Perceptions about Mathematics

“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?“.