Wednesday, 15 July 2009

On The Maths Bit

Why does the title of this blog contain the word “Maths”? And why am I known as “ViolaMaths”? The start of my long and friendly association with the viola was discussed in a previous blog post. Now it is time to explain the maths bit.

At the end of my last blog post I was snuggling up with a “substantial prospectus” in the hope that I might find something interesting to do with my time. That prospectus was the Open University’s undergraduate prospectus. I had decided, in typically ambitious fashion, that rather than spending a few evenings learning how to make pots I would do another degree – it would be easier because I’d be able to study at home! Yes, it would be more expensive than making pots, but we could always ditch our annual holiday & spend the money on coursebooks instead!!

When I ordered the prospectus I had no idea what degree that would be. I had studied with the Open University before, but never actually managed to complete a qualification. I started a psychology degree in an attempt to find out what made humans behave as they did (following a particularly nasty break-up with a boyfriend who hit me). However, I eventually ended up doing a course on mental health difficulties while I was having a breakdown, and then one on child development while discovering I was infertile! This was all a bit too painful & close to home.

Short courses in planetary science and oceanography followed. Then I did a couple of courses in geology, one of which I had to abandon because of illness. I couldn’t quite see where to go next, so my OU study ceased.

So, I sat with the prospectus and contemplated my brand new start. I would forget about all my previous courses, read through all the degree descriptions, and simply pick the one that I felt most drawn to, that sounded the most interesting, and that I felt most excited about.

Going entirely with my instincts, I decided to do a Maths degree!!!

Was this an obvious choice for me? In some ways it wasn’t – my previous degrees were both in music and I spent my years at college labelled as an “arts” student. On the other hand, before I became a musician I had spent a year as an undergraduate chemistry student, having taken A-levels in maths, further maths, physics and chemistry.

Despite the A-levels, my school maths career was somewhat patchy – I spent far too much time playing music to take anything else very seriously. The point at which I started to enjoy school maths came when I moved maths sets prior to taking my O-levels. Just try to imagine, for a moment, a typical maths teacher.Got it? Now imagine the opposite. That’s more like it!

Ms Barker was the first person I had ever met who called herself “Ms”. Typical teaching attire for her included high-heeled pink fluffy shoes and a leather skirt that was not excessively lengthy. She drove a car with extra headlamps, which made it look flashier than other cars. But, more importantly for me, she was also a musician. She’d done a joint degree in maths and music, and played the piano really rather nicely.

Having discovered that you could be a musician AND do maths I became a lot more keen on the subject, which was what eventually led into maths A-levels. However, when I abandoned the chemistry degree after 1 year in order to study music, that was it as far as maths was concerned. For 20 years I used the maths I had learnt only to keep track of my overdraft accurately and to analyse the results of our experiments on psychology summer school.

And then I started my degree. So far, I have LOVED it, and it has been a very fine choice indeed. I’ll describe exactly what I’ve been up to and talk about maths itself in a future post. I’ve discovered that the bits I like best (so far) are the pure maths bits, that simply require lots and lots of thinking, (unlike psychology, maths doesn’t get personal with me!). I’m now nearly one-third of the way through my degree (since I’m studying part-time it will take a total of 6 years to complete my BSc, so it’s a long-term project). I’ve also, finally, obtained an Open University qualification – at the end of last year I got my Cert Maths (Open). Yippeee!!!


  1. Aha, things look like they're being more successful now. I might be able to post this time!

    (This addendum was from the first time I lost my comment).
    Oh, how frustrating! I just typed a great long reply then something went wrong when I tried to post it and I lost it all! I'll try to recreate it...

    We seem to have very similar stories! I'm a bit of a maths nerd too, after leaving high school I went and began a BA/BSc, though the BA didn't last long as I hate writing essays. My Bsc was majoring in Zoology, but I had a bit of a crisis at after 3 semesters and took a leave of absence from study for 6 months. I planned to go back to the BSc but to restart at first year and do what was probably going to end up a double major in maths, but at the last minute I changed my mind and requested a late audition to go study music instead. I'm now on my sixth year of study in music, but I've always had a tiny bit of regret that I never finished my BSc. And now that the end of my Masters is (hopefully) approaching, I'm considering going to study maths somewhere. I just don't know where or how!

  2. That's fabulous - another maths loving musician! I started out doing a Chemistry degree, then took a year out and started Music studies.

    It's taken me quite a long time to start studying maths properly, but I'm sure if you want to, you'll find a way.

    I'm constantly fascinated by stories like this!