A Students' Guide to Studying Math at Barnard
This guide was compiled by and for students! If you have any further questions, we encourage you to contact a Barnard math faculty member or get in touch with a current math student. There are many fantastic math students whose perspectives are not represented here; if you have any wisdom you’d like to add, contact the faculty department assistant Marsha Peruo (firstname.lastname@example.org).
What do Barnard majors love about learning mathematics?
- “I love how all you need to do math is your imagination and maybe some paper! And there's something about finishing a proof that makes me feel very powerful :)” -Amara ‘20
- “The college math classes can answer the "why" behind all the rules and theories left unexplained in linear algebra and calculus. I loved the rigid and lucid structure of a math proof, which also trains me to think logically. Not to mention that math is the foundation for everything!” -Annie ‘20
- “Math is all about patterns and interconnectedness, which I find fascinating! For me, reasoning in mathematical terms is a pure and beautiful way of thinking: it draws my attention to the power of my mind and perception.” -Corinne ‘20
- “What I love most about learning mathematics is the constant problem solving yet in different forms. Each course is unique from the rest, but all lead to the same endpoint, which is solving the problem at hand using tools and functions you have learned and mastered from years of math courses.” -Sara ‘21
- “My love for puzzles and riddles which began from a young age was what drew me to study Mathematics in college. I enjoy the thrill of solving a difficult problem and arriving at the correct solution. Strange as it might seem, I think that Mathematics is one of the only academic subjects that you learn by doing. It’s perfect, yet flawed and that’s what attracts me to it!” -Shambhavi ‘20
What is the relationship between the Barnard and the Columbia math departments?
Barnard does have a distinct math department, though it is very integrated with Columbia’s. This means that you can take your classes with any professor. Generally, there isn’t a noticeable difference between a Barnard vs. Columbia math class. Your biggest connection to Barnard Math is through your advisor, though the Barnard math faculty are all incredible resources for you as well.
Declaring your major.
If your major involves two disciplines, you will need a Barnard advisor in each department. Your advisor is your choice! Find a time to meet with and get to know professors in advance of declaring. A certain professor may be a better fit for you, but any math faculty member would be happy to advise you.
“I would definitely recommend that you have a substantive conversation with an upperclassman in your intended major before declaring. This way, you can learn more about the experience of the major and ensure it’s the right fit for you. I got really incredible advice from a senior stats major who I found because she was also a PCA at Beyond Barnard.” -Corinne ‘20
Some information about statistics.
As statistics is not offered at Barnard, you will need to take a few extra steps to get the advising or support you may need. But don’t let this deter you! Contact the directors of undergraduate studies of Columbia Statistics with any questions or concerns.
“The statistics minor is a really great option for students who are interested in statistical programming and obtaining a really practical data analysis skill set that can be applied to a wide range of industries and sectors.” -Corinne ‘20
The thesis requirement.
The Undergraduate Seminar in Mathematics fulfills the Barnard capstone requirement, and can be double counted as a major elective. Writing a thesis is absolutely possible, albeit uncommon.
The Math Majors.
“You should think about majoring in math if you find 3blue1brown's youtube channel weirdly satisfying and surprisingly calming, or if you just like a challenge. Also, always choose your classes based on the professor above everything else! And, the worst part about this major is that everyone's least favorite classes come first. Once you get past the required classes, you can actually figure out what you like and life will be much more fun! Also, the major is way more flexible than the website makes it seem, so talk to your advisor and other professors about requirements in person and don't be afraid to advocate for yourself.” -Amara ‘20
“The Mathematical Sciences major is the perfect mixture of math, statistics and computer science. This major is unique in the mathematics department as it forms a well-rounded student through applications of math in both statistics and computer science. I would recommend this major to someone who has an interest in expanding their range of math courses as well as having an interest in being a part of multiple departments with more resources and mentors. If you want to open up your opportunities in having more flexibility with math, stats, and computer science, then I recommend you consider the Mathematical Sciences major. In my opinion this major gives you the best of all worlds without having to make any sacrifices when it comes to which courses interest you. I took two to three classes that counted towards the major every semester. I tried my best to take one math class and one stats and/or one computer science class, some semesters even taking all three. Many of the classes coincide with each other so it is likely you have similar people in your classes, which helps.” -Sara ‘21
“Math-CS is an interdisciplinary major hosted by both Math and CS departments, covering fundamental math and CS concepts through core classes and electives that are mostly focused on theory (or of your choosing through consultations with your advisor and the department chair). It may sound very structured, but it actually offers a wide range of electives in different areas, like machine learning, algorithmic analysis, cryptography, just to name a few.
I initially chose Mathematical Sciences as my second major (also offered by the Math department), but after taking all the core CS classes, I wanted to learn more about programming and algorithmic analysis. That's when I came across Math-CS and decided to pivot away from Math Sciences. It has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life! If you are interested in becoming a Math-CS major, I highly recommend talking to your math professors if you don't have a math professor as your advisor. You can also sit in on a few upper-level math electives and see where your interest lies. Also, take a few programming classes before you decide to go this route because this major does require taking all the same CS core classes as the CS majors.” -Annie ‘20
“The Math-Stats major is very similar to the Statistics major, but requires two more math classes and one math elective. I chose Math-Stats because I was excited about the opportunity to take some upper level math, because I wanted a connection to Barnard (i.e. Barnard has a math department but not a statistics department), because I enjoy thinking about quantitatively summarizing and analyzing systems, and because I enjoy the way math and stats push me to think about problem solving. One thing to note is that the statistics core courses are larger graduate courses, though enrolling in an undergraduate-only section is often an option. I would recommend Math-Stats if you enjoy thinking about how to describe quantitative phenomena and you are interested in the mathematical underpinnings of statistics. The major isn’t heavy on applications, so consider the statistics minor if that’s what you’re looking for. I would highly recommend committing to learning R or Python as part of the major because programming is fun and it’ll get you internships/jobs; Applied Statistical Computing will give you an amazing foundation for R. In terms of courses, I most enjoyed Linear Regression Models, the Undergraduate Seminar, and my major electives… For my electives, I took an applied stats class, an amazing cryptography class in math, and a super applied OR class in SEAS.” -Corinne ‘20
“I would describe the Econ-Math major as a perfect blend of theoretical work and quantitative analysis. The Econ portion of the major perfectly complements the Statistics and Mathematics courses that one is required to take. You get ample exposure to intermediate economics and mathematics while building strong quantitative skills. There is also significant flexibility in terms of the electives for both Econ and Math. You can choose to pursue courses that are more advanced or stick with ones that are more intermediate. Planning in the Econ Math major is key. Ensure that you utilise your advisor and dean to build a course plan once you declare the major so that you are not burdened with say 4 difficult math classes in one semester. Personally, I chose the Econ Math track to give myself a solid foundation should I choose to pursue an Economics PhD in the future. Having said that I would recommend the major not just to graduate school aspirants but to anyone who is intellectually curious and enjoys solving problems. I would also like to add that the major is significantly harder than a typical Economics major, particularly if one has had limited exposure to Mathematics prior to college. However, if you have a passion for Economics and Mathematics, don’t let this discourage you as there are several resources available for you to use should you need help - your advisor, the Math Help Room, your Professor and your peers.” -Shambhavi ‘20
On being a Barnard math student…
“Okay, I have a bunch of advice: It's normal to be afraid to ask questions, but you're gonna have to get over it – if you're confused, probably someone else in the room is too. Make friends with your professors and go to office hours – not to try to grab a better grade but genuinely to learn and hang out. If you're having a hard time in a class, go to both math help rooms until you find a TA you work well with! And the night before a test, the best way to study is to find an empty classroom with a chalkboard and do practice problems on it with a friend :)” -Amara ‘20
“Being a math student at Barnard means that you will have enormous support from faculty (shout out to my amazing advisor Professor Daniela De Silva who always had my back) and a network of friends who are on the same path as you! If there is just one piece of advice I could offer to all math majors, it would be not to give up easily. Math classes tend to get more abstract as you go and they can be daunting at first but professors and TAs are always there to support you. So, do not hesitate to ask for help!” -Annie ‘20
“Being a Barnard math student has been a title I hold with great pride. The major is challenging, but constantly rewarding. My advice is to find the joy in the math you are learning, especially when it gets harder. The more challenging a problem is, the more rewarding finding the solution feels.” -Sara ‘21