I’ve noticed that a lot of math people share the same quirks. While not everyone has the exact same habits, there are a few things I’ve noticed in myself as I’ve become more involved in mathematics.
1. Paper. There is scrap paper everywhere. Desk, backpack, folder. Stuck in between books. I have entire notebooks devoted to scratch work.
2. Lots of hand motions when talking. I can’t just say “unit vector” – I have to say “unit vector” while jabbing my pen in the air at ninety-degree angles.
3. Describing mathematical ideas with words like “beautiful,” “fun,” “elegant,” or “cute.” As in, “That’s a beautiful theorem,” or “Here’s a cute problem.” This can surprise people who aren’t familiar with the deeper study of math. But it is actually quite common among people who do math and enjoy it.
4. I have found that apparently I have given up certain expressions, like “ninety-nine percent sure” to mean “pretty sure.” If I’m really only pretty sure, I end up using a more appropriate number, like eighty percent sure. A bit weird, I know.
5. At unexpected times, I will suddenly, absolutely need to write something down. It could be on an airplane, in the shower, in the middle of some other conversation – all of a sudden, an idea strikes and needs immediate attention. I was recently waiting for a train in Penn Station when I had a great idea about a homework problem I was working on. I only had one piece of paper: a form I had to submit to my college advisor. I was so desperate that I almost wrote on the back of the form! And I probably would have, if I had not remembered that I had a doodle app on my phone.
6. I’ve seriously considered getting a chalkboard for the wall of my room.
It makes me laugh to realize how many math habits I seem to have picked up. Many are actually useful – they help me do better work, or they help me appreciate math better. Some are just silly.
Interestingly, of all the eccentric people I’ve met in my college years, not one has fit the stereotype of the lonely, antisocial mathematician. Some are among the most personable and outgoing people I know.