Courses in Mathematics
This document gives a brief description of the various courses in calculus and some of the intermediate level courses in mathematics. It provides advice and pointers for planning your course selections. If you are a Mathematics Concentrator, or are considering entering the Mathematics Concentration, and if you are seeking some overview of the courses and how they fit together, then this document is for you. However, the guidelines presented below are exactly that: guidelines. Keep them in mind when you are deciding how to structure your program, but be sure to talk to your advisor in the Mathematics Department or to the Director of Undergraduate Studies before you turn in your study card each semester.
Math 1a/b is the standard first-year calculus sequence. If you are thinking about majoring in math and have not taken calculus before, take Math 1 as soon as possible! If you have had a year of calculus in high school, and if you have passed the Advanced Placement examination in BC Calculus with a score of 4 or better, then you may be advised to begin with Math 21 a/b, the second-year calculus sequence.
If you scored a 5 on the BC Calculus exam and if you are advised to take Math 21 a/b, then you may wish to consider taking Math 23 or Math 25 or 55 instead of Math 21. Be warned: Math 23, 25 and 55 are intense but very rewarding courses, and both 25 and 55 require extensive work outside the classroom. To succeed in the latter two, you must be very committed to mathematics from the start.
Regardless of which calculus course you take, keep in mind that it is important to absorb ideas thoroughly. It's a bad idea to push yourself too far too fast.
For more guidance on choosing your first math course at Harvard please read the pamphlet ``Beyond Math 1: Which math course is for you?'', which you can obtain from Cindy Jimenez, the Undergraduate Program Coordinator (room 334), or from the undergraduate section of the Department's web site.
No single program is ideal for all math concentrators. You should design your curriculum based on your background, interests, and future plans. You are strongly urged to consult with your academic advisor or with the Director of Undergraduate Studies in deciding which courses are best suited for you. Do not plan to meet with your advisor on the day study cards are due, since advisors usually don't have more than a few minutes to spend with each student that day. Make an appointment with your advisor well before study cards are due. You should allot about half an hour, so you can discuss your plan of study in depth.
Math 23, 25, 55, 101, 112, and 121 are six courses in which you learn to write proofs, meeting (often for the first time) a style of mathematics in which definitions and proofs become part of the language. Students are generally advised not to take any upper-level math courses before completing (or, at least, taking concurrently) one of these.
If you have taken Math 23, 25 or 55, or if you have taken Math 21 and gained some experience in writing proofs through courses such as Math 101, 112 and 121, then you are ready to take some of the courses at the 100-level that form the core of the Mathematics curriculum. Most of the courses at this level can be classified as belonging to one of the three main streams of mathematics: ``Analysis'', ``Algebra'' and ``Geometry and Topology''. Courses belonging to these areas are numbered in the ranges 110-119, 120-129 and 130-139 respectively. In each stream, there are two courses which are regarded as ``core'' courses, making a total of six central courses. These are:
It is not necessary to include all six of these courses in your plan of study, but here are some points to bear in mind.
At this level, there are many other courses to choose from: Number theory in Math 124 or Math 129, Differential Geometry in Math 136, Probability in Math 154, Logic and Set Theory in Math 141 and Math 143, amongst others.
The difference between 100-level and 200-level courses is fairly easy to summarize: 100-level courses are designed for undergraduates, whereas the 200-level courses are generally designed for graduate students. As far as course material goes, the 100-level courses are designed to offer a comprehensive view of all the major fields in pure mathematics. They emphasize the classical examples and problems that started each field going and they all lead to one of the fundamental results that motivates the further development of the field. In contrast, a 200-level course will assume you understand the basic ideas of a field. A 200-level course will set out the systematic, abstract foundations for a field and develop tools needed to get to the present frontiers.
The 100-level courses give you a good overview of mathematics, they foster intellectual growth, and they prepare you for your chosen career. This is not true of 200-level courses. These courses assume that you are interested in the subject, and that you are already fairly certain of becoming an academic mathematician. The amount you learn in such a course is often also entirely up to you. Your prerequisites, though correct according to the course catalog, may be entirely inadequate. Many courses are paired into 100-level and 200-level sequences:
Corresponding 100-level, 200-level CoursesOther 200-level courses are harder to classify, but cover topics equally central to modern mathematics. For example, Math 222 is a course on Lie Groups and Lie Algebras that draws on background material from Analysis, Algebra and Geometry.
Students are strongly discouraged from taking any 200-level course before taking its 100-level precursors. Although it is possible in principle to learn a general abstract topic on the basis of the logic of its definitions and theorems alone, it is almost impossible to appreciate their significance and ``feel'' without studying the more down-to-earth background which led to them. Moreover, students are well advised to take basic classes in algebra, topology, and analysis before exploring the graduate curriculum: often a basic familiarity with other areas will be an assumed prerequisite. Certainly, it can't hurt. However, even this may not suffice.
Some graduate courses (notably 212a, 221a, 231a) often conform better to undergraduate expectations (set material, careful pace, motivation); the best way to tell whether this is going to happen is to go to the class yourself and find out. Beware, though: often these courses start in a user-friendly way (presenting simple definitions, for example), then speed up tremendously as time goes on.
The reasons for not taking 200-level courses are legion. However,there are some equally good reasons for taking them. You will be treated like a graduate student, which is good if you want to be treated like one. There isn't much review of topics you may have already covered, requirements are fairly minimal, and, most importantly, you can learn a lot of substantial mathematics. (If this is what you want, tutorials are another good option. While they are undergraduate courses, one generally learns graduate material in them.)
A student who is considering graduate school in mathematics may want to include at least one 200-level course in his or her program (and, likewise, write a senior thesis) to get a taste of the likes of graduate school.
Tutorials are not required, but many students take a tutorial during their sophomore or junior year. Typically two tutorials are offered every semester.
Tutorials (Math 99r) are generally directed by graduate students, and have four to eight students in them. They tend to be less formal and structured than regular courses, yet require more involvement on the part of the students - students have to make presentations and write papers. Very frequently a topic studied in a tutorial leads naturally to a senior thesis. And the paper written for the tutorial generally satisfies the Math expository requirement.
The department places a description of the fall tutorials into concentrators' registration envelopes in September; a description of the spring tutorials is e-mailed to the concentrators e-mail list in January. Descriptions also appear during the first week of that semester on the undergraduate bulletin boards (one opposite room 320, and one near room 503 in the Math Department). The descriptions also appear on the Math Department's website at http://www.math.harvard.edu/. Often, tutorials get previewed at Math Table meetings. A special organizational meeting for tutorials is held in the first week of the fall semester. The spring semester tutorials are organized in the first week of that semester; see the Undergraduate bulletin boards for announcements.
Ordinarily only one Math 99r can count towards the concentration requirements.
All questions regarding tutorials may be addressed to the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Undergraduate Program Coordinator, Cindy Jimenez (cindy@math).
Honors candidates in their Senior year can choose to enroll in Math 60r to allow more time for thesis work. You can take Math 60r in the fall and/or spring semester. Math 60r is SAT/UNS only and does not count for concentration requirements. A student taking Math 60r in the fall must submit a one-page plan of thesis (including at least a preliminary bibliography) to Cindy Jimenez (rm. 334) by 4 pm of the last day of the fall reading period in order to pass.
If you want to learn a particular topic not covered in a regular course or a tutorial, you may consider taking Math 91r. For this you must find a faculty member willing to supervise your reading, as well as secure approval from the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Make sure that you, your supervisor, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies clearly agree on the topic, structure, frequency of meetings, and the grade requirements before you sign up for 91r. You should know exactly what is expected of you and how much guidance to anticipate. Ordinarily, Math 91r will not count for concentration requirements.
Note that Math 60r, 91r, and 99r require the signature of the Director of Undergraduate Studies on your study card.
Students may cross-register to take a course at M.I.T. This may be a useful option in years when a particular course is not offered at Harvard. Logic and Combinatorics offerings at M.I.T. have proven especially popular with Harvard students. Generally, classes at M.I.T. start a week before Harvard's in the fall, and contemporaneously with Harvard's in the spring. You may get concentration credit for M.I.T. courses, but consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies before registering. Cross-registration petitions can be obtained at the Registrar's office or from your House's Senior Tutor.
If you are taking an M.I.T. course, you don't have to walk all the way down Mass. Ave. or even pay for the bus to get to class: you can use the Harvard Medical Area (M2) shuttle bus, which runs from Quincy Square (in front of Lamont) straight to M.I.T.
Keep in mind that the concentration requirements for Mathematics require twelve half-courses, but only eight of those need to be listed under ``Mathematics'' in the Course Catalog. You are encouraged to round out your studies by including courses listed as ``Related Fields'' in the mathematics section of the Handbook for Students.
The programs listed below should not be followed literally - they may not be balanced in workload between the fall and the spring semesters, nor are all the courses listed necessarily offered every year. They are examples designed to demonstrate the range of possibilities. You should determine your own program in consultation with your math faculty advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies.