Brittney Miller on Socrates and the Beauty of Mathematics

Noodle Expert Brittney Miller discusses what she'd like to learn from Socrates and her appreciation for the beauty of mathematics.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

I think I would enjoy being a student of Socrates. He is known for asking his students challenging questions to gain a strong understanding of their beliefs by exposing their views and opinions. This Socratic method of learning is used to develop critical thinking skills and logical arguments, just like in mathematics. Socrates was interested in learning about the self and others, and I would appreciate having a teacher who valued self-reflection and understanding even though he was controversial during his time.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

Strive to be the best you can be … and (hopefully) success will follow. This applies to everything in my life. I strive to be a good human being by being compassionate, respectful, honest, and open to others with different opinions; being a supportive friend and a caring family member; being aware of my surroundings and taking care of the environment. I study hard, learn as much as I can, and do the job right the first time in order to achieve my career goals. Also, don’t leave the house without being presentable because you just never know whom you are going to meet or what opportunities you may stumble upon.

Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?

I would send a student to Europe, a place that I would like to go to myself to learn about history and experience different cultures and languages. There is no shortage of places to visit in Europe, and there is always something new to learn at various monuments and museums. Just having the opportunity to experience how people in other cultures live is very rewarding. I think a student can learn a tremendous amount about herself by being immersed in a new culture, especially since people tend to learn in environments where there is some discomfort.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

The first time in my life that I didn’t receive an A in school was when I got a D on a history test in the fourth grade. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself that I did that poorly, and I disliked how I felt so much that it drove me to study more, to ask more questions and gain clarity, and it motivated me to go above and beyond. I took my failure as a learning opportunity and built up my confidence again by taking control of my studies and ensuring my success. Failing is not necessarily a negative experience, and when a not-so-successful moment occurs, pick yourself up and keep going.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

I have enjoyed and excelled in mathematics for as long as I can remember, and it comforts me to know that my answer is either right or wrong. Before my undergraduate education, I thought mathematics only consisted of learning algorithms to do things like solve equations, compute derivatives, or evaluate integrals. I knew mathematics was logical and seemed systematic, but it wasn’t until I took my first upper-level mathematics course as an undergraduate that I realized the beauty of the subject. I started learning why mathematics works and proving the theories by forming logical arguments using axioms upon which all mathematics is built. I was no longer just doing computations; I began developing a deeper understanding of the concepts in this amazing and abstract subject that you don’t hear about in middle school or high school. I think if more people knew that mathematics was not just about memorizing the quadratic formula or the unit circle, more students would enjoy and have more of an appreciation for the subject.

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