Why Study Mathematics?
Mathematics is beautiful, fun, exciting, and powerful. Mathematics is the ongoing creation of a giant tapestry woven over millennia by human beings of every sort for reasons of their own, from desperation to inspiration. People pursue mathematics for money, for pleasure, for fulfillment, for entertainment, for status, out of envy, out of lust for power, out of hope for the future. In short for the same reasons that people compose music, write plays, and design bridges.
G. H. Hardy, an Oxford don and one of the eminent mathematicians of the 20th century said
A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.
If you want to become a maker of mathematical patterns, what will it take? How will it change you? It takes hard work. To attain a level of accomplishment in mathematics will require your time, your energy, your attention, and a lot of your personal resources---if mathematics can command this kind of personal effort and commitment from you, then the rewards can be considerable. The successful study of mathematics will change you. It will instill in you a profound discipline of mind, an attention to detail,a keen sense of elegance, an ability to understand many aspects of the world out of reach of the mathematically unsophisticated, and a peculiar ability to see underlying concepts. You will not only become a skilled solver of problems, but you will begin to see where the problems are.
But can you get a job? At least every student's parents, if not every student, wants to know. People who major in mathematics do the most surprising things. They go to medical school, they go to law school, they go to business school, they get jobs in Hollywood. Maybe the largest employer of mathematics majors is the National Security Agency. They work in industry and in government laboratories teamed with engineers and scientists. They teach high school mathematics. They work as actuaries in the insurance industry. Because mathematics is an international enterprise, some mathematicians travel in the world on a regular basis. One of the great mathematicians of the 20th century, Paul Erdős, became a kind of mathematical troubadour, almost without permanent abode, travelling the world giving mathematical performances, seeking out prodigies, and collaborating with anyone whose brain was open.
The Department of Mathematics at USC provides an excellent environment for the study of mathematics. There around 200 undergraduates pursuing a major in mathematics and another 30 or so students working towards one of the mathematic-based minors. One way in which our program stands out from many other programs is the broad selection of regularly-offered Honors sections of upper-level MATH courses. These courses are available for our best students, whether they are a member of the South Carolina Honors College or not. This feature of our program has been instrumental in our graduates' successful transition to graduate school in mathematics as well as other disciplines, including medicine, economics, and law. The Department is fortunate to be able to award a number of scholarships and awards each year. Undergraduates have an opportunity to be involved with research with faculty in our department. A number of these students have success in USC's Magellan Scholar program. Several students have received recognition as Goldwater Scholars, Wooddy Scholars, Knowles Teaching Fellows in Mathematics, and NSF Graduate Research Fellows, among others.