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Re: USAMO

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  • Jack Brennen
    ... I didn t find it to be harmful at all. It did likely steer me away from a career in mathematics, mainly because I learned for the first time in my life
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 2002
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      djbroadhurst wrote:
      > I have good friends in US, UK and Russia who have been
      > through such competitive mills and have clearly not been
      > harmed by them.

      I didn't find it to be harmful at all. It did likely steer
      me away from a career in mathematics, mainly because I learned
      for the first time in my life that I wasn't the best at math.
      I studied with and competed against people my age who could
      "run circles around me" math-wise. This could have been very
      rough on me if my self-image was "great math whiz" -- but
      that's not me. Instead, it was liberating in a way, because
      I no longer felt "obligated" to a career in mathematics.
      And it definitely pushed me to improve my reasoning and
      thinking skills, but that was certainly a good thing.

      > Even so, it seems to me that these contests
      > give the wrong idea about what good math
      > (and much else) truly requires.
      >
      > Arete (the pursuit of excellence) is not the same
      > as javelin throwing...

      Well, the skills I learned and developed in training for
      those Olympiads were quite relevant to good math. In
      order to score well on an Olympiad, one needs to have
      aptitude for mathematics, a broad and comprehensive
      understanding across a wide range of the field, and the
      ability to express one's ideas and methods succinctly
      and accurately.

      On the other hand, the Olympiad is a closed-book exam;
      if real mathematicians didn't have reference libraries
      and the desire and ability to use them well, the progress
      of mathematics would be severely impaired. Similarly,
      the Olympiad is an individual examination; real world
      mathematicians (well, *respected* real world mathematicians)
      have to collaborate with their peers on a regular basis --
      besides joint papers, they have formal and informal peer review.
      Lastly, an Olympiad competitor begins an Olympiad problem
      with the knowledge that a solution exists which should take
      him no more than about two hours to discover, formulate,
      perfect, and "publish" -- real world mathematicians rarely
      have that luxury. :-)
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