Quantum Journey – coming to the end of SM358

This week I finished the last of the books in SM358 – the quantum world and am now starting two and a half weeks of intense revision to prepare for the exam. This has been by far the most enjoyable module to study in my Open University mathematics journey so far, even if it was also the first one without face to face tutorials.

While I am very happy at studying on my own, one of the aspects I have really enjoyed in previous modules was spending a few hours every month with fellow students. Not so much to solve problems (as I am always well behind where everyone else is!) but to be inspired. When work and family commitments get overwhelming, study is easy to put to one side, having a checkpoint in the diary helps prioritise and I always left tutorials feeling motivated. I’m not sure whether SM358 didn’t have face to face tutorials because it is a physics module or if it’s just a module that has never been successful with these. Online tutorials are just not the same. Partially because I don’t get home early enough to attend them, but also after a day at work, trying to switch to student mode and find a quiet corner of the house just isn’t possible.

Fortunately, this course was engaging enough that I managed to keep on top of it, albeit about 4 weeks behind constantly, but I wish there had been the opportunity to engage with my tutor other than through email. The assessments were all done in time, despite my percentages inversely correlating with some pretty harsh deadlines at work, and I’m pretty happy with the results. The decision to do only one level three course this year rather than the two I attempted last year was the right thing to do!

What has really struck me about this course was how all of my previous subjects of study have really come together. The pure mathematics of the degree course so far, particularly complex numbers, group theory, and calculus, gave me an advantage in the mathematical side. My first degree in biochemistry gave me the thorough understanding of the periodic table, familiarity with spectral lines, atomic bonding and the overall properties that quantum theory was trying to explain. As I came to the end of the last book, everything I had studied up until that point started fitting together. I think there’s certainly a case to be made for a longer combined undergraduate degree that includes the equivalent of (bio)chemistry, physics and mathematics together, probably over six years, to give students a deeper grounding in how these subjects interact.

The poem at the enbd of the book really struck home for me. I finally feel that I understand concepts that were introduced at a basic level back in my A-levels. I’m back where I started, but it’s familiar. The parody song by A Cappella Science really sums this up. With this course, I feel intimately familiar with every part of this song. If you’ve not seen Tim Blais’ work before then you’re in for a treat – watch his whole back catalogue.

While I have a single module left to do after this one to complete my maths degree with the OU, I can guarantee it won’t be the end of my education journey.

SM358 The Quantum World 25% in…

When I was looking at the level three maths modules for my Open University degree, one of the ones that really drew my eye was SM358, the quantum world.  I decided to only do a single module this year as I’d committed to a lot of speaking engagements in October and, in addition to my day job, I’ve been spending time on another project that I’m really excited about for the start of 2019.  From past experience, if you fall behind on OU modules at the beginning, it can be very hard to catch up.  This was really noticeable with the complex analysis and stochastic dynamics modules I started in 2017.  Rather than taking on too much, I decided on just one level 3 module.  Given my progress so far I’m only about a week behind and I’m pretty happy with that. Continue reading SM358 The Quantum World 25% in…

2 out of 3 ain’t bad: back to back TMAs

MS327 progress – not where it needs to be to do well on TMAs

It’s been a crazy month.  From the lead up to the product launch at work to know it seems like I’ve been doing nothing but back to back assignments for my Open University maths degree.  So much so in fact that I’ve not had time to study, but only focus on the assignments themselves.  It all started back with the second TMA for M337 (Complex analysis), which was a rush job and I got a much lower score on that than I would have liked.

I then had two weeks until a computer marked assignment for MS327 and was going into this without having looked at any of the material in the book.  As usual, I spent my commute trying to get through it, but barely made it a quarter of the way through  before I realised I’d have to start working through the questions for the assignment.  Computer marked assignments are very different from the tutor marked ones.  You either select an answer from a choice of 4-6 potential results1 or by typing a numerical result.  Therefore your answers are either correct or incorrect.  There are no marks for method.

If you find yourself in this position, my best advice is always to do the unit quizzes.  These are usually in a similar format and will get your brain in the right place for the assignment itself.  In combination with the handbook and text books you should be able to follow how to get the answers from the questions, although please make time to go back and fill in the gaps as soon as you can.

Noise levels at the local soft play centre. Earplugs don’t really help – it’s so high pitched you feel it through your teeth more than your ears 😉

With the iCMA out of the way, I then had a week for the third TMA of MS327. Fortunately on the same topics as the iCMA, but much more involved questions.  This was a lot trickier to pick up.  With the usual standing room only on the commute, I’ve had to spend a lot of evenings trying to do this around family time and study in the excessive noise of soft-play centres… not a great environment for thought!

 

So I’ve just submitted the MS327 TMA online and I’m pretty happy with it.  Now I have two weeks to get the M337 TMA3 done and I’m a little more nervous about that.  There isn’t time to go through the study materials and answer the questions, so I’ve given myself a week to get as far as I can and then I’ll dive into the TMA and see how far I can get…

On the plus side, the OU offers substitution on your assignments, so it’s okay to have a bad one and you’ll be allocated a score that’s the average of the other three.  So I can still pull up my average for M337, as long as I do well on this TMA.

This level of progress isn’t looking good at the moment…

I’m really hoping that I can get time to get these to 100% before the exams in June!

Can I do calculus in my sleep?

Breaking discipline with my Open University studies is never a good thing.  Once you’re behind, it’s so difficult to catch up, especially with a full time job and a young child.  It’s been a crazy few weeks at work too, we’ve had a major launch event and lots of projects with looming deadlines.

It was in the days leading up to this launch that I had a TMA due for one of my level 3 OU modules, M337 Complex Analysis.

With all the other deadlines I’d only done half of the study necessary for the TMA. This is never a comfortable position. I got away with it at level 1 and mostly got away with it at level 2 but you really can’t do this at level 3. Especially when the focus is calculus of complex functions. I made a start in good time, but without the time to really get my head into the topics, it was always going to be an uphill struggle to make the intuitive leaps necessary at this level to determine the correct method.

Not a particularly healthy sleep profile…

In the days leading up to that TMA my sleep profile was pretty awful.  I can’t remember what caused it, but I had so many nights in a row where I got very little quality rest.  This isn’t great.  It impairs judgement at the best of times.   I could have asked for an extension in good time, but that would just compound the problem with the MS327 assignments in a few weeks1.

this is what maths looks like when you’re slowly losing consciousness!

When you’re sleepy, it’s easy for “i” to look like “1” and “z” to look like “2” particularly in equations where there are other terms with these numbers.  One of those days I found myself working on problems from the wrong module (MS327) and just looking at my notes it’s pretty obvious that I nodded off in the middle of writing these2.  Maybe it isn’t that obvious, but trust me that this level of spider scrawl is not representative of the handwritten work I normally submit!

The results of my assignment are back and it turns out I can’t do calculus in my sleep, let alone path integrals of complex functions.  I really do need to up my game and attribute more time to this degree3.

On a side note, I’m really pleased that my presentation at the launch event was recorded – I was a little light-headed after giving blood on top of poor sleep. I presented for 5 minutes and couldn’t remember a thing I said immediately afterwards.  I got some great feedback, so there’s definitely a learning there for being relaxed, not overthinking what you’re saying and also speaking about what you know!  I’ve only heard the audio so far, but will post the video when I have it.

 

 

M337: Group theory becomes relevant

My M337 books are starting to look a little dog-eared after a few weeks of commuting!

One of the things I’ve enjoyed least about my OU Maths journey so far has been group theory.  I ploughed through whole swathes of M208 applying the techniques and not really seeing the relevance1  I found group theory and the proofs related to it tedious.  Mainly because I was proving something that was “obvious”.  However, I’ve always had a healthy acceptance of partial learnings – knowing that if I was being taught a technique then there was a reason for it. Two years later and that reason finally hit me. Continue reading M337: Group theory becomes relevant

OU level 3: Complex numbers and stochastic dynamics

Books for this year: Complex numbers and stochastic dynamics

I gave myself a birthday present again this year, by registering for another 60 points worth of Open University maths modules. I’d put it off for quite a while as I couldn’t decide which level three modules I wanted to do most and also in which order. The only fixed option was “The quantum word” which was only available once I’d completed1 60 points worth. This left me with a choice of 3 modules from 4 other interesting options. Sadly, I discovered (thanks to a comment) that the pure maths module I intended to do was a 60 point module, meaning I either had to lose that from my choice or two of the modules I was really wanting to do. In the end, pure mathematics lost out and I’m committed to four 30 point modules. Continue reading OU level 3: Complex numbers and stochastic dynamics

OU Maths – decisions on level 3

Image credit OU Mathematics

This week was results week for the Open University. Many of us who had been checking the website weekly since the exam1 finally got the link through to our overall module scores. If, like me, you were waiting for a result then I hope you got what you needed2. MST210 marks the end of level 2 of the B.Sc. Mathematics and I now have some choices on level 3. Continue reading OU Maths – decisions on level 3

MST210 – Exam and modelling exercise reflections

Revision day essentials – revising in 1 day is not recommended

This week was the exam for my level 2 OU module MST210 on methods, models and modelling.  This was a compulsory module, but had it not been I would have never chosen it.  The module has been mostly applied maths, which has been really interesting, but what’s been a problem for me has been the mandatory team work modelling exercise, which makes up 16% of the continuous assessment.  So much so, that I lost motivation to do the final TMA or revise for the exam as much as I wanted to.  I thought it would be worth a short reflection on why I disliked this aspect so much (especially as it led to a repeat of last year when it came to revision…). Continue reading MST210 – Exam and modelling exercise reflections

Using OneNote for Open University TMAs

Image from windowscentral.com.

I get a lot of attention when using my surface for note taking at work, studying on the tube or train and during OU tutorials, making full use of multiple notebooks, tabs and pages in OneNote.  I’ve written before about using the surface but following a discussion after my most recent tutorial I realised I hadn’t covered the way I use it along side the OU’s electronic TMA submission process1.  A lot of people on the same maths course as I am tend to use \LaTeX and typeset their marked assignments.  While I am a great fan of \LaTeX and appreciate how clear this is for the tutors to mark, I have always preferred to hand write assignments.  While there is some aspect of writing by hand helping to cement ideas more than those typewritten, the main reason I prefer to handwrite is that the exam is handwritten.  If I don’t force myself into regular, neat mathematical writing then it’s easy to make mistakes in the time pressure of the exam.  Simple things like forgetting to underline vector or matrix definitions can cost marks and if the examiner can’t distinguish a 0 from a 6 then you’re going to be in trouble! Continue reading Using OneNote for Open University TMAs

MST210 Study focus and time management

Not an exciting image - just the view sat on the floor of a train
Sometimes, you just have to sit on the floor to get stuff done…

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I start off with good intentions for my OU modules and then finding myself rushing TMAs, skipping a lot of the text and generally revising the day before the exam. While I’ve got away with this so far, it is getting harder to get the scores I want and I knew going into MST210 that my focus and time management would need to improve to take this seriously.

One of the things I took into account when doing this module was the amount of time I spend commuting. Working in London I have a train journey of between 30 mins and 1 hour 15 (depending on whether I travel in rush hour or not) and a tube journey of 27 minutes (fortunately on a single line) in each direction, so at a minimum I have 2 hours on public transport in four good half hour blocks. That’s 10 hours study time a week, which should be sufficient1.

I’m getting a head start on MST210 as with previous modules I’ve fallen behind due to work commitments and I don’t want to impact my family time playing catch up as I did last year. I’ve done one full week and completed book A unit 1. This is on par with the pace that the study calendar sets2 and I have made notes on all the examples and done every single exercise in the unit.

Keeping focus has been really hard. It’s really easy when you’re on a train at 6.30am to sip coffee and stare out of the window as you wake up gradually. It’s so easy when you get on a train or tube and have to stand to just leave my surface and book in my rucksac and play Peak on my phone. It takes no effort after a day at work to grab a gin and tonic and read my Kindle. What is hard is having that focus and discipline to make every minute count – every minute I spend geting ahead now is a minute I can spend having fun with my family rather than having to isolate myself to rush that TMA. It seems like a no-brainer, but humans do tend to make short-term decisions at the expense of long-term success . One of the best things we can do to overcome how our brains work is have a routine and stick to it3.

This is what I’ve been doing – every morning and evening, I’ve forced myself to get my MST210 books out, not only when I’m actually on the train/tube, but also while waiting for them – I keep them in my hands while changing trains; if I don’t put them away, then there isn’t the effort to get them out again. If I need to sit on the floor of a train so I can write, then that’s what I do. This focus has taken a lot of effort and I’m not sure how long it will be before it’s automatic, nor indeed what will happen when my routine changes due to business travel.

However, backed by the science that our brains are dumb enough to make bad short term decisions even if we are aware of the long term consequences, I know that the focus I need is entirely in my own control and if I stick to the routine long enough, it will become the go-to task for my selfish limbic system.