Andrew Harsh '23
First math class at Swarthmore: MATH 028 (Linear Algebra with Theory)
What was your favorite math class and why? My favorite math class to this point has been MATH 103, Complex Analysis. This was the second class I took with the word "analysis" in its title; the first, MATH 063 (Introduction to Real Analysis), was easily the hardest mathematical experience I've had. Before then I had always been able to do mathematics on my own and feel like I understood what I was doing, and while I never stopped loving the math during real analysis, it was a shock to realize that I could no longer do strong mathematics by relying only on myself. Complex analysis a year later gave me the opportunity to re-encounter some of the same material that had given me such trouble, but in a new context where I felt much more comfortable working with other people. It was this comfort with collaboration that led me to do some of the mathematical work I'm proudest of. Also, complex analysis is really cool because (among other things) it can be used to understand how prime numbers work, and I enjoy it when patterns involving sort-of-understandable things like primes end up having weirdly deep explanations.
Why did you become a math major? I've found math beautiful for a long time! I think there are many places in life where humans see patterns and might want to know why those patterns are there. What makes math special to me is that it is (or should be) a chance to practice this skill in a totally safe environment where we decide what the rules are, free from the messiness that makes real life so hard to figure out. On a more practical note, I'm thankful to my mom for doing math with me when I was a child and to my high school teachers for furnishing me with enriching mathematical experiences. It is, of course, also totally okay not to have loved math for one's whole life: the bottom line is that I do math now because I like it now!
How do you expect to use your mathematics after leaving Swarthmore? Math brings me a lot of joy, and one of the things most important to me is to share that joy with others through teaching. It is for this reason that in addition to the math major I am pursuing secondary teacher certification in mathematics, though I think my returning to graduate school for math someday is far from out of the question.
What advice do you have for an incoming student? My advice is to remember that math eventually becomes difficult for almost everyone. If you find yourself struggling with the math in front of you, please remember that you are a normal person experiencing what it is actually like to do mathematics; you are also surrounded by peers, professors, and student TAs whose lives will be brightened by talking about your difficulties with you. If, on the other hand, you do math in part because you find it easy, I advise you to remember that it likely won't always be that way. Indeed, once math starts getting hard to do on your own, you may realize that you have a lot to learn from your peers who are already familiar with the feeling of being stuck. The bottom line is that difficulty is not something to be scared of! You should do math if and only if it makes you happy.