one decide to pursue postgraduate studies like me, and one is in doubt about the difficulty of maths, you might want to consider this: it is better to suffer in the undergrad that to suffer in your masters, it is better to suffer in your masters than to suffer in your PhD—because the higher you go up in the ladder of learning, the more difficult it is going to be, but if you don’t know your theory and your basics, then I say you’ve committed yourself for an extended stay in hell. The higher you go, the deeper it gets, and not knowing the basics is equivalent to finding one’s self in a quagmire. I’ve known some postgrads ask for external help with their analysis and modelling, simply because they have not had the Maths background—and those consultants don’t come cheap either, and one would have a hard time understanding and interpreting the results if one has not done it on their own. I doubt if one would really derive much satisfaction in that—when you do a thesis, you want to at least say to the world that you did it on your own, with supervision. But when analysis and models are outsourced, there wouldn’t really be much left in it except the literature review, and those are the work of others to begin with.
Many of course, especially undergrads, would worry about their GPAs as Maths are hard, and more often than not, pushes people out of their comfort zones which they are not really too keen to do, and students might think that these subjects would pull their grades down. Learning has never been about the grades, I mean it should not be all about the grades, at least that was what Father always hammered into our heads since time immemorial. If you learn and understand something, it will show—and Math never lies, it is probably the only discipline wherein you know that the grades you received are what you deserve, because you can never inflate them even by sucking up to your professor. I’ve never really worried about grades because I was never a brilliant one, always average, above or below, middling to an extent, but never brilliant, but I honestly thought that with Maths, I have the world to gain, and nothing to lose—and I relished the opportunity, because hell, I’ve always felt that I’m a loser anyway, and I with that I have no regrets, I only wish I could have done more though. And trust me or don’t, whatever it is that you learn from the lower rungs, is something you’re going to use to pull yourself up. There would be a lot of people, who would say you wouldn’t need Math in Economics—never talk to them as much as possible. I felt really bad when already a graduate at that time, and was about to leave my undergrad uni, I saw a sign at the secretary’s office reminding students about to enrol for that semester to not '…register courses that are not in your curriculum.' I thought that perhaps my experience in enrolment would make them change the way they think about Math, at least in the Economics department, and take a more liberal approach, but there are people who respond backwards, to the detriment of young minds. If you know what’s good for you, hell, take Maths. Come hell or high water.