“When someone asks you what you do as a mathematician, they take the most advanced training they have in mathematics and assume that you do a much harder version of that.”

This is a paraphrase of something I will attribute to Leo Goldmakher.

The idea is that if someone has only ever taken high-school math, they might think that mathematicians spend their time multiplying and dividing very large numbers; (“*Are you even allowed to use calculators in your work?*“). If someone has been lucky enough to take a first-year calculus course they might imagine that mathematicians solve harder and harder related rates questions. Going a step further, telling a mathematician that I study set theory often invokes brow-furrowing and questions like: “*Don’t we already know everything about ordinals and cardinal arithmetic?*“.

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Hah! That’s a good one.

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Or you have people like me (presumably a Poisson Geometer) asking you if you’ve “found all the sets” yet.

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I was reading something the other day that argued that a lot of people become math majors because they’re good at applying procedures, since that’s mostly what they were exposed to in K-12. It’s kind of a shock for them when they find out that they’re expected to come up with new mathematical ideas and come up with new ways of proving things in mathematics…

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