Prof. Omar: TikTok Star in the Making?

By Claire Chang

At first glance, TikTok may seem like a place for fun and games, filled with viral dances, memes, and hacks. However, people like Harvey Mudd’s very own Professor Mohamed Omar are reimagining this popular platform. On his TikTok account @ProfOmarMath, he shares interesting derivations and creative explanations to a wide audience, which resonates perfectly with his mission “to change the world from math phobic to math loving” on his personal website, https://www.mohamedomar.org/.

Interestingly enough, Prof. Omar’s venture into public platforms started as a dare. He recalls that “about three or four years ago, I was talking to some friends online — they’re professors as well — and we were thinking, what’s something that we could do to challenge each other that’s outside of our comfort zone? One of them said, we should each make a math video and post it on a public platform.” He decided to make a video for the GRE math subject test. Using his phone, he filmed the video while sliding around a scratch piece of paper. Afterward, he realized he had quite enjoyed producing the video. At the same time, he received one comment saying, “This content is great, but the video quality is absolutely atrocious.” So, three years ago, Prof. Omar ended up posting 18 videos featuring math GRE questions (many with pieces of paper) about topics such as integrals, the Central Limit Theorem, and eigenvalues. He later took a break, but started ramping production back up around December 2019 and upgraded to a whiteboard and tablet.

Around that time, Prof. Omar noticed that the solutions for the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition did not explain how people might ideate with the solution themselves, so he decided to make videos that did so. Eventually, the subjects of his videos drifted into territory covered by his research and teaching as well.

Prof. Omar uses TikTok to share ideas that are too short for YouTube, and other small bites of knowledge. If you want to know whether 9100 or 1099 is bigger, why π > 3 (geometrically!), or what that “divisibility by seven rule” your elementary school teacher told you not to worry about is, you should look at Prof. Omar’s TikTok. On the other hand, if you are studying for the GRE Math Subject Test or Putnam Exam, want intuition into Discrete subjects like Fermat’s Little Theorem, or are curious about other fun insights like the Gershgorin Circle Theorem, look into his YouTube channel. If these topics pique your interest, you are not alone. On TikTok, Prof. Omar has nearly 8K subscribers and 82.1K likes from his 127 videos. On YouTube, Prof. Omar has more than 3.6K subscribers, and more than 88K people have watched his 113 videos!

If you’re interested in following his footsteps, Prof. Omar recommends that you just try and “not feel beholden to any expectations”. In other words, if you don’t like it or want to take a pause, stop! Also, don’t be too self-critical — rewatching every video five times will scare yourself away. Instead, wait until you’ve attempted many videos before critiquing yourself. Lastly, just remember that improvement happens over time, so be patient. If it’s any consolation, the man who boasts on his personal website that he “won the Mathematical Association of America’s Henry L. Alder award, the most prestigious early career undergraduate math teaching award in the nation, [and has] been featured online in Forbes and Scientific American” was put on probation after his first semester as a TA because he had trouble applying his experience from tutoring one or two individuals to whole classes (but he was recommended for Outstanding TA the next semester)!

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