Starting my Open University Maths BSc

My last adventure at university

20 years ago, I left my Physics degree at Liverpool University. I dropped out during my 2nd year of that degree.

At the time, I’d recently started working full time between semesters as a sysadmin and programmer at a local waste management firm.

I enjoyed being at work more than university. I felt more at home earning a wage than learning about physics. I was working with computers - something I’d always wanted to do as a career - and I was enjoying it.

This was definitely all true but it isn’t the full truth. If I’d stayed, I’m confident I would have failed the degree. I jumped before I was pushed.

Since then, I’ve learned that to actually obtain the degree I would need to study and apply myself to get the grade. This means completing the assignments on time, reading the text-books and hammering practice problems.

At A-Level and GCSE, I largely showed up to class and that was it. I didn’t really know how to study and, if I’m honest with myself, didn’t really care to.

Looking back, I was more interested in mathematics

I made a series of mistakes earlier in life. I didn’t realise that I actually liked the mathematics more than the physics. This is understandable, maths has a pretty bad reputation. Everyone hated doing maths at GCSE and I sort of mimicked that hatred without really thinking about it.

That led to me deciding to do a Physics A-Level, without doing a Maths A-level, and taking Chemistry instead. This was a pretty serious mistake looking back.

While I did a Maths AS level, I eventually dropped out of this too. I think this was party due to the teacher and how he worked was but equally due to the fact I was also quite immature, a bit lazy and arrogant at the time. These factors led to me quitting mathematics completely.

All of this sits at odds with my actual interests at the time: cryptography, programming, computer science and physics. All of these disciplines are branches of applied mathematics. Even 20 years later, these remain areas of interest for me.

20 Years later - A second attempt

20 years have passed and lots has changed. I got married, I had kids and worked for all of those 20 years.

In that time, you come to realise that most of the success you have in life doesn’t come from just showing up but applying yourself. If I look back on the last 20 years of professional success, all of it has come from putting the work in and a good dose of luck.

After the failed attempt some 20 years ago, I’ve always felt there was some unfinished business. Going back to a brick university is hard when you have the commitments of married family life.

However, Open University allows distance learning degrees and I decided to sign up for a Mathematics BSc. I expect this to be a long term project, lasting around six years.

This is my first time in formal education for about 20 years so I started with the relatively easy introductory module, MU123. I’ll be starting the first module in statistics, M140, in February, 2024.

The degree starts at around GCSE level, which will be good to refresh, as this was the last formal qualification I had in maths.

What will I do differently this time?

Mathematics is a hard subject. The key thing I’ve learned over the years is that I learn best by doing. I’d often buy textbooks, such as the Handbook of Applied Cryptography, and expect to just read the pages and master the material.

I only realised relatively recently that this is the wrong approach. Everything I’ve succeeded at in life has come through practice. I think success will come from simply practicing mathematics a lot.

This means I want to complete:

It may be even with all this work I am simply not able to get the degree due to not being able to wrestle the more advanced material.

This may be true, but if I failed and I did all of the above, then I failed giving my best effort and there was nothing left on the table.

The course website for MU123 opens tomorrow. I hope you will all wish me luck in my latest adventure.

  1. 2023-09-11 18:00 GMT
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