Probably it's just another advice-seeking CS student about math.. Well. I have math anxiety. Im a CS student, back then in undergrad I deal with code everyday, as long as my program work smoothly, i'm fine. I graduated with cumlaude honor in my undergrad school. I can say I'm pretty good with my coding skill. Now that I get into grad school (master), everything needs fundamental motivation, reasoning.. and a lot of math.

I'm always afraid of math, and never really good at numbers, can't remember formulas, brains so slow at processing equation. Especially when someone's watching me, I kind of revert back to kindergarten stage. I even failed a simple matrix multiplication when my prof was watching me did it on the white board, I was so devastated, it was just matrix multiplication ! I felt like a failure to the point that I cried when I got back home. Whenever I read papers and it comes to method section with a lot of equations, I got very nervous, I'm not even exaggerating.

I tried to talk to people I trust about this problem, and turn out this is a phobia, they call it math anxiety. I wish I had known sooner so I could do something about it, I thought I was just stupid. Also, I came from a country when math is "God", you're a good kid if you're smart at math. So I was called stupid for a while back then.. which I think makes my anxiety even worse. Good point, I continued college, and even grad school so no one call me stupid again. I was a teaching assistant in several coding courses in undergrad, even my juniors told me they understand a lot from my course explanation, I'm good at presentation, demo program, anything .. i'm just so bad, at math.

But I want to change. I want to learn math again. I read article about "How to Science" and how math is in everyday life. I really want to continue PhD, but the future idea that I will deal with a lot of math stuff always fright me out. I also read What methods successfully identify and eliminate severe math anxiety? and How to overcome mathematics-related anxiety? and I got several ideas and book suggestion from the answer

What I've been doing :

  1. Study from Khan Academy (this will be to basic for grad school level, but I feel that I need to start all over).
  2. Study from Daniel Shiffman channel on youtube. He's a professor and programmer. And sometimes in his coding he's using math, and he's very good at explaining stuff, even I can understand his math better than what my college professor taught me.

I will need to deal with computational logic, and artificial intelligence that requires a lot of math. I need some advice for my future PhD plan : either is there anyway we can actually continue PhD with minimum math ability ? or, I'll try to be real here, I read here, that's it's too late to learn math when you're already in Grad School. Do you think I should just go, and continue and improve on aspects that I'm already good at (like, coding) ? or do you think no matter what I still need the fundamental understanding about math ? Thank you.


3 Answers 3

  1. In the immortal words of Dirty Harry, a man's gotta know his limitations. I recommend not to bang your head against the wall on the most theoretical and math intensive parts of CS, when you are weak at math and good at coding. And there are lots of needs for good coders without much math.

  2. It's strongly likely that your issue is not nervousness (knowing the stuff and failing in tests) but general weakness on the material. Nevertheless, whether your issue is test anxiety or skill, the way to remedy that is with drill ("do homework until you puke, then do some more").

  3. Kahn Academy videos are time inefficient. I would work through the Frank Ayers Schaum's first year college math book (geometry, algebra, trig, analytical geometry) instead.

  4. In addition, you should use the regular course problems you work on as an opportunity to increase your skill level in the lower level skills by practice. For instance if you are doing some linear algebra and you get the matrices right but mess up some arithmetic, DO THE PROBLEM OVER. Don't say, "oh, I got the higher level concept". Instead look on it as an opportunity to perfect the fundamental skills. (Like doing pushups for punishment...you get good at pushups and stop messing up the football plays also...it's just how the human animal works...we are not computers...we have to be trained like dogs. We are protein, not silicon.)

  5. I would also talk to an instructor; devise a plan for remediation/improvement and then check in with him as you work through it.

  6. All that said (2-5), GOTO (1).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I could agree on 90% of the answer, but point 1) and, in particular, the phrase "And there are lots of needs for good coders without much math.", in this context, made me to down-vote this answer. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ To be honest, I'm down with this answer. I don't have enough reputation to upvote. I agree on point no.1, know our limitation is being wise, it's not like I will throw away math, it's just I can choose to improve even more on other aspect. I'll take a look at your book recommendation. Also, love the GOTO ! Thank you @guest $\endgroup$
    – raisa_
    Nov 2, 2018 at 15:51

It seems like you are on a good way already; recognizing and facing your problems are often the hardest parts. Keep at it, get all the help you can, and you should be good. I would not try to find a PhD with less math, you might damn yourself to a bad topic or thesis.

It might help if you have a certain problem (in CS, maybe something NP complete?) that you want to understand or solve and then research all the math needed for it. That might be a better motivation than people telling you to do this or that without a reason.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you ! Actually, I already have a master thesis topic that I want to expand for my PhD topic. But again, sometimes I need to be a part of program project in my lab and I don't know what will come, what kind of math will I face. So, I believe focusing on my research alone isn't enough. Hmm. Guess I got the answer for my own question then, no matter what I still need fundamental math understanding. $\endgroup$
    – raisa_
    Oct 30, 2018 at 12:50

I have had much of the same history and ended up as a math major with good grades.

I very strongly recommend Schaum's outline series in any subject but especially mathematics. They have all the problems you will ever see. In time you will find any new problem will be a different version of one you have seen elsewhere.

What you must do is keep going into the area you fear, whether the dark forest or the other side of the tracks, until the fear is worn down to nothing and can be managed. Doing problems at home or other safe zone until you cannot be surprised or intimidated by them is the way to do this.

Your past is similar to mine but is not your future if you work at it. You were not born as a programmer but enjoyed the reinforcements of success you had when you studied it. It will take time to find that reinforcement while doing math but it is there.

Working while being watched is also a common problem. It splits your focus and allows you to be distracted. A tough problem. I had a friend sing (loudly) at me while I worked sets of new problems. It was exhausting but fun in the end. Such things cannot "cure" but do take the edge off such problems.

Sorry about sounding trite but; your goals are worth the trouble you will need to go through to achieve them. If you give these up you will still find trouble in any other direction you choose. You may as well pursue one you care about.

  • $\begingroup$ Schaum's rocks. Moral plus 1. $\endgroup$
    – guest
    Nov 6, 2018 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ Such a motivation for me, thanks a lot ! I've been searching for Schaum's book, since @guest also recommended the same book. Turn out it's a massive series and there are lot of them. I'll start with Basic Mathematic. I'm ready for the trouble (yeah!) I really want to overcome this phobia, now that I know it is a phobia and not because I was just stupid, I feel like I should defeat it. Thanks again ! $\endgroup$
    – raisa_
    Nov 7, 2018 at 15:28

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