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The Mathematics Department and Courses

The Mathematics Department

If you thinking of a course with loads of options, 350 students in the year just like Warwick, then you’ll be very much mistaken. There are only around 50 people in total for third year maths and basically there two routes – Parcours A and B. To start the year they give an introductory lecture which explains both. I didn't really know when this was, so its best to email the Mathematics Erasmus Coordinator in Grenoble, for me it was O Garrotta, and find out the exact start dates. Maybe better, ask for the name of the person who is in charge of the Third Year Course. He gives the introductory lecture and it would be a good idea to contact him beforehand if you don't know what you're doing. Maybe you could even ask him to introduce you to your fellow collegues - embarrassing I know - but that way you'll get people coming to introduce themselves to you. Otherwise, with everyone having formed their friendship groups during their last two years (and the French being French), you may find yourself quite lonely at first.

However, O Garrotta introduced me to the department and helped me book an appointment with the receptionist who gives you your student card and IT username. O Garrotta is also contactable through email and arranged meetings in her office. Note also that the reception is only open either the morning or the afternoon for students each day; the times are on the door. It is important to get your student card asap as after this you can get a discount on bikes, food and can set up a student bank account. Also no-one really contacts you by your email Grenoble email. I only figured out how to use it at the end of the year. There is a board in the Mathematics department as you walk in and all the changes and information are posted there. Unlike Warwick, all lectures and classes take place in more or less the same places (1 Amphi and 5 different classrooms). So once you've found the (Pure) Mathematics Building you're more or less sorted for the rest of the year, including exams.

Back to the course: I saw the two routes as A being more for those wanting to do a masters afterwards and B is more for those who want to teach; I'm sure this is not exactly true but the main thing is that A is more work and slightly harder than B. I think you can still do a masters with B and all the French pupils will still get the same certificate at the end. They both follow two similar modules in Topology (12 ECTS) and Algebra (15 ECTS) for the first semester. I started with Parcours B, as I wanted to be able to settle in and get used to everything different compared to Warwick. My year didn't count but I believe that if your year counts you have to do A - although if you read to the end I recommend doing A anyway.

For each module in the first term there are two two-hour lectures a week and a total of five hours of compulsory exercise/question classes (T.Ds - Travail Dirigé). Going from 50 minute lectures at Warwick to sitting in an three hour exercise class in September is quite hard. The department in Grenoble believes in making sure the students work all year round, which I know is right, but I found it very hard to adapt from Warwick and A-levels where you can more or less concentrate for 1 week in January and 6 weeks at the end of the year and everything is fine. Also to enforce this, each module has four tests. Two class tests (each 2hrs long) and two exams (each 4hrs long for the first semestre). The first class tests are at the start of October and the second at the start of December. The exams are in November and January (for me 3rd/4th of January). The class tests don't really count; as whatever the marking system they have you need to do well in the exams. The TD teacher may set questions to finish off or do when he wants, but there are also "Devoirs à la maison" given once a semestre. This is your chance to get some practise questions - normally from past exams - done and marked, but they don't count for anything. Sometimes students bargain to get a mark added to one of their class tests if they do well in the Devoirs à la maison. Finally, there is also something called "L'école" once a semestre. This is when you are placed in a group of 3 or 4 students with the teacher who asks you questions. Again it doesn't count for credit but is meant to check that you have understood everything and that you can respond well to questions posed. Note: no-one seems to like this.

For support, there was a final year French masters student who was assigned to all the foreign students for the first term. There were around 10-12 Erasmus students in total but all the rest were Germans and Spanish who had come for Masters courses. He was available by email if you wanted to ask questions and he tried to do weekly support classes like a first year supervisor at Warwick would do. However, I stopped attending these as I felt there was no real benefit for me as the rest of the class were Masters students doing completely different courses to me. Also, I had such a different timetable to the Masters students and I would have felt bad asking for a session to be done to fit in with my timetable. One of the friends I met who was doing a Masters course did attend regularly because she said no-one else attended after a while. Otherwise, you can always contact the lecturer who is the official person in charge of the course and is the one who writes the exam as well. For things not about the lectures or the course, they prefer you to talk to the TD teacher. You can do this during the class, afterwards, by email or by meeting. I found the TD teacher the most helpful way of getting support when needed.

As my second year essay was on Elliptic Curve Cryptography, which involves a good understanding of group theory, I was slightly concerned about learning about the definition of a group in the first week of Algebra! The T.D. (travail dirigés) professor also said that maybe it was going to be a little boring for me after the first example class. However, despite knowing this would progress quickly, I wanted to stay interested as my year here didn't count. The professor suggested moving up to parcours A but I thought I would have the same problem.

Before I left, Daniel U. (the Mathematics Erasmus Coordinator) and Grenoble’s Maths Coordinator had both said to think more about choices of courses when I arrived. I probably should have done a little more research on what the department actually offers before leaving, but their website is a little tricky, and there is no other option for a 3rd year mathematician than the Topology and Algebra modules. (If you are just thinking of applying, its probably best to email the department for more information.) I also talked to Graham Wright who had been in Grenoble the year before. He dropped the Algebra module and just continued with the Topology module with some French modules and I got permission from Daniel to do the same.

The Topology course had a lot of the concepts I had already seen in Analysis and Differentiation, which is another reason I chose the module because I have previously struggled in these modules compared to others. However, the second half introduced topological spaces and ideas such as compactness, completeness, connectedness and Banach and Hilbert spaces which I had only briefly touched on before. Having done PDEs instead of Metric Spaces in my second year, most of the concepts for the second half were more or less new and should hopefully help me when I return to Warwick and take the Metric Spaces module. If you’ve already done Metric Spaces, you may encounter a lot of things you’ve already seen. Nonetheless, as I have already said I found it a challenging experience adapting and failed the first class test (note: so did everyone else in the class). However, this was mainly down to struggling to concentrate for exams at the start of October and by revising in completely the wrong way. In Warwick, you get simple questions on definitions, theorems and proofs, while in Grenoble it is very much on random questions never before seen, requiring a bit of magic. You are meant to learn the lecture notes, but questions are a lot more important. If you don't have much time to revise, just do practise questions rather than learn the lecture notes. And although I thought I had a good understanding of the questions, since the test is marked out of 20 if you make a error on a question you won’t get any marks. Presentation is also key, you do all your drafts on a separate piece of paper, contradicting everything I had been told since primary school about writing stuff on the paper and putting a line through it!

For exams, you can go into reception and find the past papers for all the modules from the last two to three years. Most of them are also on the Grenoble Mathematics website as well as some course notes. Ask a French student if you cannot find these. Some give answers to the questions but most don't. Sometimes at the end of the TD classes, the professor lets you do some past paper questions before the exam. Otherwise it is customary to set past paper questions for the devoirs à la maison.

021.jpgInstead of the Algebra module, I was able to improve my French by doing some modules from the University Stendhal, the languages university. I did a French Grammar module, a module on the European Union, a translation module and a module for foreign science students at UJF which is just for improving French in general. The EU module was great for speaking practice as someone presents a topic each week and a 2hr class debate follows. Translation was great for vocab and for generally understanding the differences between English and French than are not covered at A-level. However, this module just seemed to be university language students so I found it testing as they had two years University French under their belts and so had a much greater vocab and translation knowledge. However, I worked hard and did come out with good marks in these. The Grammar module focuses on all things that aren't verbs for the first semestre. This and the EU module were taken by J. Guichard, who is a bit of a legend and loves to work through the centuries when explaning French Grammar. He also gives out plenty of sheets and although the first questions are simple you get some harder stuff each week that my French coloc never got right or could understand. All of them require writing essays and/or class tests because he doesn't believe in Exams. To find out information for these or sign up you to need to find the Stendhal reception (for Internation Students). Find the Arts Library and then the building your'e looking for is to the east at a right angle to the library. Go through the big doors and immediately turn right. All the lists of the modules should be on the wall. Otherwise just find a language student from Warwick - of which there are normally many - and get them to explain. As for most things you find you need loads of passport photos. Take note that the language courses don't start for a few weeks after Maths, normally late September, so you don't have to make this a priority at the start. You can attend all the maths lectures and classes for two weeks before making any decisions.

The module for UJF students was helpful but was on a Thursday night at 17.30 for two hours. You will get an email about participating in this and it doesn't start until October. You have to do a test to assess your level but if you have done a summer language course then a reference from the teacher you had will be given instead. The only problem with the class was that some people had been working since 8.00am (medics) and I found it quite tedious because everyone seemed pretty tired. The marking for this was attendance at the classes, a 3 page document, a 2-hour test and a minimum of 6 hours working in the computer room. I thought this was quite a lot for the 3 ECTS it was worth. All the other French modules were worth 5 ECTS each.

In the second semestre, there are slightly different modules choices depending on what parcours you do in the first semestre. Because I did the B, the second semestre consisted of one compulsory module and then some choices. The compulsory module is called "Calcul Differentiel et Equations Differentielles" 12 ECTS. It is basically split into the two parts, with the first very much following the concepts from Differentiation MA225 from Warwick's 2nd year. This part was organised much like what I have explained about Topologie from the first semestre. However, the exam after the February/March half term actually very much counted as a final grade; and then afterwards we started Equations Differentielles which is examined in the final exam periods (May -June). This second part requires the knowledge from Dave Wood's Differential Equations module in the first year and becomes a lot more theoretical rather than just solving ODEs. However, I really enjoyed this module especially with the links with other modules such as using the theory of Jordan Normal Forms from Warwick's second year Algebra I module.

In addition to this, there are a few modules to choose from. For me they were Calcul Intègral, Méthodes Numeriques, Geometrie, Ρrogrammation and a second year Ρrobability module for those French students who didn't do it in their second year. Each of these were worth 6 ECTS. The French students are required to take two of these, each one worth 6 ECTS, plus a compulsory english module. I chose to take Calcul Intègral with Calcul Differentiel, plus French Grammar and a module on Ρrofessional French. The Calcul Intègral module is a mixture of Geometry and Motion, Analysis 3 and ΡDEs and was taught by a Scottish lecturer who used to be at Warwick. I found the module interesting and a nice revision of things I had forgotten from previous years, but also I felt that the compulsory modules were better organised. In the end, everyone thought that the things we had done in the TD classes were not really relevant to the stuff in the exams. So I got a few books out of the library. I believe the maximum book number at one time is 7 books and I was allowed to take them out for 3 weeks (but I think the reception thought I was a Masters student - so it might be two weeks). Also note that there are two libraries - one for sciences and one for the arts. You can renew online (only once) with the bar code number on your student card and by going on It is also quite quiet there for revision but the opening times are pretty poor. At the weekend for example, it is only open Saturday morning. The lecturers don't seem to give names of good course books, so you have to ask and even then they struggle to find one book that covers the syllabus.

For the whole year's maths on the Parcours B, there wasn't any assumed knowledge that I wasn't familiar with. Of course there were lots of areas where I was a little rusty, but if you revise all analysis, differentiation, all algebra and metric spaces modules for the start of the year then you should be fine. (Note I didn't do this so don't worry if you don't have time). The only thing other thing was that for Calcul Integral a bit of Fourier Series comes up. So if you decide to do this and havn't done PDEs then a brief read of a book may be helpful.

A big difference between Warwick and Grenoble is the amount of students. In Grenoble you can easily be asked a questions in lectures and the Professor will wait for someone to answer them. It is more of a the feeling of being in a class than in Warwick. In all the experience of the Mathematics department has reminded me of school. I wouldn't say the French students are spoon-fed but I believe that Warwick requires a lot more independant work. I thought the TD classes were great to really understand the subjects, but could this time have been spent on learning different areas of Mathematics? Maybe because the majority of the French students will go on and take a Masters course, this will not matter as much, but Warwick students get a lot more from their three years study.

The two french modules were again taken by J. Guichard and were very helpful. The second term grammar focuses on verbs and as J. Guichard loves his Latin and litterature you really get an in-depth understanding of French language. If you are happy with a level of French suitable for a tourist then the course isn't for you. He makes you learn the subjonctif, passé simple, imperfect subjonctif etc - because in his view you need them to properly understand the French language. He also says that around the University, when talking or writing to academics you should use all the litterature tenses - something I don't agree with. Rather than showing understanding I feel it shows that you are a little bit out of touch. Still I found the course helpful and interesting and I really saw the links between Latin and French. Now I can understand why learning Latin (I did the GCSE) is so important to have a complete understanding of French. I also took the professional french module because I would like to work abroad in the future. The module starts with writing CVs, cover letters and formal language and moves on to practise interviews among other things. Again he doesn't believe in exams so the marking was a mixture of essays, class tests and participation marks.

You can also do Sport modules for credit in Grenoble. I did not bother looking into this because of my shoulder problems, but if you have the permission from Warwick it is something to look into. Normally they are worth 3 ECTS and you can do more or less anything: skiing, snowboarding, football, walking and you have to sign up in the sports fair (see my "Sport in Grenoble" section). The snow sports are a little silly to take in the first semestre because you can only start late November when the ski season starts. Graham Wright says that normally you can only take one during the year but Erasmus students can take two. See his report from 2009-10 because I understand he did some sport modules.

My advice on choosing modules would be to definately start on parcours A, especially for someone who has good marks in Analysis modules or has previously taken Metric Spaces. This is what most of the French students do and then a lot - 20-30 - drop down after the first semestre. However, I have enjoyed the maths and the break from the pressures of Warwick. I am looking forward to getting back to complete my final year. It has almost been like free tuition for the year and I am hoping the experience will boost my mark next year.