Career Paths of Three Cal Math Undergrads

Without a doubt, the most frequently asked question I get when I tell people that I study math is, “So what do you want to do with that?” And it’s a fair question. The math major offers an incredible amount of leeway and as a result students in the department have a huge range of interests and intents. Some students are dead set on entering academia and pursuing the life of a mathematician, while others are ready to enter the world of industry and never look back.

To get a feel for the academic diversity in the Berkeley undergraduate math community, I talked to three different students with three different careers paths and asked them how they got there and where they’re looking to go. The following responses have been edited for clarity.

 

Student #1

Name: Munashe Mazonde

Major(s): Applied Mathematics (Economics concentration)

Year: Junior

 

What made you get into applied mathematics?

M: I came in wanting to do business, and then realized I didn’t want to do that because it was too competitive. Then I switched to economics, but then I realized I wanted to do something more quantitative. And then I was like okay, I already like math, let me do math.

What do you plan on doing with what you’ve learned?

M: Something in data science, FinTech, that sort of thing. When I went back home I worked at an asset management company. And most of the people I know of doing math have, like no intention of pursuing math. I’m pretty sure it’s of the Berkeley influence, since everyone’s doing data science.

Do you think it would be useful for students to have more exposure to academia and what mathematics research entails? What about for industry?

M: Yeah, one hundred percent. Because you’ll never know if you like it until you try it. If it was there, I would definitely try and take it just to see what it’s about. And then I would go from there, like I actually might enjoy it and be like, ‘Oh okay I’m going to do math research now’. For industry, math isn’t really one of those subjects that has an industry. You just kind of hop onto other industries and burrow in there. But it’s on math students to jump in on their own and find these. It shouldn’t be, but it is. There should be more resources, because there are people who take math, but they have an applied math concentration, and they’re going to be looking for industry jobs outside mathematics.

 

Student #2:

Name: Alekos Robotis

Major(s): Mathematics

Year: Senior

What was your initial interest in mathematics?

A: I guess I always liked it when I was younger. My grandfather taught me a bunch of stuff when I was really young, like five or something, but after that I didn’t really do too much until sophomore year of college. That was when I got properly interested. I took Math 54 and I was pretty interested because I found linear algebra was really cool and geometric and it wasn’t like calculus. You know, I was like oh wow this isn’t calculus, there’s other stuff. And then I took discrete math; it was pretty good but it was interesting since it was very different from what I’ve learned in the past.

Once you decided on math, what areas did you hone in on?

A: One of my friends was going to take Math 113 over the summer after my sophomore year, so I was like “Hey I’ll take it with you, whatever let’s do it.” It was a lot of work, but it paid off and from there I thought algebra was the thing. Then I took Math H104 with Professor Pugh in the fall, and then I thought analysis was really cool. Now I guess I’m really into topology and geometry stuff, but I definitely kind of like everything.

Are you planning on graduate school once you finish at Cal?

A: So I’m doing a masters for now, a two-year masters at the Courant Institute at NYU. I want to do a thesis, and then get into a pretty good Phd program after. They have a really good geometry program, and a lot of applied math stuff but that’s not really my interest.

Have you ever seriously considered working as opposed to grad school?

A: Not really. I kind of entertained the possibility of what I would do. But it’s not really interesting to me, a nine to five has never appealed to me. I don’t like being told what to do by anyone, and I don’t like telling people what to do. I think in a good academic setting, you can kind of just be independent, more or less, of the authority chain. You have obligations, but there’s no boss saying “you need to finish this at this time”.

Have you had any math research experience? Does it affect your perspective going forward into the world of academic math?

A: I didn’t get any REUs, but nonetheless I’ve had a lot of experience talking with and being around a lot of academics. With all the graduate students I tried to make myself close to them, so I could get insight from them often. So I think, maybe, I have an idea of what it will be like. Even with a lack of experience towards participating in math research, I think that if you’re trying to do academia, you’re going to be learning for a long time before you start doing. So I think part of it is just learning to enjoy the journey.

 

Student #3:

Name: Casey Zhang

Major(s): Mathematics, Computer Science

Year: Junior

What made you originally get into mathematics?

C: Back in freshman year I thought I was going to do two out of the three: math, CS, and physics. I was choosing these because back in high school these were the subjects I liked and was good at. And then I realized that math was something that, one, is pretty fun to do, and two, is something that I should probably just know. Especially in the lower division series, you get the feel that this is stuff you need for every other major.

Now that you’re in math and CS, what is your exact math focus? Is it more CS aligned or is it completely disjoint from the CS portion?

C: So this semester I’m taking topology, which I’m actually liking less than I thought I would. Right now I’m really interested in algorithmic studies, so I’m in a reading course with Professor Papadimitriou, and that’s pretty fun. I really haven’t looked at that much math outside of the core classes.

It seems like you’re more CS oriented than math at this point. What are you planning on pursuing in the near future?

C: In the future I would think that the easiest route for me would probably just be to go into CS industry. I’ve thought about grad school, but if I were to do grad school, I think I would probably choose CS over math. I feel like if you go into math grad school, you hardcore do math. After math grad school, chances are you’re going to be researching math or be a math professor somewhere. I’m not sure if that’s what I want to do because I still like the CS side of things, and I still want to do CS throughout my life. If I were to do grad school in CS, I would still have a range of options from teaching to research to also industry.

 

So this was a look into the past and some projected futures of three different students. If you’re still looking to hear more stories and perspectives, feel free to come to any of the peer advising office hours in Evans 959! Our times and specializations can be found at https://math.berkeley.edu/programs/undergraduate/advising.

Studying Abroad as a Math Major

A lot of our advice here with peer advising is about how to make the best use of your time as a math major here in Berkeley, but for this blog post I thought we’d look a little past the top floors of Evans. In particular, I wanted to talk a bit about studying abroad as a math major. I’ll try to answer questions that I myself had and that I’ve encountered before. This isn’t going to be so much of a travel blog or a really detailed rundown of my time abroad but more of a general overview of what’s available for math majors at Berkeley.

 

What are my options?

I would say there are two well-traveled paths for studying abroad as a math major. The first and most intuitive is through the UC system’s study abroad programs, UCEAP (http://uc.eap.ucop.edu). This is what I ended up doing, and there are a lot of advantages to going through a system aligned with the school. The other well-known alternative is one of the two math-focused programs: Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (https://www.budapestsemesters.com) and Math in Moscow* (http://www.mccme.ru/mathinmoscow). I’m pretty sure it’s possible to go outside of these two routes, but it might make for some administrative pains and less of a support system in general. That being said, if there’s some other special program I haven’t heard of, definitely talk to staff/faculty/peer advisors about it!

 

I’m really into math…do I have to go to Budapest or Moscow?

One thing that I want to make clear: there are rigorous math classes offered through UCEAP. Just being interested in math does not mean that either BSM or MiM would be ideal for you. I personally wanted to take high level math courses and assumed by default I would end up in Moscow or Budapest, so I checked out the courses offered at each program in the past. I would encourage any interested student to do this, because it made me realize the courses at these programs didn’t really appeal to me.

With a little extra research, I was able to find programs through UCEAP that offered advanced math courses in the subjects I was interested in. You won’t be quite as immersed in math as you would at another program, but I still found the coursework engaging and challenging.

 

What was your experience like?

I ended up in Lund, Sweden, again partially because it offered courses that seemed comparable to Berkeley classes with unique topics not always available here. I also decided to go there because I had never been to Scandinavia, it seemed like an interesting place in general, and it was a convenient enough location from which I could easily visit family and travel in general. These non-academic concerns are important to keep in mind. This may seem obvious, but when you’re scrolling through the options and looking for a place with advanced math courses, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of this.

I agonized over what classes to take but I ended up with three courses. The first was on calculus of variations, a topic which is sometimes covered in Berkeley’s Math 170, but not always. It was a fun class with two large problem sets and a final presentation. I also enrolled in a Biomathematics course. It was mostly focused on applications of dynamical systems in biology, giving it a slightly different focus than Berkeley’s Math 127. There was some coding and a pretty difficult take home final, as well as an oral exam that I was pretty worried for. A week before the exam I got an email saying I did well enough to not have to take the oral exam, which was a little jarring but definitely welcome.

As you might be able to tell, the classes were way less strict on deadlines and grading than at Berkeley. I had heard this before and had thought it would reduce stress, but I ended up worrying more about my grades than usual since I didn’t really know how I was doing throughout the whole semester. This comes down to personal preference though, and I think it’s a good experience to get exposed to other ways of doing things.

Probably the bulk of my time was spent on an independent bachelor project where I worked one-on-one with a faculty member on a problem in his research, which was a great experience. I saw the option listed on the website and emailed some faculty to see if there was anything available. While it was surprisingly easy to arrange, I did run into a few administrative hiccups here and there, but the staff in general was very helpful and it worked out in the end.

 

Any general advice?

The main piece of advice I would give to people considering study abroad is to be careful but not fearful. There are a lot of forms and processes to go through to get the experience planned out and approved, and the less issues you have the better. Be especially particular if you’re trying to get major requirements satisfied abroad. That being said, don’t be afraid to go after what you’re interested in, even if there’s not really a precedent for it. Basically, go for it!

 

*For a good rundown of a Cal student’s experience in MiM, check out https://guide.math.berkeley.edu/2016/04/04/from-russia-with-love/

GRE Math Subject Test Preparation Strategies

Overview:

  • Official guide & official test practice book
  • Format:
    The test consists of one section which is 2 hours and 50 minutes long.
  • When is the test offered?
    In April, October and November each year.
    Note: The test registration deadline for the November one is usually before the time when the result of the October test comes out. So, it may be a good idea to register for both if one is in urgent need of a good score.
  • Nearest Location:
    Berkeley High.
  • Graduate programs that require GRE Math Subject Test score:
    Math & Applied Math.
  • Graduate programs for which a good Math Subject score would be helpful:
    Financial Mathematics, Physics, Statistics, etc..

Test preparation strategies:

  • START EARLY so that you will have enough time to review all the materials, and will be able to take the subject test again (which many people do) if necessary.
  • Start with a diagnostic exam: identify the topics that you are unfamiliar with, and master them.
  • Review ALL the concepts mentioned in the official guide, and relevant problem-solving techniques.
  • Practice a lot, practice often.
  • Mock exams: do the full length past exams under TIMED conditions, at a place where you are unlikely to be disturbed. (Speed matters!)
  • When practicing, mark the questions that you can’t solve even if you manage to guess the correct answer.

Test prep books:

  • Princeton Review: fairly exhaustive, but contains typos and errors.
  • Research & Education Association (REA): covers more topics than the actual test does, contains 6 practice exams, and is great for those who have a good score already but want an even better one.

Where to find past exams:

  • Google keywords like “old gre practice”, and the following forms shall be available online: Form 0568, 1268, 8767, 9367, and 9768.
    Note: If a URL is no longer valid, use the Wayback Machine to retrieve it.
  • Some are available at: http://www.wmich.edu/mathclub/gre.html (This webpage has some other information on test preparation as well.)
  • ETS has one past exam available on its website.

What if I don’t know about a certain topic yet?

  • Take a relevant course.
  • Learn the basics by reading a textbook and doing the exercises. (Here is a book-list for reference; you may search the topic in the second column.)

Other resources:

We [Lilian and Rose] are more than willing to share our Subject Test experience, and help you with your test preparation, so please come by our advising hours! Besides, I [Rose] have written up some test preparation notes for my own sake, and will gladly share them on an individual basis.

Experiences and Advice about Double/Triple Majoring

 

Hey everyone! It’s Fahad again with the peer advising blog! This week, I wanted to talk about my experiences being a Math, Computer Science, and Statistics triple major, and my recommendations for anyone who’s considering doing more than one major! If you’re wondering about my experiences, head to the next paragraph. If you’re wondering about my advice, check out the third paragraph!

I’ll start with my experiences and some of the myths I learned really weren’t true. The first thing I want to talk about, and probably the most important, is the course load and time commitments.  I will warn you, more than one major definitely takes up a significant amount of time; just fitting in the classes itself is a pain. But as a triple major, I was able to plan out a 4 year schedule in which I got to take a couple of classes for fun and stay at 4 courses per semester, and it only required me to take all technical classes two semesters and a couple of summer classes! This might seem like a lot for some people; which is why the option of taking a 5th or 6th semester exists, but at no point should you have to take 20+ grueling units for multiple semester (unless you want to!). It’s about planning correctly. Overall I’ve had a positive experience doing a triple major, and it’s because, as I’ll touch on in the next semester, I was truly interested in everything I’m studying.

So, on for some practical advice. The biggest, most important piece of advice I can give is to actually be interested in what you’re majoring in. You’re not cooler because you’re a double or triple majoring and almost no employers will bat an eye if you aren’t truly enthusiastic about everything you’re studying. Your coursework will come easier as well as either your majors will be similar and you’ll have one specific topic you’re focusing on, or your majors are very different and you’re truly passionate about everything you’re studying, making class less of a necessity and more of a fun task. For reference, when I was thinking about triple majoring, it was because I had already taken some core classes and I went through all of the department courses and listed all the classes I was interested in taking. After looking at this list, the triple major just came naturally. This is something I would definitely recommend, as you get to know whether you have enough classes you’re actually interested in. It makes the experience worth it, and much easier. College is amazing because you are not forced to take any classes, you study what you want! Take advantage of this to the fullest extent; don’t major in something just because it will look good. Do it because you like it. My second piece of advice is to use your advisors! Whether it be your peer advisors, your major advisors, or your L&S advisor, they’re a great resources in helping you plan out your schedule! They know the courses with the most workload and the relative success of previous people who might have been in your shoes before, so they know exactly how you feel and how to help you get to where you wanna be! My

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment or email me if you want to learn more, or come to my peer advising office hours! For general questions, other peer advisors also hold weekly office hours found here: https://math.berkeley.edu/programs/undergraduate/advising.

 

Meet Your Peer Advisors!

Hello everyone, and welcome to our first blog post this semester! We’re looking forward to a great semester, and to get you acquainted with us, we thought we’d answer some introductory questions!

Question: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

  • Fahad: Hey everyone! My name is Fahad Kamran, and I am currently a junior majoring in Math, CS, and Statistics. I have been a TA in a few CS classes and very involved in the education community. In my spare time, I like to head to the gym, play soccer, and play a lot of video games!
  • Katya: Hello, I’m Katya! I’m a Junior Transfer double majoring in Math and CS. I love to teach, come talk to me about being a TA or getting involved with student run organizations that provide tutoring! When I’m not teaching and taking classes I’m skiing, doing yoga, or sleeping.
  • Loek: Hey, I’m Loek. I’m a fourth year applied math major with a concentration in numerical analysis. I’ve participated in many of the opportunities available to undergrads in the department (DRP, REUs, UCEAP Study Abroad, Berkeley Connect, and more) so feel free to come with any questions about those or just life in the department in general! Most of my free time is spent on music, but I also enjoy reading, watching movies, and traveling.
  • Rose: Hi, I’m Rose, a third year Math major. I am really fond of doing math and spend much time on it, but I also like reading, baking, and hiking.
  • Freddy: Hey, I’m Freddy! I’m a third year applied math and statistics major with a concentration in probability. In my free time I’m a big fan of watching movies and classic sitcoms. On top of that I’m also a big fan of cooking (when I have time) and I’ve recently been learning to pickle.
  • Lilian:  Hi, I’m Lilian! I’m a senior year international student majoring in Applied Math with a focus in Actuarial Science. I’m also currently working in library on campus. For free time, except from sleeping, I like to travel all around the world with friends and learn new languages. I also do dancing for several years.

 

Question: What’s your favorite class you’ve taken ever! Not just in Berkeley

  • Fahad: My favorite class I’ve ever taken by far is Stat 134. It opened my eyes to what I thought was a dry subject in Statistics and combined it with the mathematical ideas I like so much that it inspired me to go on and try a Statistics major.
  • Katya: My absolutely favorite class was the first Linear Algebra course I took (although not at Berkeley). My professor would always connect what we were learning to his projects at HP; it made me realize that there were so many things you could do with a degree in Math!
  • Loek: My favorite course was probably Math 128B. I felt like I learned a ton from every lecture and homework problem. I liked the mix of rigor and applicability in the class and it really confirmed for me what exactly I wanted to study. Close runners-up include Math 224A and History C175B.
  • Rose: I find it hard to choose just one favourite course, as I love almost every math course that I’ve taken.So I will instead mention my favourite non-math course, which is one about forensic science that I took on Coursera years ago. That course sated my curiosity about evidence collection and analysis, and provoked me to contemplate questions about death, truth, and justice. Plus, I found the process of crime investigation very similar to the process of solving math problem, and enjoyed that similarity a lot..
  • Freddy: By far my favorite class has been Math 126. It was one of my first upper division classes and it introduced me to so many new ideas in differential equations from both a rigorous perspective as well as an applicable one. Second to this would probably be either Stat 210a or Physics 137a.
  • Lilian: My favorite class so far is Math 10B. It shows me the connections between math and real life. It covers a lot of mathematical topics, although not very deep, which prepares me for many later math and even stat courses. Another favorite class would be Stat 134, which let me, for the very first time, understand probabilities and how to apply them.

 

Question: What’s your favorite place to eat in Berkeley?

  • Fahad: Besides the new taco bell (which is AMAZING), I really love Tuk Tuk Thai. If you haven’t heard it, hit it up on Shattuck; great thai food, great portions, reasonable price.
  • Katya:  I love Sweetgreens! You get to make your own salad – its like cooking without the difficulty of actually putting everything together and cleaning up!
  • Loek: Probably Pizzahhh on Hearst. Easily the most underrated pizza place in Berkeley and maybe the most underrated restaurant overall in Berkeley. Great location, not too expensive, fast, and the food has never let me down.
  • Rose: Wat Mongkolratanaram! This is a thai temple on the corner of Russell and MLK, and it serves brunch to the public on Sundays. The portion sizes there are large, so it would be a good idea to bring friends and share if you want to try more than one dish at a time. I’m not sure if Wat Mongkolratanaram is vegan-friendly (at least there is papaya salad), but it is definitely vegetarian-friendly. By the way, this place accepts only tokens, which can be “purchased” using cash at one of the counters.
  • Freddy: Before it closed down, Makri’s Cafe on University and Shattuck was quite literally the best brunch/diner place in Berkeley. Now that it’s gone I’d probably have to go with Cheese N Stuff down on southside. Great sandwiches, friendly service, and an insane selection of drinks. Works every time.
  • Lilian: HUGE shout out to La Note! My favorite place to hang out with friends for a brunch/lunch in the weekend (although it takes AGES to get a table).

 

Question: If you could become an animal for one day, what animal would it be and why?

  • Fahad: I want to be a dinosaur really badly, just because I feel like they have the most fun in life. Specifically, a pterodactyl because they can fly and have the coolest noises.
  • Katya: I would be a dog, specifically a Golden Retriever, because they always look so happy.
  • Loek: I would want to try being a polar bear. I would get to spend time in a place I’ll probably never visit, swim around a bit, maybe hunt some seals, and I wouldn’t have to worry much about other predators. Plus, go bears, am I right?
  • Rose:  I would like to be an octopus, because its body structure is very different from that of human, and because it has some intelligence. In particular, I want to know what it is like to have no skeleton, three hearts, and two-thirds of my neurons located in my arms.
  • Freddy: If I could be an animal for a day, I’d have to be a gyrfalcon. Mostly because I would need to know what it’d be like to fly in the air completely unsupported, just gliding through on my own wings.
  • Lilian: I’d like to be a koala because I want to know how it feels to sleep all day without worrying about anything.

 

Thanks for reading and we hope you got to know us a bit better! Drop by our office hours for any questions you might have! Our office hours schedule is:

Mondays: 9:30-10:30 AM (Loek), 2-3 PM (Fahad)
Tuesdays: 1-2 PM (Lilian), 3-4 PM (Freddy)
Wednesdays: 11 AM-1 PM (Katya), 1-2 PM (Rose), 2-3 PM (Fahad)
Thursdays: 1-2 PM (Lilian), 3-4 PM (Freddy)
Fridays: 9:30-10:30 AM (Loek), 1-2 PM (Rose)

For more, visit https://math.berkeley.edu/programs/undergraduate/advising and scroll down to “Peer Advisors”

DON’T PANIC, DO THE MATH

Can you believe Evans was once covered in snow?! OMG SO CUTE

“Evans is going to be replaced soon”
“Evans is a windowless dungeon”
“Evans is the ugliest building on campus”

Everyone has heard, maybe even said these types of comments about Evans Hall, the large grayish cube-like building sitting between the Memorial Glade and Hearst Mining Circle.

If you are reading this, then you are probably aware that Evans is home to the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department. What you might not know is that Berkeley has one of the largest math departments in the United States, which raises the number of Berkeley residing mathematicians to a rather staggering amount. Evans also houses the Statistics and Economics departments, which further makes Berkeley a great place to do math. You can easily find others who share your mathematical interests–from algebraic geometry and number theory to logic, from PDE’s or statistics to theoretical neuroscience–Evans has it all.

Since you are still reading, you must be interested in applying, or maybe you are already a student and curious about majoring in math or applied math, or maybe you’ve already made that decision–either way, we congratulate you and welcome you to the math department!

Either way, by now you probably know from the tagline that this is a blog about student life as a member of UC Berkeley math community and what being an undergraduate math student roaming the top 4 floors of that large grayish cube-like building is like. Look around here, and you will find advice from fellow undergraduates about what to do while you’re here at Cal, what to do over the summer or abroad, or what to do after you graduate.

If you have any questions from us, or if you are a student or alumni and you would like to contribute, definitely get in touch with one of the peer advisers or send an email to one of the emails below.

Cheers,
Mahrud Sayrafi [mahrud at berkeley dot edu]
Claire Tiffany-Appleton [claireta at berkeley dot edu]
Eric Chen [a5584266 at berkeley dot edu]
Shu Li [shuli1995 at berkeley dot edu]
Duc Tran [ductran at berkeley dot edu]
John Jimenez [jimenez.john at berkeley dot edu]