10 things you should know before studying Maths in France

10 things you should know before studying Maths in France by giorgio raffaelli

This article was written by Thomas Firth, published on 13th February 2014 and has been read 14102 times.

Thomas is studying Maths with a Year in Continental Europe at Bristol University, and is spending his year abroad studying Maths at university in Bordeaux. Here are ten things you should know before studying Maths in France...

1. How easy it is to understand most things

When coming to France I was worried I’d have a hard time understanding the lectures in French, however even from the first lecture I rarely encountered problems with understanding. Luckily for maths students the only complex French vocabulary used in lectures are mathematical terms and when the lecturer is talking about groupes, intégration and continuité it’s as easy to follow as an English lecture.

2. How hard it is to understand non-obvious things

Although it’s easy to understand words like differentiabilité, when you see a group of letters on the board that you don’t recognize, it can cause problems. It took a couple of minutes of whispering between the English Erasmus students to determine the meaning of SSI (Si et seulement si – if and only if) and CAD (c’est-à-dire – that is to say).

3. You will get frustrated at word reference

Your trusty friend who has helped you all this time will abandon you when you start asking him for a translation of mathematical terms. You can end up feeling lost in a lecture when they talk for 20 minutes about a polynôme scindé and wordreference is giving you nothing helpful. My best advice here is to search the term on French Wikipedia and then change the language of the article so it gives you the English version

4. There is less focus on proofs

Whereas English universities are more focused on proofs, French universities prefer more practical questions, and you are unlikely to get examined on proofs. Think more finding eigenvalues of a matrix, than proving that the eigenvalues must be real.

5. Lectures can start at 8am

You thought 9am in England was bad? It doesn’t get much worse than walking to lectures in the dark, without having time for a morning coffee. There aren’t many cars about, only the smell of the boulangeries and the sight of many half-asleep students slouching to class.

6. There’s no homework – only in class worksheets

You might think this means less work in total. It doesn’t. It just means that you don’t have an opportunity to attempt it at home and the first time you see it will be in class. The classes themselves are called TDs(travaux dirigés) and they work like seminars in England. You may not feel like going to a 3 hour TD at 8am but for me, the TDs were so useful when it came to actually doing the exam.

7. Know what your university expects of you

Always bear in mind what you are aiming for by the end of the year. Does your final grade count towards your degree? Do you just have to pass the year? Are you taking too many credits? Are you taking enough credits? You don’t want to finish the year and find you have done too much work and missed out on some things, or that you’ve done too little and it affects your degree back home.

8. See if you can take non-maths units

Related to point 7, if your university allows you to take open units, go for it! A third of my units this year are for French, Spanish and German classes. My university even offers 3 credits for open units such as Introduction to Astronomy, Studio and Electronic Music and Theatrical Writing. I even had a friend who signed up for the football team, only to later find out that it was worth 3 credit points.

9. The reputation of French admin being hell holds true – even for maths students

If you thought that the French bureaucratic process was reserved for the language students who are spending a semester or two in France, you’re wrong. You will spend hours filling out forms, finding the appropriate person to give them to, only to find out that your reward from this is another form, or worse – the same one again.

10. Know what you want out of the year

I would say this is the most important point. Make sure you know how you want to spend your year abroad. If you want to take as few units at the lowest level as possible and spend your Erasmus year experiencing the French culture (read- wine); that’s fine. On the other hand, if you’re here to take masters courses to do as well as you can for your final year in England that’s fine too. Just make sure you always know what you want to get out of your year abroad studying maths in France, and most of all, enjoy it.

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