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Getting a mathematics degree while working full time: experiences and tips
FS-UNEP Centre / 30 October, 2019
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Sustainable Finance Expert & Researcher
Menglu Zhuang is a sustainable finance expert at the Frankfurt School-UNEP Centre and a researcher at the Frankfurt School faculty. Her role is to research in sustainable financial topics and manage the content development of educational programs on the topic of sustainable finance.

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Spending time on mathematical problems is fun, but it takes a lot more than that to finish a degree in mathematics, especially when it is done besides a full-time job. I was able to do embark on such a journey while working at the Frankfurt School UNEP Centre. I joined the graduate diploma in mathematics program developed by London School of Economics and obtained the qualification in 2019. The combination of working and studying is a unique and unforgettable experience.

Why mathematics?

If there is something that trains logic thinking, reasoning, then I would say it must be the subjective of mathematics. Mathematics provides a solid foundation for pursuing further research in the interdisciplinary area of economics and climate finance. My current research project Sustainable Climate Finance and its Impact at the faculty is about the economic assessment of policies taking the role of finance into consideration. It requires the ability to formulate real-life problems into mathematical formula using algebra and code in software (e.g. GAMS) to find solutions. I believe that a good researcher in our field should be able to explain phenomena in the society, the market and human behaviour with words, but also with numbers. Choosing mathematics is a step forward for me to combine my strengths in the arts with numerical skills.

In our daily work at the FS-UNEP Centre and the research faculty, we ask questions that do not have ready answers. Exploring the unknown requires structured and abstract thinking. By studying in a mathematics program, I have become a stronger problem solver. The analytical experiences and mathematical tools help me to break down complex problems into small pieces and multiple solution pathways.

What I learnt is not only the tools, but also the ability to appreciate the beauty of an appealing subject of mathematics. I also have learnt that doing such a program while working is about pushing the boundaries. The experiences of conquering difficulties to achieve what was considered impossible by myself helps me to gain confidence to challenge the perceived impossible tasks again.

Tips for professionals who want to study and work at the same time

Choosing a suitable subject that you have passion for is the first step. The ability of being persistent is also crucial. You will feel easier to get through hard times if you can visualise your higher goal in the near future and being reassured that you can reach your goal someday by taking a small step each day.

  • Choose wisely

Ask yourself: do you really want to do this? It is a commitment that will take a lot of your time. If the answer is yes, what is your favourite format to study? Completely online, or occasionally on campus?

  • Do you have support from all around you?

Family support is very important if you have a partner or even kids. Many of the weekends and holidays will be spent studying alone. Support from your boss and co-workers is also necessary so that they understand you are also under exam pressure while catching the deadlines at work.

  • Use ALL your available time

I really mean all the time, no matter in the train, on a trip, after dinner at home, waiting for a bus. If your goal is not only to pass the exam, but to learn, think, rethink, then you need to invest time into your study.

What I can wish you who plan to go on the same path is that: enjoy all the intellectual and emotional stimuli your choice brings into your life!